Bistek: Two Ways


The Rachael Ray 30-minute approach to cooking meals is completely lost on me. It’s not that I don’t think cooking a weeknight’s dinner in a quick and efficient manner is a bad idea–it’s brilliant actually–it’s just that I am molasses-slow in the kitchen. Constructing an entire meal in 30 minutes or less would be somewhat of
a miracle for me (heck, it sometimes takes me longer than that to drop
a deuce).

I like to move at my own pace and take my sweet lollygaggin’ time when I’m in the kitchen. I may look up at the green digits on my microwave clock one moment, look back down at whatever I’m chopping, stirring, or cursing at, and then look back up at that clock an hour later not realizing how much time has lapsed (or that my wife is hunched over on the couch with a painfully grumbly tummy).

And this is why the wife cooks a bulk of the meals during the busy work week, and on the lazy weekends I’m on kitchen duty. When we do plan meals during the week that I will be cooking, I usually have to do the prep work the day before so that we can eat at a decent hour the following evening.

But I’ve recently discovered a Filipino dish that seemingly allows me to bend the space-time continuum so that I can feed the wife and myself on a weeknight. I don’t even have to fake “the gout” and take a half-day at work so I can have more prep time in the kitchen (not that I’ve ever faked “the gout” before, ahem).

This dish I speak of is Bistek–which is just beef marinated in soy and kalamansi and then cooked with onions. That’s it. No, seriously. That’s all Bistek is. Just take some meat, soak it in some soy and kalamansi juice for half an hour, then throw everything into a pan (marinade and all) with onions, serve with rice, and enjoy.



I realize I’m probably the last Pinoy on the planet to discover the quickness (the quickness!) with which Bistek can be made, but better late than never I say. I’ve also read that the word “Bistek” is a Filipino corruption of the English word “Beef Steak”. But I don’t believe this explanation of nomenclature considering there are numerous Latin dishes that go by the name “Bistec Encebollado” (also steak and onions). So, like many other Filipino dishes, I’m pretty sure our Bistek, at least in name, is of Spanish origin as well.

Considering this connection to Spain, I found another use for Bistek via Mexico (Spain once governed its Philippine colony from Mexico [confusing, but true]). Instead of cooking the beef and onions in the marinade on the stove, I grilled the steak and onions on my barbecue:


Grilled Bistek

I then sliced the meat and threw it into a tortilla topped with the onions, some queso de bola (edam) cheese and some cilantro:


Bistek Tacos

The Bistek Tacos would probably also fare well with a little topping of Atchara as well. Although the Bistek Tacos lack the sauce that the traditional preparation includes, the longer marination of the meat ensures the maximum toyomansi taste (flava in ya mouf!).

I used sirloin for the traditional Bistek, and flank steak for the tacos, but I think either meat would work for either situation. I found both applications to be amazingly easy to prepare and were perfect for a quick midweek dinner.

Filipino Bistek (Citrus Steak and Onions)

Serves 2 to 4

1 lb. sirloin beef, sliced thinly
1/4 cup kalamansi juice (or lemon juice)
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 Tablespoon oil
1 large onion, sliced into thin rings
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place the beef, kalamansi juice, soy sauce, and garlic in a large zip-top bag, or in a shallow dish, and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 mins.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the meat from the marinade (reserve marinade, do not discard marinade) and sear the meat on all sides, 4-5 minutes total. Remove meat from pan, place the meat in a bowl, and set aside. If the pan is dry, add a bit more oil. Add the onion rings to the pan and saute for 3 minutes.

Pour the reserved marinade into the pan with the onions, being sure to deglaze and scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the black pepper to the sauce and taste for seasoning. If the sauce is too salty, or too sour, add 1/2 cup of water if necessary. You can also add water if you just want to have more sauce.

Add the meat back to the pan and cook for another 2 minutes. You can also thicken the sauce with cornstarch if desired. Serve with rice.

Bistek Tacos

Serves 2 to 4

1 lb. flank steak (leave whole, do not slice)
1/4 cup kalamansi juice (or lemon juice)
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large onion
Salt and pepper, to taste
Olive oil
Tortillas (flour or corn)
1/4 cup edam cheese, grated
Cilantro, for garnish

Place the beef, kalamansi juice, soy sauce, and garlic in a large
zip-top bag, or in a shallow dish, and marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

Cut the onion into 1/4-inch slices, then place the onion slices on skewers so that they are easier to grill. Brush the onion slices with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.


