Cebu City Food Trip: The Tour Guide Edition
I played the accidental tourist guide when two of my good friends and I sneaked in to Cebu almost a year ago. It was not a role that I wanted to play at the onset, since these are very voracious foodies. I gave in since I realized halfway in our flight that they also did not have a luxury of choice anyway. They were stuck with me, since they can only understand and speak two basic sentences of Cebuano, the native language spoken in these parts.
We started with the puso, the ngohiong and a bottle of ice-cold Sparkle. Puso or ‘hanging rice’ is rice cooked in palm strips woven to look like a ‘heart.’ Ngohiong on the other hand is similar to a lumpia, but has a thicker batter, made of julienned ubod (heart of palm) and the optional meat portions.
These three comprise the quintessential value meal for the every day joe in the city. They are dirt-cheap, gloriously greasy and very filling. Each Cebuano has his or her favorite ngohiong place where they can get these, but mine is that unassuming eatery along Manalili in the downtown.
I actually hesitated to include Cafe Elysa in our itinerary. This small restaurant in Parian serves both home-cooked Cebuano meals and Asian-inspired dishes. The latter is largely influenced by Chef Steve Aznar’s many travels abroad.
We ordered the Tangigue Ceviche along with two more items from their menu. I had an unpleasant experience with this kinilaw dish on my first visit here. But to my surprise and relief, the fish this time was fresh. We later learned that they use the local tubâ (coconut vinegar) for the sauce, which is mildly sour with welcome hints of sweetness.
We then had a coffee break at Bo’s Coffee. It has been around Cebu, long before having your morning brew in coffeeshops became fashionable and at times, necessary. Steve Benitez started with just a coffee cart at a mall in 1996. Today, Bo’s is everywhere in the country, with 50 branches and counting.
Aside from the fact that they use Filipino-grown coffee beans, I also like their house blend here. It exudes a rich flavor but without that acidic aftertaste. It pairs nicely with their cakes and cookies.
Dinner was at the Escario branch of Zubuchon Restaurant. This was the result of the many creative experiments of Joel Binamira, the food blogger behind MarketManila.com. Mr. MM wanted to recreate the lechon (roasted pig) sans the artificial seasonings, or just the way it was before. Everything paid off when Anthony Bourdain, in his visit to the Philippines in 2008, proclaimed it as his ‘best pig ever.’
A Zubuchon may not be the lechon that many grew up with. But just think of it as the local version’s long lost artisanal sister. Order the healthier kamias shake with it and a vegetable dish, to atone for your lechon guilty pleasure.
Tablea Chocolate Cafe
Finally, we had breakfast at Tablea Chocolate Cafe – puto maya (rice cake) with fresh mangoes and chocolate drink. You don’t consume each separately as the magic only works when you combine them in pairs such as puto maya with mangoes or puto maya drizzled with hot chocolate.
The hot chocolate was mildly sweet, dark and thick. It reminded me of my childhood days when our chocolate drink did not come from powder packs. Everything had to be made lovingly from scratch – from grinding the tablea up to creating the foamy texture using the batirol.
It is impossible to eat around the best of what Cebu has to offer in just 2 days so I hope that my friends enjoyed the food trip as much as I did. It was a nostalgic blast for me as it made me remember the many reasons why this city in the Philippines will continue to have a huge space in my stomach and a special artery in my heart.