I got excited seeing the dishes laid out at the different sections of Cafe Marco: balbacua, bam-i, kinupsan, mais, crab relleno, nilung-ag nga saging with ginamos, linusak, biko and masareal. These are the food that I grew up with in Cebu, very familiar but didn’t expect it to be served in this five star hotel’s restaurant.
Sugbusog 2014 Pagkaong Inato is Marco Polo Cebu Plaza Hotel’s cuisine of the month in the latest iteration of its monthly culinary journey. Coinciding with the Sinulog Festival, Cebu City’s grand celebration and feast of its patron, Sto. Nino, the Holy Child, Sugbusog is a showcase of cuisine that is uniquely Cebuano.
I love the gelatinous and soft balbacua, slowly stewed ox tail and skin that it reminded me of lunches with my officemates when I was working in Cebu. Paired with the delicious mais, it was a trip down memory lane. Mais is coarsely ground corn that is a staple food in provincial Cebu. We used to have it in lieu of rice and my father prefers it as its dense and makes you full better than rice.
The pinakupsan, pork that is fried using its own lard till crisp and shrunk is delicious, like home lunches when me and my siblings scramble to get the few left over pieces. The crab relleno, or stuffed crab is just sumptuous, with the sweetish taste of this crustacean’s meat, almost pure and unadulterated with extenders like the cheap ones you find along the streets or carinderias, local eateries.
While some say adobo is the Philippines’s national dish, Cafe Marco’s Cebuano adobo is just good. Unlike those in Manila and other parts of the country, ours is fried and dry but the process of preparing it with its vinegar marinade with lots of garlic is almost the same. In between spoonfulls of mais, balbacua, and adobo, I was savoring the soupy goodness of tinolang manok bisaya, native chicken in broth.
The bam-i, stir fried vermicelli and egg noodles with meat and vegetables was just right while I was happily munching on the crunchy kinuskus nga pusit, dried squid strips fried till crispy. But the kinamatisan nga bulad, dried fish cooked with tomatoes was something new for me. I was told that it’s a common dish in northern Cebu. Salty but went well with the sourness of the tomatoes.
But I was all smiles when I saw boiled camote (sweet potato) and cardaba or saba bananas, bananas that are usually cooked, encircling a clay pot of ginamos, fermented anchovies that we usually enjoy at the beach in Talisay when we were children.
For dessert, masareal, ground peanuts cooked with sugar, a delicacy originally from Mandaue City was there and so is pintos, ground corn steamed with butter or margarine, a little sugar and milk and wrapped in its own corn covers, commonly found offered by ambulant vendors in Bogo City.
Siakoy, twisted dough with ground coconut, fried and dipped in sugar, usually as an afternoon snack, bananacue, saba bananas fried with sugar, delicious biko, a kind of rice cake topped with strips of young coconut cooked in sugar syrup was just heavenly. And my favorite, puto maya tapul, purple sticky rice cooked with ginger and slightly sweetened then paired with slices of sweet ripe mangoes and sikwate, native hot chocolate that we usually have for breakfast at home, and in many humble eateries across the Cebuano speaking parts of the Visayas.
I loved this culinary offering from Marco Polo. It’s the Cebuano home cooked comfort food, food that I grew up with and one that I’m proud to say, is my culinary identity. It’s the best of Cebuano cuisine that you can partake.
Sugbusog 2015 Pagkaong Inato
10-18 January 2015
Marco Polo Plaza Cebu
Cebu (032) 253 1111 and Manila (02) 887 1263