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Must-Have Pulutan for Every Filipino Drinking Session

Sisig, a common Filipino pulutan.
A Filipino drinking session wouldn't be complete without delicious pulutan!

How do you describe the perfect match? Is it a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, popcorn and a good movie, or cherries on top of a chocolate cake?

There are so many possibilities.

For Filipinos, however, there’s only one answer: alcohol and pulutan.

Having been under the rule of Spain for more than 300 years, Filipinos have adopted the concept of tapas, which are snacks or small dishes that they pair with alcohol.

But instead of calling the pairing by its Spanish name, Filipinos decided to call it pulutan.

Pulutan in English translates to “finger food,” as the term originates from the word “pulot” or “to pick up.” This makes sense as Filipino drinkers like to pick up small bites of food while they’re drinking.

Seeing as what was supposed to be a traditional pairing making its way into the modern world, it comes as no surprise if one were to say that a Filipino drinking session or inuman wouldn’t be complete without food.

That being said, get to know these must-have pulutans at any Filipino gathering or inuman. Try them out and maybe bring one to the table when you’re drinking with your family, friends, or workmates.

Common Finger Food Pulutan

The Philippines is divided into three major island groups, and the places are further narrowed down into regions, with each having their own specialty cuisine.

Because of this, the list of Filipino finger food seems never-ending.

Although that may be the case, Filipinos have their favorites out of over a hundred options. Here are the common finger food pulutan that you’ll usually see in an inuman.

1. Sisig

Sisig is a dish made mainly of a chopped pig’s head, which is either grilled or broiled. Other ingredients include onions, chilis, and chicken liver.

Usually, sisig is served with a raw egg on top and a slice of calamansi (Philippine lemon) on the side. What Filipinos do is squeeze the calamansi juice onto the dish and mix it up along with the egg.

Because of the calamansi’s sourness, sisig was historically served to those suffering from nausea to suppress their urge to vomit.

Although its origins make it seem unappetizing, sisig was modernized to be less sour, which now caters to the palate of every Filipino and even foreigners.

2. Kinilaw

Kinilaw or Filipino ceviche, a dish served as an entree during a Pinoy handaan or a pulutan during an inuman
Filipinos have their version of ceviche. Get a taste of kinilaw during a Pinoy handaan or inuman.

Before the Spaniards arrived in the country, Filipinos had already been making culinary innovations, one of which is the kinilaw or kilawin.

This pulutan is similar to Peruvian ceviche, wherein raw fish is mixed in with coconut or cane vinegar, citrus juice, and other ingredients, which create a sweet and tangy taste.

The dish’s flavor balances the sweetness of beers, making it so popular that Filipinos decided to make different versions of it.

Some use pork instead of fish and others add coconut milk or mayonnaise to make the dish creamier.

3. Chicharon

When drinking, Filipinos prefer food pairings that are quick to get and easy to eat. This is why chicharon or deep-fried pork rinds with spicy vinegar sauce are a go-to finger food.

At street bars, there’s always a vendor walking around, carrying packs of chicharon that you can buy for as cheap as ₱10 to ₱15.

Grocery stores, and sometimes, sari-sari stores, also sell this food.

Moreover, instead of pork rinds, others use pig intestines as a way to lessen food waste.

4. Street Food

When most restaurants close at night, a saving grace for hungry Filipino drinkers are the various street food stalls.

These stalls offer a variety of grilled and deep-fried food which they serve in plastic cups.

Here are some of the most common street foods that Filipino drinkers buy:

  • Fishball, which is minced fish formed into a ball and deep-fried.

  • Pork barbeque, which is chargrilled pork on a stick.

  • Kikiam, which is made of minced pork and vegetables and is rolled and deep-fried.

  • Chicken feet on a stick.

  • Atay, which is chicken or pork liver grilled and served on a stick.

A man grilling pork barbeque and hotdogs on a stick, which are popular finger food pulutan.
Finger food pulutan made by street vendors are a saving grace for hungry Filipino drinkers.

Alcohol + Pulutan Ideas

Any pulutan works well with any kind of alcohol. However, there are certain pairings that perfectly complement each other. Here are some of them.

