Looking back at the year 2020, one of the memorable things I have is about Iloilo food. I’ve been to Iloilo several times and it is one of my favorite places to visit: heritage, culture, and of course, delicious food. Last year, I was there in January and February before the imposed lockdown in March, one of my last travel destinations. And food in Iloilo City is one of the things I always look forward to.
Linabog and local Iloilo food at Sea Breeze
When I read about a local fish dish from my friend Marie Joy Rosal Sumagaysay, a researcher and lecturer at UP Visayas in Miag-ao, I just had to travel 61 kilometers all the way to Tiolas near the western end of the municipality of San Joaquin. There, in Sea Breeze restaurant, Joeray Carpio has been offering his linabog nga sirup (photo above, rightmost dish), shredded snake mackerel meat cooked in coconut milk and turmeric. The dish is delicious and very localized. It is not even known much about outside. Other than the linabog, I had other Ilonggo food that I enjoyed coupled with beautiful views of the sea.
I came here twice, first because the linabog nga sirup was not available (the linabog was made of another fish species). The second time, I came here with Marie Joy to have lunch and this time, the former was on hand. Read more about her article here. She also won second place for her submission about this dish in the prestigious Doreen Gamboa Fernandez Food Writing Award in 2019.
Batchoy at Alicia’s
Whenever I think of Iloilo food, batchoy comes first to mind. I usually have my batchoy fix at Netong’s at the La Paz market. But the last time I was there, they’ve raised prices considerably. At the same time, Alicia’s in Jaro has been gaining ground through word-of-mouth as a rising contender for the best batchoy in the city. My friend Eugene Jamerlan, indefatigable Ilonggo cultural and heritage worker has also told me about this batchoyan.
In one of my last two visits, I just had to go there and try their batchoy before heading to the terminal. It never disappointed! The soup is flavorful with lots of toppings. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to avail of the free bone marrow that they offer to early customers as these ran out!
Snack at New Deleonian Kapehan
I love the simplicity of eating at one of the old snack places at Iloilo’s Central Market. I’ve just checked out from the hotel nearby, and as I was walking along Iznart St. looking for breakfast before heading to the Ceres bus terminal in Tagbak, I passed by New Deleonian Kapehan and saw a free table just outside the cafe.
Why not? I said to myself. Usually, I would have headed to La Paz market for my batchoy fix at Netongs then coffee and pan de ciosa at Madge. But I was running out of time and this last trip to Iloilo in 2020 was more of discovering places for food. I stopped. Put my bag and tripod case beside one of the tables, headed to the counter, looked at what’s available and ordered. A hot cup of coffee and this pan de ciosa, crisp and delicious.
Delicious food at FTI Indian Restaurant
Eugene invited me with another friend for dinner and he brought us to FTI Indian Restaurant. Now, I don’t know much about Indian cuisine in Iloilo City but if Eugene recommends it, it must be that good. And of course, it was! Various dishes, especially the chicken biryani were great. Forgot the names of the other dishes but there were samosas too and some milk candy desserts. The restaurant is run by Indian nationals in the city.
Makimi at Mr Cow Restaurant
I was searching for best siopao in Iloilo City and one of the local eateries I tried was at Mr Cow Restaurant. Yes, the chicken siopao was good. But the makimi was also highly recommended that I told the waitress that I will wait for it to be available at 2PM. I was there around 1:30 PM. Another delicious treat that I enjoyed, just as I enjoy eating at old chinese restaurants either in Cebu or Manila.
Piaya at Bongbong’s
It was already around mid afternoon and while walking towards Libertad Plaza, passed by Bongbong’s Pasalubong Center. I first encountered this local delicacy and sweets chain in Bacolod City several decades ago. I entered and browsed their products and when I neared the counter, saw their freshly made piaya, sweet flat bread with muscovado sugar inside.
As I felt hungry, I ordered two ube piayas and a cup of instant coffee. I just loved how the hot, crisp and flaky pastry broke, it’s delicious flavor coupled with that cheap 3-1 cup. My afternoon was made! Sometimes, I still remember that very afternoon sitting inside the air conditioned store near the window and breaking that snack.
For the longest time I’ve been visiting Iloilo City, I have always been curious with the kamachile fruits being sold along the stands in Jaro. All I can remember was that I tried one in Cebu when I was a child and kind of forgotten how it tasted. When I was in Iloilo January of last year, I was walking to the inn where I was staying and just beside it was a fruit stand. I bought 1/4 of a kilo just to sate my curiosity. Well, the taste is something that you have to get used to though. Hahaha.
I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo and one of the most memorable food I had in the city was the Marriott Burger. Just imagine, a juicy, well flavored 200 gram patty on a bed of fresh lettuce and topped with a slice of cheese and crispy bacon. It was just so delicious that whenever I see this photo, I still crave for this one. Other than this, I tried one of the burgers at Stacks Burger at the Festive Walk Parade and I think it’s quite promising. Too bad, I only tasted one of their offers as I was there just once.
Thai food at Nam Prik Thai Restaurant
Eugene and Marie Joy Rosal brought me here where we had a hearty lunch with the owner and it was a very delicious Thai meal. The pad thai was memorable. The crispy dried squid was heavenly. And so with the other dishes we had. Too bad, the photo of the menu I took got lost with my phone when it died several months ago. The restaurant is in Sambag, Jaro, just beside the busy highway. It is open air, has a small garden, relaxing to dine at and an intriguing history to it.
Siopao at Kong Kee’s Restaurant
Whenever one searches for siopao in Iloilo City, Roberto’s always come up. Although it’s quite popular with locals and visitors alike, I had a bad experience with the owner years ago. But despite that, I still kept an open mind about it. Thus, last year, I was there several times and ordered their regular, junior, king and queen (twice) siopaos plus their other popular dishes. I don’t know, but I just got disappointed. What was posted about, especially the queen siopao, never lived up to my expectations. None of the gushed for fillings. Was it a case of a wrongly wrapped one given to me? But twice? Or has their quality eroded?
Thus, when I went to Kong Kee Restaurant just near Roberto’s, I was not disappointed. I visited there several times too and tried the pork, chicken and chicken-pork siopao as well as their popular bihon, And I’ve come back again for the chicken pork siopao as well as got two for take away. It’s really good, flavorful and filling, just what I want in traditional siopaos be it in Cebu, Naga City, Bacolod or Manila. They’ve been steaming these meat buns since 1966. And none of the hype. 🙂
There you have it. Iloilo food memories of 2020. I know there are a few that I haven’t mentioned. Like JD Bakeshop for their cakes and pastries or Samurai Talabahan in Mandurriao. The first time I was at Samurai, Eugene invited me, I gushed at the freshness of the oysters. But on my second visit, I was a bit disappointed. But probably, that was a fluke? Only time will tell.
Iloilo has so much to offer the visitor. And Iloilo food is one of the reasons I come back again and again to this city. Be it from traditional food like Kong Kees or Mr Cow, or the street food in Molo (this is one of the surprises awaiting you), to modern restaurants. You are always in for a treat when you dine and eat in this city.