Keeping your Food Budget Low in the Philippines

The cost of living in the Philippines and around Asia is great compared to the West but as a foreigner you are still going to be paying a lot more to live than most locals.

You may be able to cut your spending down in some ways, but you will likely never be comfortable on a local’s budget for essentials like accommodation and food.

The Philippines isn’t known for its great food and that’s because the local food just isn’t that great. I like pork adobo when it is cooked right and would recommend others to try it.

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Adobo @ Amsterdam hotel Angeles

I have heard that Sisig is good from jspill and others but I haven’t had it yet.

Outside of those dishes I am not really sure what else there is. Actually I have heard of beef caldaretta but have no clue what it is. And I have lived in the Philippines three years total.

Not sure if that says more about me or the food though 🙂

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Sisig via jspill @ Cabin A.Venue Makati

Western Food Prices

You can get a local dish off the street for 25-50 pesos. So when we as westerners are generally paying 150-200 pesos per meal you can see how much more expensive life is for us than for the locals.

But still that is generally under $5 a meal, and just about every restaurant you will go to in either Angeles City or Cebu will be priced in that range. Maybe raise it to 250 for some places.

Manila certainly has quite a few more expensive restaurants, the place I have noticed them is in Greenbelt but everything is more expensive in Greenbelt so that is no surprise.

If like me and always looking for ways to reduce your spending then I’ve got some nice tips for you. Sorry to those staying in a hotel, you will need a refrigerator and either a microwave or stove to pull them off.

Now some of these exact pro tips may not work for you. I will just be using the meals I’ve used as an example. Like when I say go and get lasagna if you don’t like lasagna…… well that is a bad example because everyone loves lasagna. But you get the idea.

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McDonald’s opposite Soi Nana Bangkok

Angeles City Food Pro Tips

I think I had only had Indian food once or twice before I came to Asia. Now chicken curry is one of my favorite dishes. Rasoi in Angeles City has one of the two best I have ever had (read more on the other best soon.)

On the menu it is called chicken madras, I don’t know the difference, but its basically yellow chicken curry. I think it costs about 165 pesos, and you can get 3 naan for around 45 pesos. Sorry I haven’t been in Angeles in over a year so exact prices might be a few pesos off but not much.

On your way home stop at any Filipino restaurant and buy a few cups of cooked rice (never buy rice at a nice western restaurant if getting take out.) Cooked rice should be anywhere from 6-10 pesos a cup.

You can cook your own rice I suppose, but at under a quarter for a cup of it I don’t see the point. When you do your grocery shopping buy 20-30 pesos worth of chicken breast strips at SM and 2 corn on the cob for 30ish pesos.

The first time you eat the chicken madras eat all of the chicken from the restaurant, with 1 and a half naan, a cup or two of rice, and an ear of corn. They give you so much of the yellow curry sauce (madras?) that you should only need half of it.

The second time you just cook up the chicken breasts and pour the remaining sauce over it. It won’t be quite as good as the original meal, but it will be like 90% as good.

Now you are getting one great meal and another very good meal for a total cost of 290ish pesos or about $6. If you are a tourist saving a couple bucks on a vacation is no big deal. If you live here it adds up real quick.

Lasagna at Salvatore’s is another great one for this. 240 pesos for one meal is kind of expensive, and any time I eat Italian I want some bread with it and they don’t give free bread (at least not with take out.)

Once again I get some corn, and stop by Angel’s Bakery and get a Ciabatta for 20ish pesos. Now for under 300 pesos you have two really good meals. If you are a big eater this may not be enough for a big meal, the madras tip above should be as you can buy as much chicken at SM as you need to make it a bigger meal.

Tequila Reef serves HUGE portions for all of their meals. A burrito there is easily two meals from me. Get some chips at SM and eat some of the beans/meat like nachos.

If you go sit down at Tequila Reef and pay 300 pesos for 1 meal that isn’t good value imo. If you bring it home and get 2 out of it then its very good value. Don’t forget to ask for the Philippines Addicts discount card for an additional 10% off.

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Cebu City Food Pro Tips

For the longest time I walked by Spice Fusion at SM Mall or Banilad Town Center thinking it was an overpriced place I would never try. Then one day I decided to give it a shot.

The first thing I ordered was ‘honey fruits and chicken’ and it was awesome. Not only was it delicious but it was a massive portion that easily got me 2 full meals. I had already bought my chicken breasts from the grocery store so I was able to stretch it to 3 meals.

