Top 10 Pinoy Chicheria

( When it comes to sinful snacks, Filipinos don’t mind getting their hands dirty. We just love to munch on salty, spicy, cheesy, and sometimes oddly flavored crunchies that don’t quite excel in the nutritional scheme of things (can you say sodium, saturated fat, and calories?) But we don’t care. They’re our most affordable guilty pleasure: junk food.

The term "junk food" was popularized by microbiologist Michael Jacobson in 1972, according Andrew F. Smith, author of the Encyclopedia of Junk Food and Fast Food. Jacobson was the co-founder of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. This not-so-healthy food group not only includes crunchies like chips and other crisps, but also fast food favorites like hamburgers, fries, hotdogs, and fried chicken. Usual comfort foods like ice cream and cake also shine in this caloric category.

In his New York Times article, "Let Us Now Praise the Great Men of Junk Food," writer Manny Fernandez says that "the history of junk food is largely an American tale" because no other nation has created so many variants, established so many brands, and eaten a you-don’t-want-to-know amount.

But we Filipinos are also junk food hotshots, concocting our fair share of guilt-inducing, crunchy-crispy favorites we’ve come to know as chicheria, a term we suspect Pinoys have derived throughout time from the word chicha, as fermented drinks are known in Latin America. Chicheria are the places where you can drink chicha (such as corn beer). The term chicheria might have evolved in the Philippines from Spanish times to refer to the crunchy snacks usually eaten with these drinks. Or perhaps the monicker is a derivative of our favorite pork rind snack chicharon, known in almost all Latin American countries, and has been extrapolated to encompass the bigger realm of all things deep-fried.


That being said, went on a junk food binge to rank our favorite munchies so essential to fill the Pinoy’s daily mindless eating (non) nutritional requirements:

(By the way, would like to disclose that Jack n Jill Fun Snacks are produced and distributed by the Universal Robina Corporation, which, along with our publisher Summit Media, is part of the JG Summit Conglomerate.)

10. La La Fish Crackers

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Crunch crave: Cheap and filling, fish crackers have been a popular pulutan among Pinoys for decades and especially complements ice cold Pale Pilsen. In the last few years, La La Fish Crackers have been reincarnated in true-blue (and red, and yellow...) junk food packaging, complete with the sealed foil pack and supermarket standout graphics. La La’s thick, salty fish crackers are made from wheat and rice flour, cassava starch, fish, vegetable oil, iodized salt, sugar, MSG, spices and natural flavoring. Aside from the Classic flavor, La La fish crackers (P9.85) also come in Salt and Vinegar, and Sweet Chili flavors. Other variants include Takoyaki, Tempura, Prawn Crackers, Cassava Chips, Potato Crisps and Chicky Chips.

Junkie fuss: Unless you were reared on it courtesy of sidewalk vendors and sari-sari stores, La La can be a bit of an acquired taste. La La’s fishy smell isn’t for everyone. Unless dipped in super-asim vinegar, there can be such a thing as "too salty" umay for the Classic flavor.



9. Chiz Curls


Crunch crave: Oh don’t you just remember your childhood with Chiz Curls, the cheese flavored corn curls? This old school treat has been around since the early 1970s. The curls are made from corn, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, cheese powder, butter or soybean oil, and iodized salt. You can enjoy puffy, lightly buttery, cheddar cheese-flavored corn crunchies for P14.50. This is the only variant, which is only logical considering the name.


Junkie fuss: Don’t let the curls stay in your mouth for too long because the gooey texture might turn you off. Too soft and chewy isn’t appetizing at all.

8. Clover Chips


Crunch Crave: For P19.50, you can get your hands cheesy dirty with Clover Chips. Each corn and tapioca chip is layered with thick cheese flavoring that sticks to your finger tips--finger lickin’ good-style. The packaging and content also deserve thumbs up; there’s actually a lot inside each bag (unlike other deceiving options). Other variants include Ham and Cheese, Chili and Cheese, and Barbecue. The original Cheese variant has been the bestseller since it was launched in the early 1970s. It is made of yellow corn, tapioca starch, vegetable oil, natural cheddar cheese powder, citric acid, and iodized salt, among others.


Flunk Fest: If you’re not willing to get down and dirty to eat this treat, then you won’t fully enjoy it. To condition yourself, just think popcorn in the movie house, only with thicker cheese.


7. Mr. Chips

Crunch crave: Triangular and bite-sized, Mr. Chips (P16.30) is easy to wolf down. The nacho cheese-flavored corn chips are generously dusted with cheese powder and pack a bit of a spicy punch. The chips are made of, among others, vegetable and soybean oil, cheese powder, butter, dry buttermilk, and corn--of course. Launched in 1989, the original Cheese flavor is the bestseller compared to the other two Mr. Chips variants, Pinoy Spaghetti and Sweet Barbecue.


Junkie fuss: Where is the sombrero-wearing mascot that used to be on the wrapper? We miss the little guy we used to see before getting to Mr. Chips’ "mucho goodness."

