Imagine this: a colossal asteroid is bound to collide with the earth next week, will release the energy of billions of nuclear bombs detonating simultaneously and will predictably cause the extinction of human race. How will you spend your last few days?
In my ideal Catholic world, I’d go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and lament my guilt in all seven deadly sins. Or if the wretched sinner in me decides to immerse in the worldly desires for the last time, I’d say I’d fly first class to the hedonistic Ibiza.Realistically though, both are unattainable due to time constraints and my current net worth, so I would have to narrow down my options. Cebu City could be the cheapest alternative route if I insouciantly choose the latter.I imagine my pre-doomsday indulgence to be quite a bit like my Sinulog Festival 2013 weekend.With an irrepressible lust for a good time, I have made this my January tradition. Nights before the festival, the city metamorphoses into an astronomical dance floor full of frenzied revelers deifying the finest DJs. From the astounding display of colors during the Sinulog parade to the insanely wet and wild street parties, Cebu is not just a place but a spectacular, an indulgent and an unapologetic experience.
But the revelries and the pageants only make up two thirds of the pie. A Cebu experience will never be complete without gratifying your taste buds with the wickedly delectable delicacies.Have you ever indulged in a Cebu Lechon? I recklessly had several in three days, as if the world were really to blow up and crumble. Though I’ve been to Cebu numerous times before, this is the first time I have pilgrimaged to several food spots and savored every last morsel of their specialties.
Let me share with you some of my unforgettable food exploits during the Sinulog weekend.
1.) Rico’s Lechon
The Ridges, Panagdait,Mabolo (beside Sykes) (032) 3440119, (032) 3455688
Rico’s wasn’t my first Lechon stop in Cebu, but Ican’t wait to tell you about it. It wasn’t even part of my must-visit list. I may have heard about Rico’s on television but there wasn’t much recall and well, hype, compared to its competitor Zubuchon.There were inadvertent publicities though, courtesy of the cab driver from the airport and my friends Ras and Cathy.But as the cliché goes, the best things in life are those that come unforeseen.
The lechon was piping hot, fresh off the spit, just the way we wanted it. The pervasive aroma of garlic and leeks from the lechon’s belly had me and the other customers drooling as we watched the brownish-red medium-sized pig being chopped. We could see the juices squirting from the meat.The crackling of the skin, which was practically falling apart from the meat, everytime the knife lands on it just fired up our eagerness. We had 2 platefuls: one was the Lechon Original and the other was the owner Enrico Dionson’s invention, the Spicy Lechon.
The smoky aroma and the pleasant saltiness of the skin teased my palate. The skin’s fusion of fatty and salty flavors was immensely comforting it was like an explosion in my mouth at first bite. I could hear it crackle as I chewed. Cathy, Ras and I couldn’t help but exclaim “Oooohhh my God” in oblivious unison at every crunch
Surprisingly, the lechon isn’t greasy. The very thin layer of fat clinging to the back of the skin is remarkable. This is because Rico’s roasts only free-range pigs, according to the waiter. I particularly requested for the belly part so you can just imagine the garlicky and herbal flavors that seeped into its succulent meat.
The spicy version is equally savory, but very fiery. Thelechon’s cavity is lavished with chopped chilies, and it had me sweating profusely as I indulged.Not for those with timid palate.
I am passionate about lechon and I must say that Rico’s is perfect. This is how a lechon should be: simple yet very flavorful, familiar and traditionally roasted to perfection.
Aside from the lechon, we ordered some interesting items on the menu. I was curious about the Lechon
Carbonara. It is a platter of fettuccini in white sauce with bits of ham, shredded lechon and grated cheese on top. It is very subtle, almost bland, but has a creamy and buttery aftertaste. Average.
The Garden Fresh Salad is made of chopped cucumbers and tomatoes on a bed of lettuce, with mayo dressing and lechon bits on top. Its freshness is flaunted by the bright colors of the vegetables. Overall, however, I find it forgettable.
We also had the Munggo Lechon soup. The broth is clear unlike the usual munggo dishes, has lechon bits in it and seasoned just right, not too salty. Its simplicity is the perfect antidote to the fatal and intensely flavorful lechon.
2.) Z Bar
The Tinder Box, Archbishop Reyes Road Banilad, Cebu City (6332) 234 1681-85
Z Bar is a diorama of a surreal universe, where our world is a crumbling cocoon of extraterrestrial vastness. At least that’s how I interpret the unique and intricate designs of its interior.
Small and glowing wishbone-shaped twigs randomly attached to spiderwebs of steel make up the “crumbling cocoon”, which is chandeliered by a “full moon” lamp made of salagofibers. The lighted floor, made of onyx, is like an ocean reflecting the glorious moon above it. Several cylindrical lamps, also made of salago, hang just above the tables.
