Aside from centuries-old churches, well-preserved ancestral houses, and colorful festivals, Iloilo is also best known for its numerous classic food offerings. Here’s a list of all-time satisfying food trips and pasalubong goodies that are truly Ilonggo and will make you say “namit!” (delicious) (READ: Iloilo City: Your complete weekend itinerary)
Fresh and affordable seafood
For decades, Villa Beach in Arevalo has been the go-to place for fresh and delicious seafood. Tatoy’s and Breakthrough are the most popular among the restaurants along the beach.
In many seafood restaurants along the beach, a plate of steamed fresh oysters are as cheap as P35 (US $.78). Crabs in chili sauce or simply steamed with its juices and with eggs still intact, grilled squid with stuffing, baked scallops, grilled managat or red snapper fish are typical seafood dishes here as well. Buttered prawns, aligue (crab fat) mixed with rice or cooked with imbao shells, boneless bangus, Kilawin (raw fish in vinegar) and grilled blue marlin (tangigue) belly should also be on your list.
Try to ask the staff too if they have the seasonal angel wings shell (diwal) and the abalone. Villa is just a 15- to 20-minute jeepney ride from the city proper. Other places to have seafood in the city are at Ponsyon (Plazuela de Iloilo), Merkado, Punot (Riverside Boardwalk), Ocean City (Gen. Luna st.), Buto’t Balat (Jaro), Griller’s Oyster House, Freska Hometown Buffets (Smallville Complex), and Chika-an (Robinson’s Place).
La Paz Batchoy
A visit to Iloilo would not be complete without eating batchoy. This local dish that was first served at La Paz Market has become synonymous to the city itself.
The first two known brands that served batchoy for decades and have opened up branches in malls, around the city, and in other parts of the country. Try Ted’s (1945) and Deco’s (early 1940s).
The first batchoy, according to Mr. Remy Guillergan (son of Federico “Deco” Guillergan, the “Father of Batchoy”), was made of miki (native noodles) submerged in a hot clear soup of boiled meat, guinamos (local shrimp paste), bone marrow, and garlic topped with pork meat. Eventually, pork innards like chopped intestines and sliced liver were added.
Then came the addition of chicharon. Tourists who wish to try this famed dish also troop to Netong’s inside the market to savor the taste of batchoy.
Pancit Molo is named after the old Chinese district of the city, which is Molo. This dumpling soup with pork or chicken filling wrapped in wonton wrapper is always present at many culinary occasions.
Places known to prepare this perfectly include Punot (Riverside Boardwalk), KapIsing (South San Jose, Molo), Carlo’s (Mandurriao), Panaderia de Molo, Wawa Heritage restaurant (Jaro) and Hotel del Rio.
Iloilo’s most famous siopao, Queen Siopao, can only be bought at Roberto’s, in the heart of the city’s old business district called Calle Real.
With a diameter of about 7 inches, it’s the biggest of its kind in the restaurant. It’s filled with Chinese sausage, boiled egg, bacon, chicken and pork adobo. But unlike its smaller versions which are called King and Jumbo Siopaos, the Queen is not available every day.
The management just announces the Queen Siopao’s availability on their walls before the selling dates, which usually lasts for 4-5 days.
It’s no wonder that customers who buy to take out may have to fall in line. Try their lumpia and meatballs, too! Dinagyang Siopao in Arevalo and Deocampo’s in Jaro are also worth trying.
The thickest, tastiest tsokolate
Camiña Bahay na Bato in Arevalo serves the thickest and tastiest native chocolate in the city of love. Have merienda of this tsokolate slowly cooked with milk in a batirol and sliced bread with fruit jam, just like in the old days.
They also sell tableas for pasalubong or take-out so that guests can enjoy this cup of heaven at home. Also available in Cafe Panay at Rizal St., Iloilo City.
Madge Cafe is a must-visit coffee shop that brews coffee using the traditional way of filtering and adding evaporated milk.
Located inside the La Paz Market, it has been serving customers with affordable but quality coffee for more than five decades already. Customers can choose to have it hot or iced, and mild, regular, or strong.
