Oh my gulay!

The most exotic veggie dishes from around the Philippines

Because of our geographical location, the Philippines is blessed with some of the most diverse vegetables and crops in the world. While Pinoys are familiar with carrots, cucumber, lettuce, spinach, or kale, not many foreigners know of our vegetables like saluyot, or upo, or sigarilyas, or labong, or patola, and gabi. Some of these vegetables don’t even have a direct English translation.

Found in tropical or subtropical regions, vegetables like jute (saluyot), winged bean (sigarilyas), patola (gourd), and bamboo shoots (labong) may be considered exotic to the Western palate. They can only be grown in our climate and, because some of them—like labong—very easily spoil, are also very rarely found in specialty stores or ethnic markets abroad.

Their taste is also distinct, making them an acquired taste for many, which then makes our exotic veggies scarce abroad due to limited export markets and lack of demand.

But these unique vegetables are part of the Filipino palate, cherished as traditional components in our cuisine.

This Lenten season, enjoy these five special, distinctly Filipino veggies by cooking them the traditional way.



Known as jute or Egyptian spinach, saluyot is a leafy green vegetable used in soups or heavy stews.

Saluyot Soup Ingredients:

Saluyot leaves, garlic, onion, tomatoes, fish or shrimp (optional), salt, pepper, water or broth.


• Sauté garlic, onion, and tomatoes in a pot until fragrant.
• Add fish or shrimp and cook until slightly browned.
• Pour water or broth into the pot and bring to a boil.
• Add saluyot leaves and simmer until tender.
• Season with salt and pepper to taste.
• Serve hot



With a fancy English name—winged bean, the humble sigarilyas is a tropical legume whose pods and seeds are edible. You can see it mixed with salads or soups, or stir-fried.

Sigarilyas Salad Ingredients

Sigarilyas (winged bean), tomatoes, onions, garlic, vinegar, soy sauce, salt, pepper, sugar (optional).


• Blanch sigarilyas in boiling water for a few minutes, then drain
and let cool.
• Slice sigarilyas into bite-sized pieces and place in a bowl
.• Add chopped tomatoes and onions to the bowl
• In a separate bowl, mix vinegar, soy sauce, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and sugar (optional) to make the dressing
• Pour the dressing over the sigarilyas mixture and toss to combine.
• Chill in the refrigerator for about an hour before serving.



Gabi, or taro root, is a tuber that is commonly used in Filipino cooking. Slightly sweet with a creamy texture, it is a favorite in soup and stews, and even as desserts.

Ginataang Gabi (Taro Root in Coconut Milk) Ingredients:

Taro root (gabi), coconut milk, sugar (optional), salt.


• Peel and cut taro root into cubes.
• In a pot, combine taro cubes and coconut milk.
• Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the taro is tender.
• Add sugar if desired for sweetness.
• Season with salt to taste.



Labong, or bamboo shoots,is an old favorite for many Filipinos. These are from bamboo plants.

Ginataang Labong (Bamboo Shoots in Coconut Milk) Ingredients:

Bamboo shoots (labong), coconut milk, garlic, onion, ginger, chili (optional), fish or shrimp (optional), salt, pepper, cooking oil.


• Heat cooking oil in a pot and sauté garlic, onion, and ginger until fragrant.
• Add fish or shrimp, if desired, and cook until slightly browned.
• Add sliced bamboo shoots and stir-fry for a few minutes.
• Pour coconut milk into the pot and bring to a simmer
.• Add chili (optional) and season with salt and pepper to taste.
• Simmer until the bamboo shoots are tender and the flavors are well combined.



A gourd that is very common to Filipino dishes, upo is a perfect foil for salty mains as it has a mild flavor and soft texture. It is often stir-fried.

Upo Guisado (Sautéed Bottle Gourd) Ingredients:

Upo (bottle gourd), garlic, onion, tomatoes, pork or shrimp (optional), soy sauce, salt, pepper, cooking oil.


• Heat cooking oil in a pan and sauté garlic, onion, and tomatoes until softened.
• If using shrimp, add shrimp and cook until browned.
• Add sliced upo and stir-fry for a few minutes.
• Pour soy sauce and a little water, then cover and simmer until the upo is tender.
• Season with salt and pepper to taste.