Souvenir-giving is a unique aspect of Filipino culture. You just can’t jet off to somewhere without buying something for your family, friends, and the whole barangay.
While you can stick to the usual ref magnets, postcards, and keychains, why not get your loved ones something more unique the next time you travel around the Philippines? Go buy 'em something interesting. Something that can be a conversation starter. Something that they'll remember and not just chuck away in their Drawer of Boring Gifts Received.
We've listed 10 such pasalubongs (and where in the country they're usually found and bought) below.
1) Barrel Man
You can’t go to a souvenir shop in the Mountain Province and not find the ubiquitous Barrel Man, a wooden dude that hides a springy surprise under the barrel he’s wearing. There’s also a female version for more gender equality.
2) Penis ashtrays (among other phallic figurines)
Our fascination with all things penis-related doesn’t stop with the Barrel Man: Baguio souvenir shops also have a host of phallic wooden figurines, including very cocky ashtrays. We don’t understand the connection between cigarette dregs and the male reproductive organ—last time we checked, smoking isn’t really an indicator of sexual prowess—but we still buy one every time we're in the City of Pines.
3) Frog wallet/pouch
We’d like to know what was going on in the mind of the dude who first thought of using a frog carcass as a pouch. Did he have a pet frog he loved dearly and wanted to immortalize? Did he look at the dead frogs they dissected in Biology class and thought, "that would look so cool dangling from my neck"? Whatever his initial reason was, he sure hit the pasalubong jackpot with this one which is quite popular in a number of provinces (e.g. Ilocos, Bicol) in Luzon.
4) Anting-anting (amulets)
Other countries have the rabbit foot and their four-leaf clovers. Here in the Philippines, we have anting-anting or amulets, which you can get from mystical places such as Mount Banahaw, Siquijor, and Quiapo. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees about their effectiveness, so use them with a grain of salt. In any case, they make for great keychains!
5) Gayuma (love potion)
If matters of the heart are the only thing the person you’re buying souvenirs for is unlucky in, you might want to get your pal potions or gayuma instead the next time you visit Quiapo or the Visayas (e.g. Panay, Cebu, Guimaras). Like amulets, these love potions probably won't work, but they're really interesting to keep or show off nonetheless.
6) "Weapons of Moroland" plaque
If you’re on the lookout for home decor that screams patriotism, look for a "Weapons of Moroland" plaque (usually found in provinces down South and souvenir shops in Manila), which showcases the most common swords and knives used in Mindanao in the past. Give it to a Fil-Am friend to display alongside the "Last Supper" portrait in his/her dining room!
7) Balisong (buttefly knife)
Speaking of weapons, you might as well look for a balisong the next time you’re in Batangas. These folding pocket knives make for great self-defense weapons, and are mighty impressive when flipped properly. Be careful when bringing them out of the PH though, as these babies are illegal in some countries. Also, don't forget to warn the recipient that it must be handled with utmost care.
8) Angel cookies
While Good Shepherd’s ube jam, strawberry jam, and peanut brittle are unparalleled, you should also try their angel cookies, which is made of bits of Holy Communion hostia. Not keen on lining up for these in Baguio? You can also get these #blessed treats at Pink Sisters in Tagaytay.
9) Walis tambo (broom)
Harry Potter’s Firebolt is no match for our very own walis tambo, which has been proven to be very effective as far as manual cleaning goes. You can buy it in most provinces, but the Baguio-made ones apparently have extra magical sweeping powers, judging by the number of people requesting them as souvenirs.
10) Sundot kulangot
Imagine the reaction on a foreigner’s face when you tell them that these tiny innocent-looking spheres are called "picked snot." For the uninformed: No, these are not real boogers. They’re sweet, sticky bits of glutinous rice stored in mini coconut shells sold in Baguio, which you have to scoop out using a long, narrow device...like your finger, hence the interesting name.