How to Make Delicious CDO Beef Tapa

CDO beef tapa is a popular Filipino dish that originated from Cagayan de Oro City. It consists of thin slices of beef marinated in a sweet and salty mixture then quickly seared on a hot skillet. This gives you tasty caramelized beef with a slightly crisp texture on the outside and juicy tenderness inside.

In this guide, I’ll walk you through how to choose the right cut of beef, prep and marinate it, and cook authentic CDO-style beef tapa. I’ll also share some serving ideas so you can enjoy this Filipino breakfast staple any time of day. Let’s get cooking!

Overview of CDO Beef Tapa

Here’s a quick look at some key facts about this dish:

  • Made from thin slices of beef round or sirloin, marinated and quickly seared
  • Signature sweet, salty, garlicky marinade caramelizes when cooked
  • Traditionally eaten for breakfast in the Philippines
  • Also great for lunch, dinner, or appetizers
  • Easy to make at home with just 6 ingredients

The specific cut of beef and quick cooking method gives the tapa its distinctive texture and flavor.

Choosing the Right Cut of Beef

The traditional cut of beef used for CDO tapa is round or sirloin. These are lean, moderately tough cuts that work well:

  • Round – Bottom round or eye of round. Avoid tenderloin as it’s too delicate.

  • Sirloin – Look for sirloin tip or triangle sirloin cuts.

I recommend choosing grass-fed beef if you can find it, for better flavor. Choose beef labeled “stew meat” if you can’t find round or sirloin. Avoid pre-sliced stir-fry strips, as they are too thin.

For 4-6 servings, you’ll need around 1-1.5 lbs of beef. Freeze any leftover marinated raw beef for up to 3 months.

Preparing the Beef for Marinating

Prep the beef by slicing it very thinly against the grain into 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick slices. This is important, as thin slices allow the marinade to penetrate and the beef to cook quickly.

Use a very sharp knife or meat slicer if you have one. Trim off any fat or silver skin before slicing to prevent curling.

Put the sliced beef into a gallon size zip-top bag or shallow dish to marinate.

CDO Beef Tapa Marinade Ingredients

The signature marinade is easy to make with just 6 ingredients:

  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 cup water

You can play around with the ratio of soy sauce to sugar to get the right balance of salty-sweetness you like. Some people also add a bit of vinegar or calamansi juice for a tangy flavor.

Marinating the Beef

To marinate the beef:

  • Combine all marinade ingredients and stir to dissolve sugar.
  • Pour marinade over sliced beef.
  • Seal bag or cover dish and refrigerate for 2-6 hours.
  • Flip bag occasionally to distribute marinade.
  • Remove beef from fridge 30 mins before cooking.

The longer you marinate, the more flavor the beef will absorb. I find 2-4 hours ideal, but you can even marinate overnight.

Drain excess marinade before cooking and pat beef dry. Keep marinade for basting.

How to Cook CDO Beef Tapa

Cooking tapa is quick and simple:

  • Heat a skillet or grill pan over high heat. Use a lightly oiled nonstick pan.
  • Working in batches, add beef slices in a single layer.
  • Cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute per side until caramelized.
  • Flip beef slices once only to prevent overcooking.
  • Brush with reserved marinade during cooking if desired.
  • Serve immediately while hot.

The beef cooks very fast, so stay by the stove. You want a nice sear while keeping the inside tender.

Cooking the tapa releases fantastic aromas! Listen for the marinade caramelizing on the meat.

Serving Suggestions for CDO Beef Tapa

Tapa tastes great on its own, but here are some serving ideas:

  • Serve alongside rice and fried egg for a traditional Filipino breakfast.
  • Stuff into a toasted pandesal bun with garlic mayo.
  • Top a green salad or pasta salad.
  • Fold into an omelet or breakfast burrito.
  • Layer on nachos or baked potatoes.
  • Pair with a fruit salad for a sweet contrast.
  • Enjoy as an appetizer by itself or with a dipping sauce.

You really can’t go wrong with this tasty, versatile beef dish! It makes a quick but satisfying meal any time of day.

Adapting the Recipe

Here are some easy ways to put your own spin on this classic:

  • Use chicken or pork instead of beef.
  • Add spices like paprika or cayenne to the marinade.
  • Grill or broil instead of pan-frying.
  • Garnish with green onions, sesame seeds, cilantro.
  • Drizzle with a soy-citrus sauce after cooking.
  • Serve alongside pineapple, mango, or pickled veggies.

The basic technique remains the same, so get creative with flavors!

FAQs About CDO Beef Tapa

Here are answers to some commonly asked questions:

What cut of beef is best? Round or sirloin work well. Avoid tenderloin or pre-sliced stir fry strips.

Can I use frozen beef? Yes, just thaw first in the fridge before marinating.

Can I marinate longer? Yes, up to 24 hours for more flavor.

Can I grill or broil it? You sure can! Watch it closely so it doesn’t burn.

Is the sugar necessary? Sugar is needed for the signature sweet-salty flavor. Reduce the amount if you prefer.

Can I prepare it in advance? Marinate the raw beef up to 24 hours ahead. Cooked tapa is best served immediately.

How should I reheat leftovers? You can reheat in the skillet for a minute or two per side or in the oven at 300°F until warmed through.

Tips for the Best CDO Beef Tapa

Follow these tips for authentic, flavorful tapa you’ll make again and again:

  • Use lean round or sirloin beef and slice against the grain.

  • Marinate for at least 2 hours, ideally longer.

  • Pat beef dry before cooking so it sears nicely.

  • Use a hot skillet and flip beef only once.

  • Work in batches and don’t overcrowd pan.

  • Slice any leftovers against the grain before reheating.

  • Adjust marinade ratios to suit your tastebuds!

Satisfying CDO Beef Tapa Recipe

This easy 6-ingredient marinade yields the signature sweet-salty flavor that makes this Filipino dish so craveable. Enjoy it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!


  • 1 lb beef sirloin or round, sliced thinly
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1⁄4 cup low sodium soy sauce
  • 1⁄4 cup brown sugar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp whole peppercorns
  • 1 cup water


  1. Combine all marinade ingredients and stir to dissolve sugar.
  2. Place beef slices in a shallow dish and pour marinade overtop. Cover and refrigerate 2-6 hours.
  3. Drain excess marinade from beef. Pat beef dry.
  4. Heat a lightly oiled skillet over high heat. Working in batches, cook beef for 30-60 seconds per side until caramelized.
  5. Serve immediately with rice and fried egg if desired. Enjoy!

Enjoy home-style sarap with CDO Beef Tapa!

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