Remove the meat from the marinade; reserve the marinade. Place the meat and onion skewers on a hot grill over high heat. Grill the meat and onions for 10-12 minutes total for medium-rare meat, brushing occasionally with the reserved marinade. Remove the steak and onions from the grill and allow the steak to rest for 10 minutes. Discard the leftover marinade.

Thinly slice the steak against the grain. Place the steak and onions in warmed tortillas, then top with cheese and cilantro.


  • Wandering Chopsticks October 26, 2008, 8:33 pm

    Haha. Well, in Vietnamese it’s “bit tet.” Which if you say it with an accent sounds like “beef steak.”

  • Manggy October 26, 2008, 8:59 pm

    Normally I would have picked the Filipino Bistek by default, but eating a bit more beef in the States recently has reinforced my love for it. So, to summarize: as long as the latter is sliced thinly, bring it awwn.
    Here in the household we use pork tenderloin instead of beef since there are some people here who don’t eat beef (sigh). But I think it’s still a very good dish. Gotta love those soft, beef-y, salty and sweet onions.
    I think even bistec is etymologically derived from “beef steak.” If it were otherwise, that would be a pretty uncanny coincidence!

  • Erin October 26, 2008, 9:57 pm

    Those tacos look delicious. The recipe totally seems connected carne asada. I love to see how recipes travel the globe.

  • Veron October 27, 2008, 5:27 am

    I wish there were fresh calamansis over here -lemon is never the same. Those bistek tacos sound great…never thought of grilling them – thanks for the idea!

  • rita October 27, 2008, 8:27 am

    that bistek sounds good and easy (not to mention, it sounds goofy. hehehe)! since i don’t know what to make for dinner… and i’m getting close to it, too. YIKES! i think, i’ll try that. thanks!
    have an awesome week!

  • socky October 27, 2008, 8:35 am

    I try to avoid pan-frying in my condo, so your grilled version of bistek is a great idea! For a single portion, I can even do it in my oven toaster/grill.

  • Julie October 27, 2008, 1:22 pm

    Oh, man–just the sight of that bistec over rice brought back some strongly wonderful memories of my mom’s cooking. I could even taste it. It looks great!

  • Dea October 27, 2008, 2:17 pm

    Bistek was actually the first Filipino dish I learned how to make. I don’t know how I could have survived living on my own without it! But no matter how many times I’ve made it so far, I can never make it as good as my dad’s.
    Cheers! =D

  • Bobby October 27, 2008, 2:26 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but how is this different from Carnesada? The cooking method? Also can I use lime instead of the very hard to find kalamansi in Canada…
    By the way, I LOVE your blog, I have it saved on my igoogle page, first thing I open after my emails and work websites.

  • brilynn October 27, 2008, 6:02 pm

    This sounds great!
    I like to take my time in the kitchen too, that’s why I struggle with restaurant work and its fast pace.

  • bagito October 27, 2008, 7:28 pm

    Wow, looks so yummy! By any chance, did you use “Kal’s” fruits for this go-round? :)

  • paoix October 27, 2008, 7:37 pm

    Hey this looks great! I’ll have to try the taco. I’ve used hanger/skirt steak with great success as well. and you are absolutely right it’s very easy to make this stuff.

  • outdoor griller October 27, 2008, 8:46 pm

    That looks good. If you want more recipes or if you want to take a look at the collection of tips I have for grilling you can visit

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js October 27, 2008, 8:50 pm

    Haven’t made bistek in a long, long time (last year), so this reminds me that I need to have it soon. However, I’m torn, because I love the bistek tacos too. That was inspired!

  • bernadette October 28, 2008, 2:46 am

    i really find the bistek taco very very innovative! Thanks marvin for always going beyond the usual and daring to share it even! That inspires me a lot!

  • Jescel October 28, 2008, 8:25 am

    man, it’s lunchtime here and i’m looking at your bistek..salavating like a mad dog! . how come my bistek doesn’t look as yummy as yours?? LOL…

  • Fearless Kitchen October 28, 2008, 9:04 am

    This looks wonderful and is making me hungry. My husband will love both of these dishes.

