Filipino seafood

Okoy/ Ukoy (Shrimp and Sweet Potato Fritters)

Sunday, April 06, 2014Enz F

When I was still a student reviewee for the CPA board exam in Sampaloc, Manila, there was a food spot just a few steps away from our school premises that everyday serves us with our well-loved afternoon snack - those crunchy mini crustaceans coated with sweet potato batter mixture were definitely a blockbuster. Sometimes I was lucky enough to get the bigger patties, the ones mixed with more veggies like shredded carrots, string beans and those thick strands of little shoots that I had only later on found out to be mung bean sprouts, also a favorite main ingredient used for lumpiang togue or fried mung bean sprout spring rolls. Every afternoon (3 o’clock to be exact), our accounting instructor would always give us a recess to allow our tired brains to take a short break from our day-long review classes. While some of my classmates would choose to steal an afternoon nap, my peers and I would opt to sneak out of our building vicinity to flee to our favorite food stall and get a quick grab of our noontime shrimp snack for only Ph₱5.00 a piece (around US$0.10). Even some of our class lecturers alike would stop by to get a quick bite-on of this savory and delightful dish that resembles a mini lumped and deformed pancake. I can still remember how the pinakurat or spicy vinegar served as a side dipping sauce for the shrimp fritters was a star. That street corner had become an accessible quick munch-on hangout place especially for a number of us who had either forgotten to take or deliberately skipped his or her lunch for the day. Those stationary food carts were our one-stop standing chain of fast foods where we could conveniently avail ourselves with almost everything we need to fill our starving stomachs, from cheap “student priced” finger foods to hearty homemade thirst quenchers.

Okoy/ Ukoy is a popular Filipino street food and afternoon snack
Believed to have originated in the province of Laguna, Philippines, Okoy or Ukoy is a simple yet very tasty Filipino dish and appetizer made from deep fried battered baby shrimps. The shell of the shrimp is left unpeeled as it enhances the flavor and crispiness of okoy. Filipino shrimp fritters have been a popular and famous street food in the Philippines usually peddled by mobile vendors or just being sold on the street corners and commonly served during merienda (mid afternoon snack) along with the other Pinoy street delicacies.

Best served with spiced vinegar dipping sauce
Just like the equally well-liked lumpia or spring rolls, these crunchy golden brown fritters are very easy to prepare and have many variations. Some versions call for the addition of some vegetables like mung bean sprouts, julienned chayote and carrots and the use of finely grated squash as an alternative for sweet potato all coated in a savory batter mixture. Others use dilis or anchovies instead of shrimp as the main ingredient. The annatto extract is a natural food colorant that produces a distinct golden brown or orange-ish appearance to the dish. It also gives a mild earthy flavor that helps in minimizing the fishy odor of the shrimps. And just like most of our savory fried dishes, it is best served hot and accompanied by homemade sukang maanghang or spiced vinegar dip. Though other street food enthusiasts do not limit themselves with vinegar sauces alone as the dish also goes well with other dipping condiments like ketchup and garlic-flavored mayonnaise. Nowadays, okoy is not only synonymous to “pantawid-gutom” (quick half-filling snack) that was once only being offered in the streets but it has also gained a wide acceptance and shared a distinction in the menus of some high-end Filipino restaurants and bars that serve up shrimp fritters as starters/appetizers, pulutan (paired with beer) or even as part of the main courses dished up on sophisticated platters.

Okoy/ Ukoy (Shrimp and Sweet Potato Fritters)
Number of Servings: 4 to 5

(Printer-friendly recipe)

  • ½ lb. baby shrimps, shell on, cleaned and whiskers trimmed off 
  • 1 cup kamote (sweet potato), grated 
  • 1 cup cornstarch 
  • ¼ cup flour 
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 cup water 
  • ½ tsp. salt 
  • ½ tsp. ground black pepper 
  • 1 tsp. atsuete (annatto/ achiote) extract or ½ tsp. powdered annatto 
  • 1 cup cooking oil 

  1. In a large bowl, combine the cornstarch, flour, egg, water, atsuete, salt and black pepper. Stir the batter mixture very well to make sure no lumps will form. 
  2. Add the shrimps and sweet potato. Mix until well blended. 
  3. Prepare and heat the pan with enough cooking oil for deep frying. 
  4. When the oil is ready hot, scoop out around 2 to 3 tablespoons of shrimp mixture and carefully drop them in the middle of the pan. Press it down with a spatula to flatten similar to a pancake. 
  5. Cook each side for about 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown (depending on the thickness of the batter mixture). 
  6. Remove the fried okoy from the pan and drain in paper towel to absorb excess oil. Repeat the process until the remaining shrimp batter mixture is used up. 
  7. Serve while warm and crispy along with spiced vinegar dipping sauce (sukang maanghang).

  1. Put some veggies by adding mung bean sprouts and julienned carrots in the batter mixture. 
  2. If preferred, peel off the shells of baby shrimp. Bigger shrimps can also be used. Cut them into smaller pieces before adding in the batter. 
  3. If no fresh shrimps are available, dried shrimps will do. 
  4. Dilis or anchovy is also a popular substitute to shrimps. 
  5. Butternut squash or pumpkin can be substituted with sweet potato. 
  6. Ketchup and mayonnaise can also be used as dipping sauce.

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