Later on I’ve learned that the interior design is a collaboration between modernist architect Ed Calma and internationally acclaimed furniture designer Kenneth Cobonque. The latter’s clients include Queen Rania of Jordan and Hollywood A-listers Brad Pitt, Will-i-am and Kelly Rowland.
Though it may look intimidating from the outside, Z Bar is actually very welcoming and has surprisingly affordable food and wine on its wide selection. The sofa seats are soft and comforting and complements the cozy ambience. This is the perfect chill-out place, where you and your friends can talk over a bottle of wine.
My friends and I tried two of their bestsellers- the Beef Salpicao and the Herb & Garlic Marinated Chicken.
The familiar-looking Beef Salpicao is accompanied by two slices of baguette. Firm on the outside, the beef is waiting for your teeth to unleash the juices trapped inside. I love the piquancy of the crunchy bell peppers, garlic and onions in its thick dark red sauce. This is the best beef I had in years.
The Herb and Garlic Marinated Chicken and its rice are impeccably garnished with herbs and shredded potatoes. The dish comes with a light serving of the zesty cucumber salad and gravy, whose smooth and creamy texture complemented the tender, moist and subtly flavorful baked chicken.
Cathy, Ras and I obliviously finished two bottles of wine. The night was perfect.
3.) STK Ta Bay! In Paolito’s Seafood House
#6 Orchid St., Capitol Site, Cebu City (6332) 2562700, 2534732
This charming and cozy seafood restaurant hides in a quiet street near the Capitol Building.
Shamefully contrasting its empty competitors right across, STK was full to the brim when we arrived.Cars of its patrons crowded the narrow streets
The Platter’s Only You was playing in the background as we opened the door, hinting the restaurant’s dominant theme. Walking inside was like entering a 1950s time warp.The wall across the door has several paintings of the Sr.Sto Nino, whose statuettes you can find on the opposite sides of the room. Old artifacts like jars, weapons, musical instruments, vases, plates, bowls, pots, lamps, photographs, paintings, cabinets and clocks adorn each corner and wall, giving the restaurant an antique shop vibe. The dim yellow lights complete the homey overall ambience.
Their bestsellers of course are the Sinugba na Panga (Grilled Tuna Jaw), Tinola (Fish Soup) and Kinilaw (Raw Fish in Vinegar). We only wanted a light meal since we had a lechon feast at Rico’s earlier that day, so we ordered a medium-sized Grilled Tuna Jaw, Squid Adobo and another favorite the Baked Scallops.
The medium-sized Tuna jaw is actually large enough to satisfy two hungry diners. The most flavorful Tuna parts are served hot off the grill and garnished with spring onions. STK’s version is quite different; it is basted with sweet and tangy barbeque sauce. A mixture of soy sauce, chili and kalamansi would make a perfect condiment. I loved every bit of the tuna, but it could have been juicier if it wasn’t pre-cooked. They pre-grill the tuna probably to lessen the waiting time since the place is always packed.
The baked scallops are divine. The dish is light, has sweet and buttery flavors.
The Squid Adobo is also a standout. The plump squid slices are tender and drenched in thick sauce, which is a mix of sweet, savory, salty and mildly spicy perfection.
4.) Casa Verde
69 Lim TianTeng St. Ramos, Cebu City (6332) 2536472
My Cebu trip is never complete without a huge slab of Brian’s Ribs at Casa Verde. I’ve been coming back countless times since 2008, consistently amazed at the size and the taste of the famous ribs for its price. The restaurant gives value for money, in other words.
Though it has a Spanish name, Casa Verde serves a fusion of Filipino and American dishes. I always go to the main branch, though inconvenient at times.Casa Verde is not just about the food, but also about the experience of enjoying the fall-off-the-bone baby back ribs in a homey and comforting environment.This you wont find at the mall branches.
I can’t get enough of the ribs. It is baked to perfection and basted with sweet and tangy barbeque sauce, which has the piquancy of pepper and cumin.
We also had the Best Sampler for appetizer. The platter has Golden Fried Cheese, Buffalo Wings and Baked Potato Skins, served with marinara sauce, sour cream and bleu cheese.
Other items I love in the menu are the succulent Surf n’ Turf and the fatally sinful Death by Chocolate. We didn’t have them this time though. We had to restrain ourselves from pigging out since we were heading to the LifedanceSinulog 2013 after.
Escario St., Cebu City (6332) 5050130
Zubuchon was the reason I was anxious to sink my teeth into the much-acclaimed Cebu lechon. This brand of lechon has been featured many times on television shows and had me salivating for months, and is arguably the most popular one due to its genius marketing strategies. They have an outlet at the airport!
