Travel for food is the best way to help local tourism after the lockdown

Eating. It is one of the best things to do when travelling. After several hours on the road (or up in the sky, maybe out at sea), it definitely feels great to be able to take a relaxing hot shower and then throw your tired body onto the soft, inviting bed and sail away into dreamland. But there’s something more exciting and pleasurable than this, and tourists, both domestic and foreign, always look forward to it — visiting local dining destinations and sitting down to a sumptuous meal replete with local flavors for the palate to discover and enjoy.

Back in the day, meals were just squeezed into itineraries to keep tourists properly nourished, and they always consisted of safe, generic choices, such as adobo, sinigang, menudo, fried chicken and some Asian and international favorites. Times have changed, though, as food tourism slowly but steadily rises, making food the top motivation for people to choose the places that they visit. This time, people want more than just the usual and predictable. They want to explore local cuisines of the cities, provinces or regions that they are visiting.

Chicken inasal

“Travelers are now looking for unique food and beverage experiences. There has also been a rise in the number of food tour companies offering food tourism as a way of promoting our country, as travelers who have been to our various destinations will be able to share their experiences in visiting our tourist spots and in trying our local dishes,” says Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat.

The 2018 Philippine Tourism Satellite Accounts Report by the Philippine Statistics Authority shows that food and beverage services amounted to P105.059 billion or 23.8 percent of the total inbound tourism expenditures (P441.428 billion) that year. It ranked No. 2, second only to accommodation services (P113.143 billion, or 25.6 percent of total inbound tourism expenditures).

Marinduque’s crispy manakla

Tourists’ interest in local food also shows in domestic tourism, whose expenditures in 2018 amounted to P192.535 billion (or six percent of the total domestic tourism expenditures P3.2 trillion).

Getting People Interested In Local Food Products

Banking on this trend, the Department of Tourism (DOT) initiated programs that draw people’s interest in local food products. Secretary Romulo-Puyat herself initiated the “Philippine Harvest” trade fair in partnership with Centrale Square in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, as well as the “Kain Na” food fair in partnership with Ayala Malls to showcase regional delicacies and food products, respectively. Held annually, these two major events give city folks a sampling of what they can find should they travel around the country.

“Aside from these, the DOT promotes farm and culinary tourism packages through our DOT offices overseas, include Philippine cuisine and produce in various travel and tourism events and fairs organized overseas, and conduct familiarization trips for foreign media, tour operators and Filipino chefs based overseas,” says Romulo-Puyat.

Empanada de kaliskis of Bulacan

Efforts To Promote Food Tourism Internationally

Perhaps the biggest proof that the DOT is taking the food tourism direction is the fact that the agency is continuing its “Eats More Fun in the Philippines” campaign to promote Filipino food and dining culture internationally through various platforms.

The DOT has been inviting chefs and restaurateurs over for a visit to learn about Filipino cuisine and then serve as culinary tourism ambassadors for the Philippines.

In November 2019, DOT successfully conducted a special “Chefs’ Tour.” Popular Fil-Am chefs Tom Cunanan (of Bad Saint, Washington, D.C.), Charles Olalia (of Ma’am Sir and Rice Bar, Los Angeles, California), and Lanai Tabura (TV host, actor, Emmy Award winner, and winner of Food Network’s Food Truck Race Season 4, Hawaii) were invited to tour around the Philippines and discover regional dishes. Aside from the usual food crawls that they were treated to in different places, the guest chefs got to visit local markets to check out the local produce and ingredients available there.

Fresh oysters from Antique

To make the experience even more special for them, three well-known Filipino chefs — Gaita Fores, Claude Tayag and Tatung Sarthou —curated the different legs of the culinary tour to make sure the guests got to try everything they needed to try from each place they visited.

Eating One’s Way Around The Country

Traditionally, through TV, radio and print media, and now through the Internet, YouTube and social media, people read about the unique food offerings of certain places. Filipinos who are planning to travel around the country and discover firsthand the different regional cuisines available choose to visit places that they read about or see videos of. Foreigners who are maximizing their vacation trips rely a lot on what they see or read about in choosing their destinations.