1. San Miguel Beer + Lechon Kawali

Filipinos are avid fans of beer because of its cheap price, accessibility, and ability to get you drunk with only a few bottles.

Among the many Filipino beer brands on the market, the most popular one is San Miguel Beer. It’s refreshing and light, perfect for a hot day or humid type of evening.

Best paired with San Miguel is lechon kawali or crispy fried pork belly.

It isn’t as common in an inuman because it’s on the pricier side. But its sweet and salty flavor can balance the lightness of San Miguel.

A serving of lechon kawali, one of the best pulutan ideas to bring if San Miguel beer is on the table
One of the best pulutan ideas you can never go wrong with San Miguel Beer is lechon kawali.

2. Emperador Brandy + Imbaliktad

Oftentimes, at a bar, you’ll see people do a single shot and follow it up by sucking on a piece of lemon to counter the bitter taste of alcohol. The same concept goes for the Emperador Brandy and imbaliktad pairing.

Although it has a smooth and rich flavor, Emperador has a hint of spice to it.

Meanwhile, imbaliktad, which is stir-fried beef with lots of vinegar, has a tangy flavor, making it the perfect food that can balance out the spiciness.

The dish, however, is not known among all Filipinos. But it is popular in Ilocos, which is where it originated from.

3. Ginebra Gin + Nilasing na Hipon

Another popular alcoholic drink among Filipinos is Ginebra Gin, as drinkers often use it to create cocktails.

Although it has a taste of botanical extracts, the acidic and chemical aftertaste usually overpowers it.

Because of this, a great finger food pulutan pairing is nilasing na hipon or drunken shrimp, which incorporates the use of white wine, resulting in a tangy and spicy flavor that counters the chemical taste of gin.

Budget Menu for Handaan Inuman

Regardless of whether it’s a casual Sunday afternoon with the family or hanging out with friends at a sari-sari store, Filipinos always find a reason to drink if they want to.

However, the most common inuman session happens after a Pinoy handaan or Filipino party.

In this kind of setting, Filipinos usually do a potluck of their favorite dishes.

If you’re invited, it’s best that you also bring something to the table. But instead of contributing food for the main meal, you can contribute dishes for the drinking that follows after the celebration.

Here are some easy, budget-friendly pulutan options that you can bring to a Pinoy handaan.

1. Lumpia Shanghai

Lumpia shanghai being deep-fried to serve as part of a budget menu for a handaan or inuman
Lumpia continues to be a crowd pleaser as a pulutan for any inuman session.

Based on its name, lumpia shanghai has roots in Chinese culture. Filipinos took inspiration from spring rolls and made this dish.

Now, it’s become a crowd-pleaser at every Filipino party.

The dish is made of ground chicken, pork, or beef, with minced carrots and onions placed inside spring roll wrappers. Afterwards, it is deep-fried until it turns into a golden brown color.

It’s best to serve lumpia while it’s still crispy and with a side of sweet and sour sauce or banana ketchup.

2. Bopis

Although the entrails and internal organs of animals are usually discarded, Filipinos have a way of lessening food waste by turning them into tasty dishes, one of which is bopis.

Bopis is made of finely chopped pork heart and lungs which are then sautéed in garlic, onions, and chilis.

It is then simmered in a mixture of vinegar, stock, fish sauce, and pepper.

3. Tokwa’t Baboy

As you may have noticed, most Filipino finger foods paired with alcohol are greasy.

For something less oily, a good dish to bring to an inuman would be tokwa’t baboy.

The dish’s main ingredients, tofu and pork, are mentioned in its name.

To make this, all you need to do is deep fry the two ingredients mentioned and mix them in vinegar, soy sauce, chili, onions, and pork broth.

Alcohol and Pulutan: The Perfect Pair

For Filipinos, alcohol and food are the perfect pair. One cannot do without the other, or else it’ll spoil the drinking experience.

Now that you know the various must-have pulutans, why not try them out for yourself?

Once you realize how great of a match they are with alcohol, there’s no guarantee that you’ll go back to not having them on your drinking table.

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