Located in the center of the 7,107 islands that make up the Philippines, Cebu (“se-boo”) is a tropical playground disguised as a business hub…or is it the other way around? Cebu the island—the province and cosmopolitan capital city share the same name as well—is 251 km long (156 miles) and just 46km (28.8 miles) at its widest, so travelers for pleasure or business have everything close by: white-sand beaches, exclusive five-star resorts, a bustling business district, world-class dive sites, important historical landmarks, shopping malls and food courts (ahem). Of course, visitors here are horribly spoiled for choice when it comes to nature and the outdoors—but we’d say the same for the wide range of delicious local food reflecting Cebu’s diverse background.
A brief recap: Zubu, or Sugbo—Cebu’s ancient name—is believed to have been part of ancient Indonesian and Indian empires when the Spanish conquistadores came along, in 1521 (Cebu was the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines). Many of Cebu’s (and the Philippines’) traditional food items and cooking styles are thus shared with those Asian neighbors; centuries of (pre-colonial) trade with China have long left their mark as well, with beloved dishes that Cebuanos have come to claim as their own. While the Spanish colonizers were thrown out after 300 years of rule, Cebu’s gastronomic landscape remains heavily colored by fruits, vegetables, and cooking skills from Europe and the New World, the latter largely due to the Galleon trade (1565-1815).
Despite the many international options on Cebu today, traditional or native Cebuano dishes passed from mother to child still hold their ground as daily fare, reflecting the island’s rural roots. These dishes lean toward the simple in terms of preparation and presentation, relying on super fresh meat, fish, and produce, and eschewing complicated flavors in favor of subtle aromatics: Savory plates are often adjusted to taste with patis* (soy sauce), suka (vinegar), and bird’s eye chilis, all three ever-present on dining tables. From the bucolic utan bisaya (a vegetable soup), colorful binignit (a creamy fruit stew), hand-stirred sikwate (hot chocolate), and the late great Anthony Bourdain’s favorite lechon (roast pig), Cebu’s quintessential eats offer plenty for carnivores and sweet tooths alike. Eating is an institution and a pasttime here—not even a trip to the beach is without some noshing, thanks to portable snacks like puso (“hanging” rice wrapped in coconut leaves) and pilit (rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves). Such is Cebu food culture.
Who’s ready to dig into Cebuano food? Mangaon ta bai! (Let’s eat, friend!)
—Cebu text and photos by Mona Polo
*When in Cebu, patis is soy sauce. Nearly everywhere else in the Philippines, patis is a fermented fish sauce.
Located in the center of the 7,107 islands that make up the Philippines, Cebu (“se-boo”) is a tropical playground disguised as a business hub…or is it the other way around? Cebu the island—the province and cosmopolitan capital city share the same name as well—is 251 km long (156 miles) and just 46km (28.8 miles) at its widest, so travelers for pleasure or business have everything… Read more
Few cities inspire such polar opinions as Manila: You either love it or you hate it, or you love-hate it—but you will never have a neutral opinion of it. An urban sprawl with 12 million inhabitants, Metro Manila can be bewildering to first-timers: rich and poor; densely packed in some places and sprawling in others, towering high-rises dwarfing shanties that spill over estuaries. So-called pocket parks afford some sanity (and lush greenery) among the heat, the smog, the cacophony of urban noises, and the riots of color, while the people’s sincere, incomparable friendliness and legendary Filipino hospitality exude from everywhere.
According to Chinese Ming Dynasty accounts from 1373, the settlement on present-day Manila Bay at the mouth of the Pasig River was a bustling trade port, the capital of an empire composed of several kingdoms from as early as the 10th century. Arab, Indian, Malay, Indonesian, Japanese, and Chinese traders all rubbed elbows with the locals, exchanging gold, porcelain, fabrics, and spices. Its strategic location was not lost on the Spanish conquistadores in their quest for a viable spice route, and in 1571, the fortified district of Manila called Intramuros (“within the walls”) became the capital of the Spanish East Indies—an area that eventually covered the present-day Philippines, Guam and the Mariana Islands, Micronesia, Taiwan, Sabah, and parts of Indonesia.
The result of all that trading? Awesome, multidimensional, hard-to-put-your-finger-on and—most notably—seriously underrated food, from the sour, veggie-rich sinigang, the obviously Chinese pancit canton, peanutty kare-kare, heart-stopping crispy pata, and the mash-up of ingredients, colors, and textures that is halu-halo. Beyond the sheer variety of dishes, Manila is a real food culture; it’s not uncommon for locals to embark on spontaneous, informal “food trips”—when groups of friends, family, or office mates go out and hop from one dining establishment to another to experience different foods. Fortunately for them (and you), custom dictates five to six meals a day: breakfast, lunch, dinner, plus meriendas (snacks or light meals) in between and often a late-night snack before bed.
If you’re looking for a culinary adventure, it’s time for your own Manila food trip. Here’s your guide.
—Manila text & photos by Mona Polo
Note: Metro Manila is composed of 14 cities, of which the actual capital of the Philippines is the City of Manila. Most of our food picks can be found in three of these cities: Manila, Makati, and Taguig. For purposes of simplification, in this section we use the word Manila to refer to the entire Metro Manila, except where indicated.
Few cities inspire such polar opinions as Manila: You either love it or you hate it, or you love-hate it—but you will never have a neutral opinion of it. An urban sprawl with 12 million inhabitants, Metro Manila can be bewildering to first-timers: rich and poor; densely packed in some places and sprawling in others, towering high-rises dwarfing shanties that spill over estuaries. So-called pocket parks… Read more