King Sue, Pampanga’s Best, Purefoods, or Tita’s? Our Chicken Tocino Taste TestFebruary 24, 2019
Ranking high up in the list of well-loved Filipino breakfast foods is tocino, a.k.a. meat cured in a mix of sugar, salt, other flavorings (which may include anise wine, soy sauce, garlic, and/or pineapple juice), saltpetre (or salitre, a preservative) in some variations, and/or prague powder or annatto seeds. It entices with its decidedly sweet and savory character and distinctive reddish hue (which makes it comparable to Chinese char siu); and though the pork-based version is traditional, tocino can also be found made with its white-meat fellow, chicken. You’ll find a couple of brands that offer ready-to-fry versions in the supermarket; who does it best?
Note: we cooked all tocino according to package instructions, in the absence of which we resorted to pan-frying by default.
This Fil-Chi brand goes for small, bite-sized chunks over the other brands’ bigger pieces, and exudes an appetizing meaty aroma as you fry it over the pan. It cooks up to a fleshy, relatively natural-looking chicken tocino that’s just barely glazed, and ever so slightly sticky to the touch. From the outside, it’s on the sugary side as you’d expect, but has an ample amount of salt for balance—more so than the other brands. The meat within weirdly doesn’t taste like much of chicken however, instead displaying a odd, soapy note that puts us off. Even more bizarre is its consistency, feeling more crumbly than fibrous as you take a bite.
Sweetness: 4/5 | Saltiness: 3/5
This known Pampango player’s chicken tocino comes in bigger (roughly palm-sized) pieces that are slightly syrupy right out of the package. Fried in oil as per the package instructions, it has the tendency to stick to the pan, likely due to the sugar—though this also lets you get a good char on its (arguably) natural-colored surface. This carries over to the flavor as it’s the sweetest of the bunch, but in a somewhat homemade-tasting way that still evokes cane sugar, given depth from the welcome bitterness that develops as it caramelizes over the stove. It also retains a fibrousness within, thus reminding us that, additives aside, we are in fact eating real chicken.
Sweetness: 5/5 | Saltiness: 2/5
Purefoods’ version boasts of being honey-glazed and has the most syrupy version of the bunch, coming in large, roughly palm-sized pieces. It amazingly does not stick to the pan when fried, giving you glistening pieces of meat with a deep, reddish hue (similar to that of its common pork counterpart). Even within it’s eerily pinkish, with a texture that’s still somewhat on the fibrous side—but more compressed, resulting in a chewy, relatively silky, ham-like feel. Sweet, savory, and slightly smoky, the flavor also reminds us of ham (in particular, the kind that’s popular during the holidays) perhaps more than it does tocino, but it’s enjoyable nevertheless.
Sweetness: 4.5/5 | Saltiness: 3/5
Also hailing from Pampanga, Tita’s Special’s chicken tocino also gives you large (also palm-sizedish) pieces. It’s not too syrupy from the packet but develops a great char when pan-fried, along with a reddish-orange hue while being slightly pink within. This brand has the oddest consistency for us, being on the even more gummy side (it almost reminds us of cartilage), and being too uniform with barely any meat fibers (somewhat evoking street side fishballs or kikiam). If anything, it carries just the right amount of sweetness that surprisingly complements the chicken-y essence inside.
Sweetness: 3.5/5 | Saltiness: 2/5
The Verdict: Pampanga’s Best
Though candy-like in sweetness, Pampanga’s Best reigns supreme with its relatively natural-tasting and natural-feeling version, which (thankfully) preserves its semblance of being made of chicken. And though not as specifically tocino-y, Purefoods’ sweet, smoky, ham-like take stands out in its own way, tasting as great served ‘silog style as it is in a more Western-style sandwich.