My taste buds simply couldn’t wait so I had to make this my first lechon stop during my recent Cebu trip. Apart from the lechon, I ordered other interesting items on the menu, such as the Zubuchon Dinuguan, Kamias Shake and the Seaweed Platter Vinaigrette.
Though no longer hot, the lechon skin remained crisp, with a salty caramelized flavor. The meat is tender, succulent and very flavorful, even the thickest part. The infusion of lemongrass, garlic, onion, peppercorns and the non-traditional rosemary is evident on the aroma. I find it unusually oily though, and dark. It looks like it has been drenched in the drippings.
The Zubuchon Dinuguan, which has Chicharon bits on top, is dangerously greasy as well but heavenly. It has a pleasant sour and savory taste, and the coconut milk gives the sauce an extra rich and creamy texture. Their version is innovative; they use shredded lechon instead of the usual pig’s innards.
The Kamias Shake is surprising. Who knew that this tart fruit, which we usually use as a souring ingredient for paksiw, could be a refreshing beverage? The shake has a clean, mildly sweet and sour taste, very friendly to the taste buds. I recently learned that kamias has anti-fat properties, and is used in India to control obesity. So I guess this is the perfect antidote to the lavishly greasy lechon and dinuguan.
6.) Tabuan Market
Carbon, Cebu City
While most Cebu visitors would conveniently take home Dried Mangoes and Otap from Shamrock, I would brave the stenchy Tabuan Market for the bulad or dried fish. Dried Mangoes, you can find them at malls. And yes, dried fish is ubiquitous, but this is the only marketplace I know which massively sells dried fish of all varieties at a good price.
Humongous crates, brimful of pungent dried fish and squid, lining up the entire strip of the Tabuan Market show how ingenious Filipinos are. The dried fish we know is sharply salty. In Tabuan, you would find dried fish versions of our breakfast indispensables, the tocino and tapa.
You’d be amazed that not a part of the fish goes to the hungry cat, as the bones are also dried up and cured. Yes, it becomes edible and is a good source of calcium. Fry it and it becomes very crunchy. It has a sweet caramelized flavor. The dried fishbone is a dish on its own; you may dunk it in spicy vinegar before eating it with a hefty serving of cold rice. This is one humble but heavenly meal especially when eaten with hands!
I never go home without a bag of the unsalted danggit, the lesser evil among these kidney killers, and the tarorot or the dried squid. The pungent smell and the crunch of both when fried are addictive. They go well with cold rice and spicy native vinegar too!
I also love the Cebu Longannisa, which you can get in bulk at an amazing price in Tabuan. Cebu’s version is distinct. The sweet and innocent taste at first bite gradually becomes spicy.
Just be warned that the place reeks of dried and fermented fish. The odor is overpowering, it sticks to your clothes. It is best to go there in the morning, before you take your shower.
means “to squat” in Waray or Bisaya.
Pungko-pungko are small sidewalk eateries where customers sit on low wooden stools, making them look as if they’re squatting. They are popular even among professionals and can be found sporadically in the city.
These eateries serve the infamous Ginabut or the Cebuano version of the chicharon bulaklak. Pig intestines are seasoned, breaded and deep-fried until they become flower-shaped and crispy. The Ginabut I’ve tried near Velez College slightly differs from the usual chicharon bulaklak. It is lightly seasoned and its delectability lies on its natural fatty flavor combined with the extra crunch of the breading. The puso or rice boiled in woven coconut leaves is the perfect pair for the ginabut, which you can dip in a mixture of vinegar, onion and chili to neutralize its greasy taste.
Fuente Osmena, Capitol Site, Cebu City
Larsian is a barbeque haven you can dependably go to during the indecent hours of the morning, after you have partied to exhaustion at the nearby Mango Square. Either that or you simply want a cheap and uncomplicated meal of puso and the deliciously comforting barbeque. Chicken and pork barbeques here are sweet, juicy and have a smoky caramelized flavor when toasted.
Larsian is like the foodcourt of barbeques. Each stall offers barbeque of all sorts: Chicken, pork, longganisa, adidas (chicken feet), betamax (pigs’ blood), chicken skin, squid, fish, liver, intestines etc. Here, you eat with your hands, which is the Filipino traditional way of eating. You may wrap your hands with plastic to avoid getting messy.
When I think of Cebu, I always think of good and delectable foods. I still have a long list of interesting foods to try next time, like the LanChow and Ngohiong, and restaurants to visit, like Ekits and Abuhan. Right now, I need to focus on detoxifying and losing the pounds I gained during this memorable and gratifying Sinulog weekend.