It is about 320 pesos, the chicken was 25 pesos, and 5 cups of rice was 40ish pesos (depending on which route I walked home it may be 6 pesos or 10 pesos a cup.) So we are looking at under 400 pesos, or around $2.50 per meal. Not just any meal, but one of my favorites in Cebu.

The Sweet n Sour Fish at Spice Fusion was 300 pesos and if you bought 25ish pesos of chicken breasts and some rice you can get two meals out of it. Not quite as cheap as the first, but it is one of the better ‘sweet n sour’ dishes I have ever had.

The Golden Pork Floss also can be great value but it was so greasy…… I have never noticed rice soaked in grease before I ate this. You get the idea though, this place has massive portions and is good food.

I mentioned another chicken curry was coming, well the Malaayan Chicken Curry at Banana Leaf on the ground floor of the Ayala Terraces is probably the best one I have ever had. I don’t believe they have naan but that’s OK because upstairs at Persian Palate you can get 3 naan for 60 pesos.

Once again get some chicken breasts, get some rice on the way home and eat all of the original Banana Leaf chicken the first time you have it and half the potatoes. The next time cook up your own chicken.

Persian Palate also has a pretty good chicken vegetable curry that is good value (2 meals on its own, 3 if you stretch it out with your own chicken) but even though it is good it doesn’t compare to the Malaayan at Banana Leaf.

Bigby’s has some pretty good Carbonara that you can stretch to two meals by buying some chicken and some ciabatta’s at Rustan’s at Ayala. Rustan’s has a really good bakery and the ciabatta’s are really cheap.

Be on the lookout for the Australian beef at Rustan’s. When they have the ‘Australian Beef Strips’ you can get them along with some cheese from the deli and a ciabatta and make a great (and cheap!) cheese steak.

They don’t have the strips often and when I tried it with other cuts (like the stroganoff and cubes) they were always to fatty.

Hopefully This Gives You Some Ideas

As mentioned these exact meal combos may not work for you. The main things to remember are look for meals that give you plenty of sauce/veggies that you can add your own meat to and don’t buy rice at the restaurants.

Over a small sample size it doesn’t save you much. But if you knock a dollar or two off of most of your meals for a year you can save $1,000ish dollars. That is like 10% of the total money I spent in 2015. Do it for 10 years and your 11th year is free.

28 Responses

  1. expat333 says:

    Re: Cost of living.

    When I first got here, my girl and I rented a “meh” type of place for about $80 a month–P4,000. It was okay, but nothing special. It was in a gated neighborhood and it had aircon, which is what I really cared about. (I’ve since gotten used to electric fans, and I like the way they make my electricity bill look every month. Aircon drives it up significantly if it’s used a lot.)

    About a year afterward, I figured out that we could rent a nice (even by Western standards), brand new, two-story house in an ultra-clean, gated neighborhood for about $140 a month (P7,000). It was initially about $210 a month, but we got it down to $140. Crazy, huh? I don’t know what nice, two-story houses go for elsewhere, but we’re in Laguna and we negotiated a bit.

    By the way: sisig is pretty good. I’ve had some shitty sisig, but the fish sisig at Mang Inasal isn’t so bad. I prefer it home made, though.

    • Normal Nomad says:

      But you’re living in someplace no ones heard. For expats who want to get laid, that’s not realistic in a major city like Manila or Cebu.

      • expat333 says:

        Yeah, these sorts of prices are probably nowhere to be found in Manila.

        Anyway, where I’m at, there are people everywhere–lots of beautiful girls. The malls are always packed and the roads are usually backed up with traffic. There are KTV bars left and right, but I don’t frequent them. Based on what I’ve seen while passing by ’em, there are hotter girls in the malls, out on the street, and around my own neighborhood. There are freelancers out on the street, even at 3 or 4 a.m, and if I want to go to Manila, all I have to do is hop on an air-conditioned bus for a couple of hours (due to traffic, not actual distance).

        Anyway, I like it out here. I’m doing the family thing with my girl and our baby, but basically anyone who wants to get laid around here can. While out and about, I have to say things like, “May asawa ako” (I’ve got a wifey). And I’ve only seen a few other foreigners around my age (30s). There are more older foreigners around.

    • Normal Nomad says:

      Where is this spot?

      • expat333 says:

        It starts with a C. 🙂 That gives you Cabuyao, Calamba, Calauan…

        When I first got here, I lived in Dasmariñas, Cavite, and I’ve seen some decent places for rent there. I like it better here in Laguna, but there were a ton of hotties at the SM in Dasma the other day.

