10 Must Try Philippine Native Sweets

by Mark Yasay

People tend to give different meanings when it comes to food, and one example is that many religions forbid their followers to eat certain types of food. The way that some dishes are only eaten during certain occasions is also proof about how people attribute meaning to food (think turkeys on Thanksgiving or quezo de bola on Christmas).

But regardless of how you view food, a trip anywhere is never complete without having a taste of local cuisine. Well, for one, you gotta eat; and two, sampling local fare is like peeking through a window into how people in that particular place live. Notice how travel brochures always include a section for must-try local cuisine. Wherever you travel, there’s the recommended local specialty for either breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Here in the Philippines, the absolute staple—regardless of occasion or time of day—would definitely be rice, usually paired with one of the many filling viands that are mainstays of Pinoy cooking. These viands include the tasty chicken tinola (perfect for a rainy day), the oxtail-and-vegetable dish in peanut sauce called kare-kare (soul food at its best!), vegetable dishes like pinakbet or chop-suey, and of course, the world-famous adobo.

Like most countries, the Philippines, of course, also offers a unique variety of sweets and desserts. To make for a complete meal, local fare includes kakanin, referring to rice cakes and other local desserts. The word kakanin is derived from the root word kanin or the Tagalog word for rice, which is what most local desserts are made of. These kakanin variations make special occasions extra special and afternoon snacks a little sweeter and more fulfilling. 

Here are 10 must-try sweets when you come visit the Philippines:

Sapin-sapin (sapeen-sapeen): This dessert made from glutinous rice flour can be easily distinguished by its signature colors of purple, white, and yellow. Sapin-sapin is very sweet and the best-made ones have a soft, creamy texture that they almost melt in your mouth. This dessert is usually served with a sprinkling of coconut milk curds called latik.

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Puto (poo-toh): This is a steamed rice cake. The basic puto is usually white but there are fancy versions that come in other colours. Some add sprinkles of cheese to make puto even tastier. The town of Calasiao in Pangasinan is known for its small ,white, extra-sweet puto. These come wrapped in banana leaf and are perfect for dipping in the thick, rich sauce of dinuguan (blood soup), another local delicacy.

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Kutsinta: These are often sold wherever puto is also sold and is made from rice flour, brown sugar, lye water, and annatto seeds. The lye water gives kutsinta a chewy texture. Kutsinta, which comes in the shape of a small basin, is best served with grated coconut on top.

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Suman (soo-man): These are sticky rice cooked in coconut milk and wrapped in buri palm, then steamed. There are several varieties of suman and different regions have their own versions of it. In Bicol for example, suman is best eaten with a cup of thick chocolate drink. Try suman with some sugar and you’ve got a great way to start your day.

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Palitaw (palee-tao): These flat rice cakes served with grated coconut, sugar, and sesame seeds got its name from the way it is cooked. Preparation involves tossing flattened, sticky rice balls in boiling water. You know they’re cooked once they’ve floated up to the surface. Litaw is the Tagalog word for “float.”

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Halayang Ube (halah-yang oo-beh): Ube is purple yam in Tagalog. This sweet dessert can be eaten on its own, but is also a perfect match with latik.

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Kalamay (kalah-mai): Made of coconut milk, ground glutinous rice, and brown sugar, kalamay is usually packaged inside a coconut shell. You can find these being sold near tourist spots. Kalamay is a popular pasalubong (homecoming gift).

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Carioca (kar-yoh-kuh): This is a popular afternoon snack made of sweet rice dough balls are deep fried and dipped in sweet coconut syrup. Carioca served in bamboo skewers. You can usually find vendors hawking this sweet treat in the afternoon along with other skewered snacks like banana-cue (deep-fried, sugar-coated bananas).

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Cassava Cake (ka-sah-vah): Cassava cake, usually sold in the streets, are becoming even more popular these days with more retail outlets selling special versions of these sweet cakes made from—you guessed it—cassava. Cassava is mixed with condensed milk, coconut milk, and macapuno, which gives this dessert its special flavour.

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Espasol (es-pah-sohl): If you ever head down south of Manila, to the provinces of Laguna or Cavite, then you’ll probably come across stores that sell espasol. These tubular rice cakes are coated with toasted coconut and flour mixture, and are wrapped in paper. Look out for vendors selling this treat especially if you’re headed to the private pools in Pansol, Laguna.

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Having a bite out of Philippine kakanin can make anyone with a sweet tooth smile. Desserts like sapin-sapin and halayang ube are usually served during festive occasions, while sweets like suman and palitaw are sold by vendors outside churches so many Filipinos, especially those living in Metro Manila, are in the habit of buying these treats during Sundays.

Many of these kakanin, like the palitaw, puto, kutsinta, and carioca are sold in the streets by roaming vendors. You’ll recognise them for their bamboo winnowing baskets called bilao. Treats like kalamay and espasol on the other hand, are popular pasalubong, so these are usually sold in tourist areas.
Not only are these local sweets gastronomically fulfilling; to many Filipinos, kakanin is associated with nostalgic memories of family, childhood, and unforgettable occasions.

When planning a trip to the Philippines, make sure to take the opportunity to sample these kakanins to get a taste of the local flavour. While it’s true that there are important concerns like finding best rates on flights and accommodations, or getting travel insurance before your trip, don’t forget to indulge the spirit and immerse yourself in the local culture by tasting these Filipino-made desserts.

About The Author:
Mark Yasay is a social media enthusiast and a writer for MoneyMax, the Philippines most comprehensive online platform for comparing financial and telecom products. MoneyMax aims to consistently find the best broadband plans, credit cards, loans, and other services and products that suit your needs.

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1 comment:

  1. Espasol, Carioca and Kalamay are my top faves in this list. These are readily available in every corner of Metro Manila and in most towns and provinces in the Philippines. Basically, you just go out to the streets, and there they are for the delights.