Cebu is not only popular tourist destination for its fine beaches and historic landmark. Cebu is also a gastronomic delight that never fails to satisfy the palate. From the popular dried seafood danggit / rabbit fish to the crispy to the inimitable lechon / suckling pig and from pasalubong varieties like the popular dried mangoes and otap as keepsakes to friends, Cebu has them all.
Cebuano cooking was influenced by foreign presence due to the presence of foreign visitors during the early part of Philippine history. In those days, Cebu was a port flourishing with trade with her neighbors, her culture and cuisine were Indo-Malay and her plates were from China and Thailand. When the Spaniards came, they introduced potatoes, avocado and corn from Mexico, enriching the variety of food available to the Cebuanos. Cattle from China, Mexico, and Spain came towards the end of the fifteenth century.
The Chinese, though they traded with Cebu since ancient times, came to settle in large numbers in Cebu only towards the latter half of the nineteenth century. With this wave of immigration came Chinese noodles and lugaw, soy sauce, bean curd, the particular flavors or sesame oil and dried mushrooms, and new ways of cooking like steaming and stir-frying.
Then the Americans came with their own ethnocentric notions of what constituted good food and hygienic eating. They made Cebuanos wash their hands and boil most of their food, and started in earnest to influence the way Cebuanos eat.
Speaking of ingredients, Cebuano food is big on chili peppers (“sili” locally) and vinegar. The locally grown peppers look like harmless tiny red slugs, but be warned, they pack a mean punch. Cebuanos mainly use sili as a side dish for dipping other morsels into. The sauce is made by combing the sili with a local vinegar that is made from a coconut sap mixture.
The Cebuanos’ love for food is evident in their signature Cebuano dishes that are worth mentioning. They include:
- Kinilaw is often translated as “salad,” but that is a poor translation because its nowhere near what most Westerners think of when they use the word. Kinilaw is a combination of vegetables (tomatoes are the bulk) and raw fish (tanigue – similar to tuna) flavored with a mixture of chilies, vinegar, and coconut milk. Delectably stunning.
- Escabeche usually gets translated as “sweet and sour fish.”
- Kanding caldereta is usually translated as “goat stew.” It is a gourmet dish in Cebuano culture.
- Tinola is among the most well known soups in the Philippines – spring onions, tomatos, green chili, garlic, ginger, and a local herb similar to basil leaves. You can get fish tinola or chicken tinola.
- Sinigang is also a soup, but flavored with tamarind. It can have either fish or chicken in it.
- Pochero is another soup. This one boasts large chunks of pork. It’s flavored with garlic, herbs and includes lots of vegetables. The flavour is distinct and rich.
- Ginisal is usually served as a vegetable dish. It commonly includes bean sprouts, bamboo-shoots, beans and cabbage cooked in soy sauce, vinegar, onions, and garlic.
- Inun-unan (paksiw na isda) is a fish dish cooked in garlic and vinegar. Usually it is cooked in something like a crock pot. Most Western tourists are surprised at how much they like the dish…
- Pinakbet is a stir fried vegetable dish that includes squash (pumpkin).
- The above is just a small sampling of what Cebuano cuisine has to offer. There are plenty of good rice dishes and amazing seafood in the menu.
Lechon or the Philippine roast pig, is long a mainstay in Philippine parties and considered a matter of pride by Filipinos. By reputation, the Cebu lechon is considered by most as the tastiest and crispiest, with such flavorful meat that condiments or sauce are typically not necessary anymore. The difference between lechon Cebu and others are not limited to name, but a careful choice of raw materials, bloodletting, butchering, basting, and finally the Broiling.
SuTuKil is the shorter version of Sugba-Tula-Kilaw (Grill-Stew-Eat Raw), three cooking styles which the Mactan folks consider their specialty. Sutukil restaurants specialize in cooking foods the ways it is translated. Most sutukil restaurants once started as small eateries that have flourished and turned big. They also come with the common ambiance of outdoor dining: nipa roofs, outdoor style and plastic dining pieces. And because of the open-air reception, menu rates are usually affordable and the grilled foods are often hits.
Dried Rabbitfish (Danggit)
Danggit is a salted dried fish that is best paired with hot rice and dipped in vinegar. Others prefer a mixture of vinegar and crushed chili peppers with a dash of salt. Others might want to add a little bit more of spices to enhance the flavor. Onions, garlics, ginger are some of the favorites. One of the best places to buy danggit in Cebu is at Tabo-an Market. Some locals say that there are also danggit in other markets but the Cebu Tabo-an Market has a more varied selections.
Otap is an oval biscuit made of flour, sugar, shortening and the ever reliable coconut. Sprinkled with sugar, a careless bite of this fragile biscuit would send fragments of it flying to the floor. But it is not as scary as it sounds; though one have to admit that eating otap is an art by itself. There are many otap makers in Cebu City but the most famous are Shamrock, La Fortuna and Masterline. All of them have specialty bakeshops in Cebu that sell otap and other native snacks.
Rosquillos are cookies or biscuits that are ring in shape. The cookies are famous because of their being crispy, light and delicious. Moreover, the rosquillos is popular because they can be made or baked even when you are at your own home. It is important to differentiate the Rosquillos of Cebu from the rosquillos of Spain, which are more of olive oil doughnuts. The town of Liloan is known to be the home of the original rosquillos. In fact they have embraced it so much and has even created a festival named after this sweet biscuits.
The best tasting dried mangoes in the country, if not the world. This ripe, sun dried mangoes is good for snacks and desserts. It has a chewy consistency that makes its taste linger in your mouth. With its bite size, you can eat it wherever you are. At work, at the beach or in yourhouse enjoying a bite with your love ones. Dried mangoes are excellent fat-free alternatives to sugary snacks. With its sweet and non-acidic zest, this dried fruit product is rich in vitamins and made from the best handpicked mangoes of Cebu. Each bite is guaranteed to be tasty, chewy and full of flavor.