  • Pat October 28, 2008, 11:06 am

    that calamansi juice is tasty in just about anything! i’ve found the juice in small packs in the freezer section of my Asian market and some vendors sell the fruit-laden trees in farmers markets here. I think meyer lemons are a wonderful, fragrant substitute for those who can’t find calamansi.

  • farida October 28, 2008, 2:59 pm

    I haven’t been to your blog lately and looks like I’ve been missing on a lot. Filipino steak looks yummy! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  • stkyrice October 28, 2008, 3:40 pm

    That’s awesome! I had no idea that bistek was so easy to make. I have a lot of calamansi leftover since I made a calamansi limoncello, so I think I’m going to make some bistek tonight.

  • raissa October 28, 2008, 5:17 pm

    wow! your bistek looks so good. I like it to have more soy sauce but with a good balance of kalamansi juice. For bistek – it just has to be kalamansi juice and nothing less. Lemon juice just doesnt cut it. =) I checked your proportions and yes! thats what I was looking for. No wonder your version has that brown-ish color which would go so well with a steaming cup of rice and those onions. Yummy!
    Bistek tacos – awesome idea! I wonder what bistek shawarma or gyros would taste like hmmm

  • raissa October 28, 2008, 5:25 pm

    oh when I cook bistek..i fry actually more like sear the beef first with little oil then set it aside. Then once all have been fried or seared i put the marinade into the pan so I can scrap off the drippings, let it simmer then put the beef and onions. This is when I have more time =) I guess when quick food is what we are looking for, putting everything in the pot is the best way

  • Mikey October 29, 2008, 10:32 am

    I thought it was “Bipstek”

  • elmomonster October 29, 2008, 10:38 am

    Calamansi juice and soy? *Slapping my forehead* I had thought surely there must be more. This is one of my favorites at Magic Wok and dang…maybe I should make it myself if it’s just calamansi juice and soy.

  • Burnt Lumpia October 29, 2008, 3:04 pm

    I’ve never heard of “bit tet”, WC. But I wonder if there’s any relation to bistek at all, or if it’s just coincidence.
    My grandmother doesn’t eat beef either, Manggy, and I’ve always thought that was weird. But pork tenderloin “bistek” sounds like a fine idea!
    Hi Erin. Yeah, it is a lot like carne asada-very flavorful and tender.
    I agree, veron. Lemon is OK as a sub, but nothing compared to using actual calamansi juice.
    thanks rita! I hope it turns out well for you.
    Hi Socky! Yes, the grilled version is definitely condo-friendly. I try to avoid pan-frying too, even with a splatter guard, but sometimes I can’t help myself so the cleanup is worth it.
    Thanks julie. Bistec and rice are always a great combo.
    Hello Dea. Thanks for visiting my blog. Very true, it seems that we can never duplicate the cooking of our parents and grandparents, but it doesn’t hurt to try;)
    Hi Bobby. Well, the first recipe I have is very different from carne asada in the cooking method (cooking in a pan vs. on a grill). The taco version is very similar, but the ingredients are different. Carne asada is usually marinated in lime juice and spices like cumin (usually no soy), whereas the bistek uses soy and kalamansi juice. And thanks for reading my blog.
    Thanks brilynn. I can’t imagine having to work in a restaurant–I’d get fired on the first day.
    Hi Bagito. Actually, Kal is all tapped out as far as his fruits go, so I had to buy some kalamansi from the local Filipino market.
    Thanks paoix, your version of bistek look awesome too.
    Thanks outdoor griller.
    Thanks js! I’ve gone much longer than a year without bistek, but now that I know how to make it, I’ll be eating it more often for sure.
    Thanks very much bernadette. All I was doing was just thinking of a different way to cook the meat than the normal way.
    Hi Jescel, I’m sure your bistek looks just as good!
    Thanks Fearless Kitchen! I hope your husban is as hungry as you are.
    I’ve got to look for the frozen version of calamansi, pat. I haven’t seen it yet, though I haven’t looked too hard for it. It would probably be good just to have some on hand whenever I need it. And great tip about meyer lemons!
    Thanks for coming back farida!
    Calamansi limoncello, stkyrice? That sounds awesome. Is it anything like my calamansi vodka:
    Ooooh, bistek shwarma and gyros?!! I might have to try that raissa! And yes, in my recipe I actually do sear the beef first, then scrape the drippings as you said.
    Haha mikey. I guess “bipstek” is right if you are actually saying “beef steak” with an accent;) Thanks for stopping by.
    Really, that’s all it is elmo. Super duper easy.