A huge percentage of what’s in media or online — and even word of mouth — has to do with food, so tourists end up in various cities, provinces and regions of the Philippines because Filipino cuisine is very exciting, so exciting in fact that it is catching the attention of the international food scene. It is, after all, an interesting mix of ethnic flavors, Spanish and Chinese influences, American classics, Asian touches, and so much more. It is, at the same time, a cuisine of its own — difficult to define, a mystery to decipher, but a fountain of incredible flavors to enjoy.

Secretary Romulo-Puyat points out that the Philippines has a lot of local ingredients that are at par with their international counterparts, including our citrus fruits (such as calamansi), souring agents (like batuan and tabon-tabon), our local coffee and cacao, and our local cheeses.

Bicol region’s laing

Davao is one destination that a lot of tourists visit these days with treats such as pomelo, durian, marang and mangosteen. These fresh fruits cost a fortune in Metro Manila, but in Davao, where they grow in abundance, they are a bargain. Davao is also home to Malagos Farms, whose owner Olive Puentespina makes world-class gourmet cheeses. It offers cheese-tasting sessions for tourists. Malagos Farms also produces top-quality chocolates. There are other chocolate producers in Davao as well. Fresh, high-grade tuna is also bountiful in Davao. So is artisanal coffee.

Cebu, likewise, attracts a steady number of visitors. Aside from its beautiful beaches, particularly in Mactan, it is another food lover’s haven. The late American celebrity chef and food show host Anthony Bourdain himself declared Cebu lechon as “the best pig ever,” and it is best eaten with pusô, which is rice wrapped in a heart-shaped pouch made by weaving coconut leaves and then cooked. Cebu also offers the Sutukil dining experience, with diners selecting fresh fish, wet market style, and have it cooked three ways — sugba (grilled), tula or tinola (cooked into a soup dish), and kilaw (eaten raw). Cebu is quite known for its dried fish, including danggit (rabbitfish) and boneless dilis (anchovies), as well as its fresh and dried mangoes.

Other must-try dishes that prompt foreign and domestic tourists to visit places around the country include laing (gabi or taro leaves cooked in coconut milk), pinangat (taro leaves wrapped around meat or fish in pouches and cooked in coconut milk), Bicol Express (pork slices with siling haba, cooked in coconut milk), and toasted siopao (siopao that’s baked, not steamed) that the Bicol region is known for; chicken inasal (grilled chicken), batchoy (a miki noodle soup with sliced pork and pig’s innards), and pancit molo (wonton soup dish) of Iloilo and Bacolod; plus empanada de kaliskis (meat pie with flaky crust), bringhe (turmeric rice), and inipit (pressed sponge cake sandwich with a custard filling) of the historic province of Bulacan.

Adventurous eaters would definitely delight in Kapampangan cuisine, as it is replete with exotic fares such as betute (stuffed frog) and camaru (crickets) to go with the famous sisig (chopped pig’s face cooked and served on a sizzling plate) of Pampanga.

Talk about the sweetest mangoes in the world, and Zambales and Guimaras are the first places that come to mind. Think of the most unique seafood offerings, and there are plenty — the curacha (spanner crab) of Zamboanga, the oysters of Antique, the manakla (single-clawed crawfish) and bigoy (red-eyed crabs) of Marinduque, the diwal (angel wing shellfish) of Bacolod, among others.

Filipino cuisine is also rich in pancit (noodles), and it varies from region to region not only in the kind of noodles that they use but also in the way they cook the noodles. Check out some of them: pancit pusit of Cavite, pancit habhab of Quezon, pancit cabagan of Isabela, bam-i of Cebu, pancit batil-patung of Cagayan, pancit bato of Camarines Sur, pancit efuven of Iloilo.

One unique feature of Filipino cuisine is its kakanins (rice cakes and other native delicacies), which, like noodles, come in different versions, depending on which province or region you are in — and tourists, both foreign and domestic, simply love having a taste of them. Suman is particularly interesting because different provinces and regions have their own versions, such as the inatata, binalay and moriecos of Isabela, tupig and patupat of Pangasinan, tininta of Marinduque, chocolate moron of Samar, and budbod kabog of Cebu. Aside from suman, there’s a wide selection of rice cakes and other kakanins that come in different forms and flavors across the Philippines — all just waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.

With all these delightful eats available in the country today, you can now eat your way through our archipelago.