Eating our way through Bacolod and Cebu

Sofia Benares
Inasal, sinamak, lechon, coffee, beer: the best of Bacolod and Cebu

TASTES GOOD LIKE IN MANILA. The buttered clams at Mesa in Cebu. All photos by Sofia Benales.

MANILA, Philippines – When my friend and I planned our two-week summer exploration of Bacolod and Cebu, we booked the cheapest flights and the cheapest accommodations within the reasonable boundaries of safety.

There was one department, though, where we were agreed to spare no expense: food.

Bacolod and Cebu turned out to be the perfect stops for us diehard foodies, and what started as a simple vacation quickly turned into a self-imposed challenge to eat our way through the two culinary capitals.  

Upon our arrival in Bacolod, I got a call from my cousin. He was taking us out for dinner, and what else would we have for our first meal in Bacolod? Inasal.

If you ask the locals or do even the slightest bit of online legwork about chicken inasal in Bacolod, two things become apparent. First, to come to this city and not partake of the skewered delicacy is an almost unforgivable crime, and second, there are only two places to check out if you want the best of this Bacolod best: Chicken House and Manokan Country.

I never had inasal the way they do over there: the bottles of orange chicken fat were alien to me, and I had no idea how to make my own sinamak, the vinegar distinct to the Ilonggos. But I was in my “When in Rome” mindset and did my best. What resulted was one of the best meals of the trip. 

IF THIS OLD HOUSE CAN SPEAK. The Ruins in Talisay City, Negros Occidental.

Another Bacolod pride we were told to check out is the coffee. But we were happy enough with our coffee at Starbucks the next morning. A family friend suggested that we go to Kuppa, and on our first sip of Kuppa’s iced lattes – from the beans roasted in this place every morning – we regretted our previous Starbucks indulgence. We were at Kuppa every morning after that. 

Chicken House’s adversary, the more “authentic,” some say, but also grungier Manokan Country, was our next dinner stop. Everyone has their personal favorite among the inasal joints here, but the clear frontrunner was Aida’s. Here, the inasal was definitely juicier and the chicken fat more delicious and decadent. But if Aida’s offers such mouthwatering inasal, the joint itself is something of an acquired taste, let’s just say. 

We capped this knockout dinner with a visit to another Bacolod must-see: Calea. We were joined by a couple of friends, and after indecisively staring at the cakes on the display, we decided to share among ourselves a slice each of the bestsellers. My favorite was the cheesecake. 

BEFORE SUNSET. Hanging out at Mr. A's with its hilltop view.

In Cebu, we found a restaurant scene very similar to what we know from Manila. Here, too, were the all-too-familiar food chains. We resolved to skip western food and had dinner at Mesa. While the buttered seafood and sizzling sisig were delicious, they weren’t any more memorable than what was available at their Manila branch. 

There was one day, however, that topped any of our culinary experiences so far. We were determined to have a taste of two quintessential Cebu experiences that evening: Cebu’s famous lechon at Zubuchon and dinner at Mr. A’s restaurant with its hilltop view.

Racing against the clock to catch the sunset and beat the rush-hour traffic, we stopped by Zubuchon to order a plate of lechon. On the side: garlic rice and way too much chicharon for two people. Then we got into a cab and off we were to Mr. A’s, which ran a less pricey café further down the hill that still had a view just as breathtaking. We were obliged to pay the equivalent of a corkage fee for our Zubuchon, ordered a round of San Mig and chilled before the sunset. We made it just in time. 

Our trip to Bacolod and Cebu involved traveling as I had never traveled before. Since we both had the same travel priorities — food, coffee and all variants thereof — my friend and I would plan our itinerary according to which food stop we wanted to make.

The summer before college is the summer when one is supposed to “find” one’s self, then be ready to venture into the daunting world of independent study, armed with this newfound self-awareness. Instead I managed to find or gain, in my summer before college, a couple of pounds. I regret nothing.