An Illustrated Guide to Filipino Breakfast
Maybe it’s a Catholic predilection for ceremony, but when faced with a table groaning under the weight of a traditional Filipino breakfast, it’s hard not to be filled with reverential awe. A typical Pinoy breakfast is a feast of fried eggs, butter-and-cheese-soaked bread, a heap of recycled rice, and ten different kinds of pork and fish (eyeballs always included). Though there are a bevy of great restaurants opening around the country, the best place to have a Filipino breakfast is in a Pinoy household. Revel in the giant Last Supper portrait that is most likely looming over the dining table, and if you’re particularly intrepid, eat your rice kamayan-style, with your hands.
If you’re curious about starting your day with a Filipino breakfast, here’s an A-Z guide to the breakfast essentials. For the full experience, be sure to say grace beforehand and have your mom’s favorite teleserye—or soap opera—blaring in the background.
Filipinos don’t do light meals—try to tell a pushy Lola you’re not up to a big meal, and she will compromise by serving you up a bowl of arroz caldo, a rice porridge with chicken, garlic, and fish sauce.
Pork is one of the most prevalent ingredients in Filipino dishes. Most celebrations are centered on lechon, a giant roasted pig, so you can always tell a big party happened last night when your mom serves it for breakfast for the next two weeks.
Calamansi is a small, sour green fruit, similar to a lime, often used for its juice. Calamansi juice is praised for its vitamins and health benefits, which is a good thing considering all the meat you are about to consume.
Daing na bangus
Bangus, or milkfish, is the national fish of the Philippines. You know you have graduated from the kid’s table when you can debone your bangus with nothing but your fingers and a tireless sense of determination.
The combination of cheese and bread is a gift from Jesus Cristo himself, and the ensaymada is the perfect embodiment of his grace.
The smell of fish frying is the hallmark of a Filipino household, frequently followed by the loud “ARAY!” when a bit of hot oil splashes your Lola’s arm. Along with bangus, common fish include tuyo (salted dried fish), dulong (silver fish) danggit (rabbitfish), daing (dried fish), and dilis (anchovies).
Giniling, or picadillo, is typically made with ground beef, tomatoes, garlic, and potatoes. At breakfast, it’s often cooked into an omelette with a healthy dollop of banana ketchup.
Hotsilog, served with eggs and rice, is just the first of many Filipino dishes in which hot dogs make a random cameo. You name it, pinoys will find a way to include hot dogs in the recipe. (I’m looking at you, spaghetti.)
Eggs and rice may be the pinoy equivalent to eggs and bacon. Many breakfast food names end with the suffix, -silog, to denote that it should be served with eggs and rice. The list includes hotsilog, bangsilog, adosilog, chosilog, longsilog, chiksilog, cornsilog…
Jufran, the top brand of banana ketchup, can be put on everything from eggs to meat to potatoes. Originally invented during a WWII tomato shortage as a substitute to ketchup, it is the condiment of choice in most pinoy kitchens.
Take your coffee snobbery elsewhere because Filipinos drink everything from instant coffee to the artisinal drip stuff. But let’s be honest, kape is really just a vehicle for you to sawsaw.*
*Dip food (mostly bread, mostly pandesal) into it.
You can always tell which Tita really loves you by the frequency with which she air mails you vacuum-packed boxes of longganisa, a sweet chorizo-like sausage. If you open a Filipino’s freezer, chances are you will find at least a month's worth of the stuff.
Let it be known that the conversations at most Filipino breakfast tables don’t hold back—very few topics are off limits. So don’t be surprised when you are offered a mango with the friendly reminder that it’s a surefire constipation remedy.
Nangka (or langka, another name for jackfruit) is commonly mixed with coconut milk and used to make Ginataang Langka, a lifesaver during Lent, the tragic period when Catholics are forced to give up meat every Friday.
Champorado, a take on oatmeal, mixes sticky rice with cocoa powder to create a rice porridge that can be served either hot or cold. Along with arroz caldo, it’s a go-to sick day meal force-fed to you by your doting Lola.
Pandesal, a deceptively simple form of bread, is the Beyoncé of pinoy breakfast food—it’s flawless. Whether you eat it with cheese or pork or fish or Jif peanut butter, it acts as the perfect complement to any breakfast.
Queso de bola
Noche Buena (Christmas eve) isn’t complete without a big-ass ball of cheese taking up prime real estate in your refrigerator. This is another holiday-related food item your mom will most likely force you to eat well into March.
Breakfast rice is not the same rice you ate for dinner. Breakfast rice stayed out late last night, got into a knife fight, and then had a dirty one-night stand with some garlic. Don’t be fooled—the garlic rice on your breakfast plate has seen shit you wouldn’t believe.
Spam is not a guilty pleasure to Filipinos. Our love for it is loud, proud, and packed with carbohydrates. At breakfast, it is served with the requisite eggs and rice. Finish your Spam now or you best believe it will be Spam sandwiches for lunch.
Another pork product, tocino is cut into strips like bacon and consumed with similar fervor. Tocino is so popular that Spam made a “tocino-inspired” flavor which has been hailed by critics as a “canned sodium bomb.”
Ube, or purple yam, has become synonymous with Filipino desserts. Breakfast-wise, it has been creatively used in everything from pancakes and waffles to muffins. You can tell a lot about a person based on whether they reach for a plain ensaymada or an ube-filled one.
White cheese, a.k.a. kesong puti, is a banana leaf-wrapped gift from above. It’s made from the milk of a carabao, considered to be the national animal of the Philippines. Just accept that if it’s wrapped in a banana leaf, it’s going to be good.
Exactly zero—the number of regrets you’ll be left with at the end of breakfast... that is, until you realize merienda (the “light” snack between meals) is a mere 30 minutes away.