They can also pair it with buttered pandeciosa, long toasted bread with margarine. Another perfect partner for their coffee is a slice or two of the Ube Brazos de Mercedes sold at La Paz Bakeshop located just outside the market.
Iloilo City too has its own homegrown chain of cafe called Coffeebreak. It has grown over the years becoming the Ilonggo’s favorite coffee shop with branches all around the city and in some parts of Metro Manila. Aside from their welcoming Ilonggo hospitality and coffee, it serves muffins sourced from local ingredients.
The best bakeries
The city too is home to a few century-old bakeries. Panaderia de Molo and Panaderiani Pa-a are located in Molo and Jaro districts, respectively. Panaderia Ni Pa-a, formerly called Jaro Bakery, has been serving pandesal that are crusty on the outside and soft on the inside for decades.
Until now, they still bake their bread on the firewood-fueled brick oven used when the bakeshop first opened in 1896. Situated in an alley between Mapa and Ortiz streets is the bakery called “Buho” or hole.
Owned by a conservative Chinese family, it used to be nameless. When the war broke out, businesses were closed most of the time and transactions were done through the hole. Patrons who come to buy their famous pancho can still see the “buho” present there.
The new kind of pandesal that became a hit in the ‘70s is sweeter compared to the original ones made with salt. At Los Filipinos bakery, pre-war pandesal are smaller and more compact in contrast to the usual ones sold today. Deco’s La Paz Batchoy also made this famous when it made the bread an optional pair with the batchoy in lieu of puto.
Balbi’s ensaymada topped with guava jelly is also a must-try, a perfect pairing with the famous palabok, a classic favorite for many Ilonggos.
A new generation of cupcakes, cookies, cakes and other desserts are available at Tinapayan, Dulgies, Heavenly, JD and Daily Buns. Maridel’s award-winning flourless cake, the Potato Praline, bibingka and other cakes are available at Plazuela de Iloilo.
Biscocho, butterscotch, and other famous pasalubong Ilonggos are undeniably sweet-lovers, with the city having has its own signature products to bring home such as the Barquillos, Butterscotch and Pinasugbo. Iloilo’s Original Biscocho Haus has branches all over Western Visayas, offering tourists the best of Ilonggo delicacies.
Baked to perfection, butterscotch is a chewy delight that comes in colorful wrappers with a variety of flavors to choose from, such as mango, cashew, chocolate and others. Bring home the assorted packs. Rgies and Tinapayan also have these goodies.
A variety of pasalubongs from different producers all over Iloilo and Guimaras are also available at Deco’s Pasalubong shop in Delgado St., Iloilo City and Panay Tours Specialists Inc. One of these products is from the Trappist Monastery in the nearby paradise island Province of Guimaras.
Jams made from “the sweetest mangoes in the world” and other products from other fruits are also best-sellers. Items made from the fresh and ripe mangoes from Leon town and Guimaras are available in markets and other pasalubong shops around Iloilo City.
Savory Ilonggo dishes
A mighty fortress once stood at Fort San Pedro. Today, it is still known for its charm and the magnificent view of Guimaras Island as well as the native lechon manok that can be eaten there or at Esca’s Garden restaurant.
The famous Mang Inasal was also founded in this city at Robinson’s Place. Now with more than 400 branches nationwide, it serves many Filipinos every day.
Other Ilonggo favorite dishes to indulge in are chicken binakol (with coconut water), kadios, baboy at langka (KBL) and laswa (classic Ilonggo vegetable dish) at Bauhinia Filipino Cuisine in Smallville Complex.
Kansi is the sour version of the bulalo, which you can try at Patpat’s Kansi House (Jaro), Luis Nilaga-an, The Bulalo Haus, and Royzonbie grill at Villa Beach.
To make the most of your trip here, enjoy not just the sights and sounds but also the namit flavors that are truly Ilonggo. Happy eating! – Rappler.com
Antoine Greg Flores of Café Ilonggo advocates the promotion of Iloilo City and Western Visayas tourism through blogs and social media. He has appeared on local and national TV programs featuring Iloilo City and was invited several times to tour other provinces. He is currently affiliated with Iloilo Bloggers Inc. and works for the City Government of Iloilo
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