Did you know that there are still a few places left in the Philippines where TVs, cellphones and the Internet are scarce or even non-existent? It is very refreshing to discover these places, which proudly preserve the remnants of the past and admirably carry them on to the present.
On a trip to Cebu this month, organized by household appliance brand Electrolux’s Discover-E Food campaign, The Manila Times also discovered how delicious dishes from age old recipes can play a crucial role in establishing a region’s identity.
It was 6 a.m. on July 9 when the food trip in Cebu officially began with an hour drive to Carcar City, a town discovered by Spanish friars during the late 1500s. With a population of just 107,000, farming and shoemaking are considered the primary forms of livelihood in the town.
Three Cebu specialties hail from Carcar: the Bocarillo, Ampao and the all-time Filipino favorite, Chicharon.
The Bocarillo is simply made with four ingredients: Coconut, locally known as “niyog,” milk, vanilla and sugar. For every niyog, half-kilo of sugar is required. Mixing them together in a hot pan, they must be cooked for at least 30 minutes to an hour, at which time the sugar would have completely melted. The milk and vanilla extract are then added before shaping the coconut mixture into little circular flowers and cooling them create the perfect Bocarillo.
Meanwhile, at Mat-Mat’s Chicharon, the original “lechon de carajay” similar to the lechon kawali is enjoyed to this very day. A family business, the store began by selling pork meat in the market. Thinking of what to do with leftovers, Mat-Mat and company simply flavored the pork meat, and painstakingly deep frying the pieces to a delicious golden brown for a total of four hours.
Now a native favorite, Mat-Mat Chicharon is a household name that brings fans to a small and remote two-lane road that goes all the way to the south of Cebu.
With the town’s tagline, “Nature, culture, and history,” Argao prides itself with wondrously preserved churches and government buildings that date back to the Spanish colonization era.
In the Fortress Cabecera de Argao, one can find the Hall of Justice, the City Hall, and the St. Michael the Archangel Church, all built during the 18th century.
Of their food, they are especially proud of their tortang tuba and cacao tablea which are favorites in the entire province.
While “torta” usually means a dish made of egg, the dish in Argao takes the Spanish word’s literal meaning of “cake.”
Jessie’s Homemade Torta showed just how the treat is made, with no less than founder Jessie Magallones at the helm. Five ingredients are necessary, with sugar, the native alcohol tuba, margarine, milk and flour.
Meanwhile, the cacao tablea is especially made by Miguela Lanutan and her staff of about 20. These are hand crafted cacao tablets that are exported to Manila, Cagayan de Oro, Davao and even as far as Australia.
Going back to the city, STK (Sugba, Tuwa, Kinilaw) ta bay! Sa Paolito’s Seafood House’ restaurant literally means “Let’s STK, friend! In Paolito’s Seafood House.”
This popular restaurant is located on Orchid Street in Cebu City and serves the best grilled tuna panga and baked scallops in town. Every dish that comes from Paolito’s kitchen is delightfully delicious, with its 11-year history of pleasing Cebu’s foodies.
Paolito Alcover is the family patriarch who owns most of the recipes in the menu.
According to STK’s general manager and family member Karen Alcover-Cabahug, the family wanted to share the enjoyment they have during meal times with friends.
“We wanted to open our home to the public for them to enjoy my family’s recipes while feeling at home and eating good food,” she said.
The second floor of the house is where the family resides, but they converted the ground floor to accommodate droves of diners. The family also collects antiques, rare furniture, figurines and appliances acquired from past generations.
The group did a little food shopping in the Taboan Market, where you can find the best dried fish in the province.
Cebu takes pride in their famous danggit and other dried seafood products, as they are able to preserve its fresh quality without sacrificing their taste and crunchy texture.
Cebu’s food trip, of course, would not be complete without a taste of their famous lechon. The group visited the local favorite lechon fast food, Zubuchon, where they divulged their secret into making that soft, juicy roast pork with vinegar dipping.
Apparently, Zubuchon feeds its pigs with only fruits and vegetables, making their poultry a healthy eat. The marinade, meanwhile, is made of coconut water and a mix of spices.
Our last stop was was Ralfe’s Gourmet Chocolate Boutique located in Mabolo, Cebu City. The store only welcomes customers through appointments, to make sure they prepare a memorable cacao tablea experience.
A home chocolate boutique conceptualized by cacao tablea advocate Racquel Choa, she shared her own cacao tablea discovery that led her to be a “self-taught” chocolate expert.
Her vision is to make cacao a national chocolate, and do away with the notion that cacao is “dirty chocolate, especially since Filipino heritage roots back to the cultivation of cacao seeds.
Interestingly, Choa serves pasta dishes, and Filipino dishes such as Lechon Paksiw, Pancit Habhab, Caldereta and Estopado, all with cacao chocolate in the mix!
She began this business seven years ago, and has come a long now catering to big clients like ABS-CBN, local government officials, and five star hotels all over Cebu and Metro Manila.
She also has these amazing cocoa butter cubes that can be used as lotion or oil for those who are fond of cocoa butter products for smooth and softer skin.
* * *
By the end of the two-day food trip, everyone was eating plane food for dinner, but no one seemed to mind. All had a share of Cebu’s culinary goodness, and it was more than enough to bring home.
Bags were filled with chocolates, dried fish, mangoes and lechon, all to bring home to their loved ones in Manila.
This just goes to show that in Filipino culture, even when it comes to food, family is still no. 1. Different provinces may have different cultures and dialects, but the love for food, shared with family and relatives, is still the best way to celebrate every meal.