6. Tortillos


Crunch crave: Tortillos, at P18.50, offers thin and crunchy corn chips in thick, thick flavor. Tortillos deserves a spot on the list for being generous on two counts--flavor and content. Each piece is "rolled extra thin for extra flavor" and that you can count on. The smokey barbecue flavor is crave-worthy, while the strong aroma entices you to get more, more, and well, more. Other variants include Chili, Cheese, and the newest addition, Sour Cream and Cheese. Ingredients include corn, vegetable oil, yeast extract, sugar, iodized salt, flavor enhancer, and citric acid, among others.

Junkie fuss: The metallic red wrap is a bit too much don’t you think? It’s not exactly Granny Goose’s most flattering color. But hey, it seems to have worked for years.

5. VCut Potato Chips



Crunch crave: For P21.25, you can get your crispy fix of thin, ridge-sliced potatoes in subtly spicy barbecue flavor--the bestseller among other variants namely, Cheese, Onion and Garlic, Sweet Chili, and Adobo. Ingredients include potatoes, vegatable oil, natural and artificial barbecue flavor, salt, sugar, acidity regulator, and rusk powder, among others. The taste slowly intensifies with every bite so those who have low tolerance for spicy munchies can enjoy this potato snack. And each potato chip is crunchy too; nice and crunchy to eat that you’ll almost feel bad for the cute potato mascot on the packaging. No wonder Pinoys have been raving about this snack since it was launched in the 1980s.


Junkie fuss: Some may say the cut is "not too thin, not too thick," but each chip is still too brittle. Try shaking the pack a bit and you’ll be eating (or not) potato chip remains with flavor dust. Not to mention that inside each pack, there seems to actually be more air than chips.

4. Piattos



Crunch crave: Now here’s a potato chip with a pronounced crunch. For P23, you can get your hands on the famous hexagonal potato chips (preferred in cheese flavor by many) that are thin, light, crispy, and good in carrying flavor. Each powdery piece leaves the right kind of salty cheese flavor in the mouth that really revs up your appetite. Plus, the packaging is simple; no weird mascots and contrasting colors. Other flavors include Sour Cream, Roadhouse Barbecue, Nacho Pizza, and Roast Beef. Some of the ingredients are dehydrated potatoes, potato starch, flavor powder, butter or soybean oil, and dry buttermilk.

Junkie fuss: You can only have so much of this sinful snack. Overdose on it and you’ll feel the salty flavor slowly causing a palate upset. A pretty yummy snack, yes, but like anything else, too much of anything can’t be good.


3. Chippy Barbecue Flavored Corn Chips (P17.10)



Crunch Crave: Tickling taste buds since 1969, Chippy (P17.10) is definitely an institution among Pinoy junk foods. Generations of Filipinos have enjoyed these noticeably crunchy strips of these iconic corn chips sprinkled with not-too-spicy barbecue seasoning, iodized salt, and onion and garlic powder, among others. From the original Barbecue variant, the Chippy family has grown to include Garlic and Vinegar, Chili and Cheese, and Beef and Chili. Still, nothing beats the palate-friendly Barbecue flavor, the bestseller among the bunch. Also worth mentioning are Chippy’s funky commercials, like the FAMAS and horror fest, that have kept the public’s interest piqued through the years.


Junkie fuss: Seems like the Chippy packaging has been around for, uh, forever. Iconic, yes, but maybe it’s time for a wrapper facelift?

2. Boy Bawang Cornick


Crunch crave: The Pambansang Pasalubong Essential is ubiquitous in any Filipino store in the planet. Since its Garlic flavor became a hit in 2003, Boy Bawang (P14.25) has expanded its line and now offers Chili Cheese, Adobo, Barbecue, Hot Garlic, Tamis Anghang and Lechon Manok flavors. But even with the birth of all these new munch-worthy cornick options, nothing hits that salty, fatty spot quite like the original Garlic flavor. That variant is made of fried corn, iodized salt, garlic, sugar, chili powder and MSG, among other ingredients. You can eat Boy Bawang by the handful, dip it in vinegar with chili bits, or try crushing it and using it as pancit canton garnish as seen here.


Junkie fuss: Boy Bawang claims to contain no preservatives and artificial color but the big 100-gram pack fills up three-fourths of your saturated fat needs for the day (not to mention the sodium content). Better grab the tiny 10-gram packs to somewhat limit your cornick craving.


1. Marty’s Cracklin’ Vegetarian Chicharon



Crunch crave: Touted as the "vegetarian chicharon," Marty’s Cracklin’ is treated as a healthy sin by some. Made from dehydrated green peas and potatoes, it looks like chicharon and tastes close enough to the real thing--crispy and a little oily with an earthy aftertaste. It lacks the porky flavor of the chicharon but its cholesterol-free claim more than makes up for that. Marty’s Cracklin’, which comes in Plain Salted and Salt and Vinegar variants--may have been out in the market for only the past few years but it was already much coveted for its "guilt-free" deliciousness even before that hilarious "Hindi siya baboy, gulay!" TV commercial. At P16.50 for a big bag (90 grams), it definitely gives you bang for your buck.

Junkie fuss: While it proclaims to be guilt-free, it’s not completely so. Though it is said to be made from vegetables (see "Marty’s Story" for a quirky tale on the origin of the vegetarian chicharon), it’s not as good for your health as, of course, actual fresh greens. It still packs some sodium and saturated fat--like most  chicheria--so don’t get too addicted.



Photos by Warren Espejo. Prices based on Robinsons Supermarket price list.

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