[Part 4] British backpacker’s PH adventure: Street food in Manila

Will Hatton

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[Part 4] British backpacker’s PH adventure: Street food in Manila
Will discovers isaw, balun-balunan, betamax, and more

This is part 4 of British backpacker Will Hatton’s travel diary documenting his first trip to the Philippines. Follow along with his Philippine adventure right here on Rappler.

Read Part 1: Pulag sunrise 

Part 2: Caving in Sagada

Part 3: Tattooed by Whang Od, the living legend 

Part 4: Street food in Manila

Part 5: My Pinoy guardian angel 

Part 6: Lonely island and Mr GaGa

Whenever I hit the road, people always ask me the same question: ‘Why have you been traveling for 7 years, what is it you love so much about being in a foreign country?’

There’s no simple answer. I love the freedom. I love being able to throw all my gear in my battered rucksack and to go up somewhere totally new. I love being able to have new experiences, even minor ones, on a daily basis. I love meeting new people. And, perhaps most importantly of all, I love trying new food!

Since I first touched down in Manila, I have been blown away by the sheer variety of delicious, nutritious and downright weird foods on offer. I have tried “eggs with legs” – the famous balut. I’ve feasted upon crocodile sisig. I have dined upon chicken adobo, slurping my way through plate after plate of protein-y goodness!

Following my tattoo session with the legendary Whang Od, I made a beeline back to Manila so I could catch my flight to Palawan, a stunning island which has been on my must-visit list for years. I had 24 hours to kill in Manila, so I arranged to meet up with another couple of travel bloggers, Tom and Anna, a British-Filipino couple who had met on the road whilst backpacking through Laos and been together ever since.

Anna is probably one of the sweetest girls I have ever met, instantly providing me with endless stacks of pancakes after I stumbled into their flat at 4 in the morning. The next day, she said, I was in for a real treat… Anna would be taking me and Tom to one of her favorite places, the famous Mercato market, where we would be dining upon every Filipino delicacy under the sun.

Photo by Crystal Egan

We started the evening with a few (perhaps a few too many!) Red Horse beers before heading on down to Mercato food market and piling our plates with all kinds of weird and wonderful foods. We began with something which I can only describe as ‘a squiggly line of meat on a stick’ –  Anna informed it was known as isaw.

Next up, Betamax, coagulated pig’s blood which kind of tasted like smoked salmon and scrambled egg, the very same meal my mum always cooked for breakfast on Christmas’ day. Just thinking about it got me all nostalgic and, before I knew it, I had pretty much inhaled the whole of the meat-stick. Tom struggled somewhat, chewing dutifully upon the sticky blood but I could tell that deep, deep down, he was enjoying it. Maybe.

Photo by Crystal Egan

The evening continued, more Red Horses downed, we made toasts to the Queen (we British folk are patriotic like that!) and snacked upon balun-balunan, chicken gizzards – my favorite out of everything I tried that evening.

The bright lights of the market twinkled above us as crowds milled around, people snacking and shopping, haggling and queuing.

I was growing full. Surely there was only so much weird and wonderful meat that could even exist in this country? I passed on the ‘one day old chick’ and moved on to Walkman – chewy pigs ears. I don’t think I have ever had to chew anything so rigorously in my entire life but heck, it was worth it. Pig ears are surprisingly delicious!

Photo by Crystal Egan

Eating all this tasty yet, to my mind, weird food got me thinking. It’s fascinating really, in Western culture, food like this would be considered downright odd, perhaps even unclean, but in the Philippines, it’s totally different and I can see why. The idea of eating chicken intestines, pig’s ears and duck embryos may seem weird but I truly felt good about it – this is healthy food, full of protein and extremely cheap; what more does an English backpacker on the road need?

All too soon, it was time to leave the market. I had a flight to catch – soon I would be skimming over crystal waters, snorkeling in search of turtles and sunning myself on isolated beaches.

I already had plans to befriend a fisherman and purposefully maroon myself on an isolated island in search of a Robinson Crusoe experience! All I needed now was to catch some fish and to buy a hammock…

A huge thank you to Tom and Anna, who blog over at Adventure in You, for putting together this epic video of our time sampling foods in Mercato market.


– Rappler.com

Writer and photographer. Adventurer and vagabond. Master of the handstand pushup. Conqueror of mountains, survivor of deserts and crusader for cheap escapades. Will is an avid hitch-hiker, couch-surfer and bargain-seeker. He is a devout follower of the High Temple of Backpackistan and the proud inventor of the man-hug. Will blogs over at thebrokebackpacker.com about his adventures around the world, you can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter or, if you’re really friendly, hunt him down on the road for a cheeky pint. 



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