  • Lori Lynn October 29, 2008, 5:26 pm

    The sauce in the first photo looks so rich and delicious, hard to believe it is simply citrus and soy. I have to try that. Maybe with chicken too? Oh, I like your onions on a skewer. I grill them all the time, can’t believe I don’t do that to keep them from falling into the grill. You are just full of good ideas Marvin.

  • Janice October 29, 2008, 7:09 pm

    I LOVE BISTEK…in fact, i have a plate in front of me :) Nothing like bistek to heal a broken heart…

  • ahnjel October 29, 2008, 10:24 pm

    arrrgggg… my notebook crashed… anyway, i know im late… but anywho, bourdain did do berlin! and the boba was in LA i think.
    oh and i love, love bistek! actually im cooking it tomorrow for dinner… but i go the long way with mine, by sauteing garlic until brown then adding some of the onions then the beef and marinade. i dont notice any difference but i just like my food ‘sangkutchado’. im just like you in the kitchen, im super slow… i can spend hours upon hours neglecting my crying baby who i left in the walker to roam free and to leave me be.

  • Jude October 29, 2008, 11:42 pm

    I’ve heard the “filipino corruption” story and I don’t buy it as well. Spanish influence makes more sense.
    I always remember this being really rubbery, cooked to death and greasy, so I’m liking your different takes on it.

  • greasemonkey October 31, 2008, 4:38 am

    hehe.. you have to admit, ‘filipino corruption’ is practically redundant.. =) i know, i’m sorry, i’m spewing things sad AND true all over lately.. maybe it’ll motivate us to change a bit? hope springs eternal..
    great bistek, dude! the last batch i made with thin sirloin slices was great but i must try your grilled deconstruction soon!

  • matt wright October 31, 2008, 11:41 am

    This looks delicious. I love the shot of the skewered onions.

  • pleasurepalate November 1, 2008, 10:35 pm

    Bistek tacos? You’re definitely smarter than the average bear because that sounds heavenly! :)

  • Arnold Gatilao November 2, 2008, 11:35 am

    I’ve been at my parents for the week and just revisited my bistek recipe since my parents got a couple bags of kalamansi from their friends. Since my mom likes the citrus flavor more, my marinade was 1 cup kalamansi juice and 3/4 soy sauce. (I had a lot of steak to work with.) I also add some minced garlic to the marinade. She said it reminded her of home.
    Grilling the bistek is brilliant and I was thinking about the same thing while I was standing over the stove. And those bistek tacos look great.

  • Burnt Lumpia November 3, 2008, 11:21 am

    The sauce is really good, Lori Lynn, and it is also really simple. Yeah, the skewers help a lot in turning the onions and keeping everything together, just make sure you slice the onions thick enough so that a skewer can go through them.
    I hope your heart is healed by the bistek, Janice.
    Hi ahnjel. I’m sure there’s little, if any, difference at all between the way you cooked your bistek and the way I demonstrated. It all ends up tasty anyways.
    Jude, Bistek can definitely get rubber if the beef is cooked too long in the marinade. That’s why I sear it, then remove from the pan, and then only add the beef back when the sauce is pretty much finished.
    Haha, greasemonkey. I hope the grilled version works out for you.
    Thanks very much matt, though any pictures I take are nothing to what’s on your site. Thanks for stopping by.
    Hey, hey, hey pleasurepalate;)
    Mmmm, garlic would definitely be good in the marinade Arnold. And yes, I should have mentioned that the marinade is very flexible depending on if you want more soy or kalamansi. Both of your versions look fantastic.

  • Arnold @ November 24, 2008, 9:19 am

    Just wanted to let you know that for Thanksgiving, I’m totally going to bite your style and grill some bistek. So this year, I guess I’m thankful that you wrote about it and inspired me!
    Have a good Thanksgiving. :)

  • Burnt Lumpia November 29, 2008, 4:02 pm

    I don’t mind at all that you try the grilled version, Arnold. I hope it turns out well.

  • Jeff January 31, 2009, 10:13 pm

    Those tacos look amazing.


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