  2. expat333 says:

    Oh, yeah…Bangus (milkfish) ain’t bad. If you don’t mind cooking at home, it’s best for the wallet to buy a shitload of meat and vegetables at an outdoor market and cook at home. If not, the bangus at…say…Max’s Restaurant isn’t bad. Almost everything at Max’s is pretty good and it’s not very expensive.

  3. Tony says:

    Thank you for this great blog. I love western food so I know I would be spending more than the average person. I am fat,ugly,tattooed so even getting laid will cost more for me.phillippines for me is perfect.junk food ,language,western influence .life is to short will never marry again.just would love to start monger life again.

  4. RumandCokeMan says:

    How many square feet is that two-story house you’re talking about? When you say ‘nice’ are we talking marble counters and bathrooms, swimming pool, ocean view, recessed lighting, clean and fresh coats of paint, modern/stylish tile flooring, etc?

    • expat333 says:

      I don’t quite know how to estimate the square footage of the place, but it’s got three rooms, two bathrooms, and it’s new–new paint, new bathrooms, new flooring, new everything. The neighborhood is clean (no trash lying around on the street), and it’s gated in with an armed security guard out front. Every house in the subdivision almost looks the same on the outside–fairly large, two stories, painted white, with some open space on the sides, back, and front (more space in some lots than in others). It’s a bit “boring” in the sense that a more typical Filipino neighborhood has more outdoor action going on, such as gambling, people drinking Red Horse (beer) outside of their house, loud music, people driving food carts around, etc., but some people would see the absence of such things as a plus. As soon as you leave the subdivision, though, you’re “back in the Philippines,” so to speak.

      • expat333 says:

        The neighborhood resembles a very well-taken-care-of upper middle class neighborhood in the West. More luxurious options do exist–I’ve been through some high-end neighborhoods close Festival Mall in Muntinlupa, for example, and there are some luxurious houses by Nuvali in Sta. Rosa–but I’m sure they’d cost more than P7K/month to live in.

  5. Reader says:

    I’ll tell you my cooking style of choice: Get a rice cooker with a steaming tray.

    I cook rice + steamed veggies and tofu / meat, add some soy sauce or miso paste and eat that day in day out in BKK and the pines. Not much work, healthy enough if you can handle white rice, cheap and easy.

    In Chiang Mai eating out is super cheap and the food is much better than what I could find in my corner of BKK, so this isn’t really needed.

    • V.T. says:

      I also use a rice cooker. I used it to fry eggs, bacon, ham, steak, burger patties and french fries. I also use it to cook noodle soup with boiled eggs, meatballs, dumplings etc. Or I use it to warm up food like a microwave. I cut costs on my food expenses since I started using a rice cooker.

  6. NP42 says:

    Great pic of the Burger King at Soi 4 subtitled with McDonald’s 🙂

  7. RealGuy says:

    My man.. I could write a book on this subject. I did the math, and I’m down to 37 peso/meal. But I have a live in GF whose trained in Thai/Vietnamese/Indian/Filipino/Western cuisine, and that’s not in the cards for most mongers.

    I backpacked around Asia for a few months, and my go to meal is boiled eggs (with salt), instant coffee, and instant oatmeal for breakfast. You can make it with an immersion heater and large mug, or one of those plastic tea kettles. If you’re buying all the supplies in the grocery store, it’s about 20 pesos a meal.

  8. RealGuy says:

    As for eating out, I’d highly recommend trying the local silog options. Tapsilog is pretty good– beef tapas marinated in soy sauce, two eggs, and rice. It’s usually 50 pesos or therabouts. There’s also longsilog, which is the same thing, just with sweet sausage. And tocilog, which is the same but with sweet cured pork.

    If you want variety, go to the food court of the malls, or if they have an SM supermarket, the food stalls just by the entrance. They’ll usually have a shawarma place selling ~50peso wraps. But there should be a decent variety for cheap.For other meals, go to the inihaw (bbq) places. You can get a good portion of chicken and rice at mang inasal for 130 pesos. It’s a good post workout meal. There’s a ton of other copycat places with similar.

  9. Jobo says:

    Just about every time I eat out in the Philippines I get ill. I would estimate I sick about 80% of the time I eat out. The mild form is violent diarrhea for three days and I need to stay very close to the toilet. The bad version is vomiting and diarrhea where I can’t get out of bed for three days. That time really sucked. It was from eating a salad from kokomos last year. I suspect Filipinos aren’t washing their hands after defecating. Also suspect they don’t wash any surfaces that have had raw meat on it etc..

