You will always have a place in this world where you find that a lot of things have changed and a lot have remained the same in each visit. Cebu, the premiere city outside Metro Manila, will always be that for me. No matter how long I may have lived here before, or how many times I have visited it again, there is always something new to be had and something old to cherish every time.
This is especially true in my recent trip to Cebu. Although my flight arrived earlier that day, I took a cab instead of taking the cheaper yet longer commute out of the airport. I initially planned to take the latter option to see what I missed since my last visit. I then alighted by the Cebu City Hall and roamed around the vicinity.
It was noticeably cleaner this time, especially with the addition of the Senior Citizens Park, which, to the best of my memory, used to be a run-down place where you could have dirt-cheap legal documents.
I stopped by Koko Dine so that I could have an excuse to put down my backpack. My friend mentioned that their lechon could rival that of CnT’s and Zubuchon’s. Thankfully they only serve it during lunchtime or I would have willingly abandoned all my dietary inhibitions. For breakfast, I settled for a healthier fish tinuwa (soup).
“Unsang Isda-a??” (What kind of fish was used?) I asked the tindera.
“Mamsa,” (Trevally) she replied.
I had a bowl and settled in an empty seat. I think I was their first customer but I imagine that this eatery would be swamped with government workers during lunch. That morning though, the place was as peaceful as the aquarium behind me.
Tinuwa or tinola for me, is a no-brainer soup. You just boil your fish and then throw in some scallions, tomatoes and a few other spices. It is all about the fish. You have to get it as fresh as possible or else end up with a bad broth.
My good friend then arrived as soon as I finished by bowl. She would have wanted to treat me for breakfast but I politely begged off since I just had my fill already. But later in the afternoon, she brought me to Mingnan, a Chinese eatery located a few blocks from her office.
A typical Mingan value meal consists of a hefty serving of rice and 2 kinds of viands. My friend was surprised that the Chinese lady behind the counter, who is one of the owners of the restaurant, can now speak and understand some Cebuano. We then pointed what we wanted on our yellow green plastic plates, which may remind you of your highschool cafeteria.
But unlike your highschool cafeteria, the food on this plate was way better. The deep-fried shrimp, the stir-fried vegetables and the nameless cabbage dish were all very flavorful. For Php 50.00, you cannot find the same level of taste and quality of cooking elsewhere. I forgot though to ask the kind of Chinese cuisine they serve. Maybe its Sichuan or Cantonese or some other region in the mainland. Maybe I was too hungry to care that afternoon. But one of these days, I’ll find out for myself.
I must admit that I rarely visit this old part of Cebu even back in the day. Nonetheless, I am pleasantly surprised with these new food hunts. I know too that Koko Grill and Mingnan are just among the many hole-in-the-wall joints that have been serving affordable meals not only to the working class but also to the adventurous few.
To some extent, these humble karenderyas also contribute in preserving the memory of a city and of a bygone era that has not yet seen big air-conditioned supermalls with fastfood franchises.