    • Normal Nomad says:

      Eating streetfood? Try the malls. I’ve never gotten sick from eating at a PH Mall restaurant.

    • RealGuy says:

      Havent had any issues besides the first jetlag week. How often are you drinking? Alcohol destroys your gut lining and allows gut bacteria into the bloodstream, making you sick.

      Get a hepa A vaccination before going to Philippines. Buy a pill bottle of activiated charcoal and keep it handy. I take 6 pills then 2 each hour when I get food poisoning until symptoms subside.

      When youre healthy take probiotics, yakult or kimchi is fine, to restore gut biome and strengthen immune system.

      • expat333 says:

        Yakult is the shiz nizzle. They should make bigger bottles of it.

          • Jobo says:

            Not eating street food and my gut is fine. When I cook at home I never have an issue, I wash my foods well, wash my hands and any surfaces that raw meats touch. Never an issue at home, great health. As soon as I eat out I get sick about 80% of the time. My Filipina GF gets sick too so it isn’t just me its the food preparation techniques and most Filipinos don’t wash their hands with soap after shitting.

            Have gotten sick from mall food in restaurants… You want specifics?: off memory a S&R pizza place in marquee mall, Kokomos in walking street, Texas Joe’s in Subic, a McDonalds in IBA… all that is just in the last 2 months. I’ve been in the Philippines for about a year and half so I don’t think my body (and my GFs body) is just going to get used to food poisoning.

            Yes I have all my vaccines.. just got off contract work for the Army.. its a requirement to have all vaccines up to date.

    • expat333 says:

      Dude, a couple months after I moved here, I ate at a cheap, local restaurant and almost had to go to the hospital a little while after. I didn’t go, but I basically shat uncontrollably while trying to remain conscious and alive. I guess I’ve gotten used to the food and bacteria, because I now eat almost everything I see with no real problem.

  10. Sir Save-A_Whore, no more says:

    Dante, where you been hiding your stomach? I sincerely recommend you try caldaretta of anything at least once. It is traditionally made with goat, but beef is more commonly found. It is delicious if prepared by someone who knows whatt they are doing. If you like the slightly sour taste of tamarind pulp, then definitely try sinigang of anything also. Some people cheat by using tomatoes instead of tamarinds and it is no where near as good. Traditional tamarind sigang is delicious. Sinigang is more of a soup type meal, made with chicken, pork. bangus or any other protein, with traditional leafy green vegetable leaves in the soup also. It is delicious if prepared by someone who knows what they are doing. Adobong baboy (pork adobo) or adobong manok (chicken adobo are both delicious. Adobo is basically made from good quality Suka Tuba (coconut palm flower nectar vinegar) and good quality soy sauce. Unfortunately all Philippinas think Philippine Silver Swan soy sauce is the bee’s knees, which truthfully it is not. Squid brand from Thailand is way better and any of the good quality Vietnamese soy sauces arre better again than Thai Squid Brand. For adobo, beware if it is made using so called “spirit” vinegar, cane vinegar or coconut vinegar which is made from fermented coconut water and is cloudy and in my opinion is worse than rank. The world’s best vinegar is made from the nectar of coconut palm flowers (Suka Tuba) and WILL have sediment in the bottom of the bottle if it is good quality. That sediment is actually the coconut flower pollen. Good quality Suka Tuba is golden in colour and transparent (unless you shake the bottle and mix up the pollen). Easily the best vinegar anywhere, Suka Tuba that is. Personally, I think traditional Philippine foods are gastronomic paradise if they are correctly made. The one positive thing I must admit about my Philippina ex-wife is that she was a damn fine cook! Try every traditional Philippine food at least once. Most of them are truly delicious.

    • Sir Save-A_Whore, no more says:

      Reply to my own reply here: I know most will find this thought absolutely disgusting and merely by posting this I know I will draw in haters and the flames from hell. If you get the opportunity, eat dog caldaretta. Dog meat is by far the best tasting protein I have ever eaten and dog caldaretta is, well, beyond description. Amazingly delicious.

    • Sir Save-A_Whore, no more says:

      One more thing: if you are allowing your Philippina live-in to cook for you. Look in the kitchen cupboard, find and throw away anything labled Ajinomoto. Never buy it again or permit her to purchase it again. Ajinomoto is 100% Mono-sodium glutamate, a flavour enhacer. Anyone who needs to use MSG to make their cooking taste good does not know what they are doing in the kitchen.

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