Looking for a worthy food trip destination in the country? Iloilo City was recently named a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in the Philippines.
The City of Love was recognized for its vibrant food culture along with 54 other cities around the world by the Creative Cities Network on UCCN. The flagship program was created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2004 to recognize cities that promote culture and creativity in different fields. Aside from Iloilo City, UCCN previously designated Baguio as a Creative City for craft and folk art in 2017 and Cebu as a Creative City for design in 2019.
In travel circles, Iloilo City has long been known for its classic Filipino dishes prepared in the traditional way and cuisine influenced by diverse cultures. Here are just a few must-try local dishes and where to try them in Iloilo City.
La Paz Batchoy
Mention Iloilo and the image of Batchoy, a hearty noodle soup dish, immediately comes to mind. This rich pork broth and silky noodle dish is the ultimate comfort food and a great post-hangover cure which you can try in local chains like Deco’s (est. in 1938) or Ted’s Oldtimer La Paz Batchoy (est. in 1945). For a more authentic experience, head to Netong’s, the original batchoyan established in 1948 at the La Paz Public Market, the town where the dish originated.
Pancit Molo is an Ilonggo version of the wonton soup popularized by Chinese settlers in the pre-Hispanic era. This soup dish, which is served as street food in the Molo district, has dumplings made with meaty molo balls and shredded chicken meat in a richly flavored broth. One popular place to try Pancit Molo is Kap Ising’s Pancit Molo, which started back in the 1920s. You can also try it in Marlu’s Restaurant, a Filipino-Chinese restaurant hidden on the second floor of a building in Calle Real in downtown Iloilo.
Kansi is an Ilonggo sour soup that blends the best of Bulalo’s beef bone marrow and the tangy flavor of Sinigang. The indulgent dish is made of beef shanks and jackfruit flavored with kamias or lemongrass, annatto, and bawan, a tamarind-like fruit that’s endemic to the forests of Panay and Negros. Indulge in a bowl of kansi at Pat-Pat’s Kansi, a homegrown restaurant that has been around since 1999.
Kadyos, Baboy, Langka or KBL for short is another must-try Ilonggo dish. This soup named for the initials of its main ingredients makes use of kadyos (pigeon peas), baboy (pork) and langka (jackfruit). The broth has a signature tart taste, as it’s also soured with the native batwan. KBL is available at most local restaurants in the city, including Breakthrough, a restaurant established in 1986 that remains one of the most popular restaurants in the city today.
Because of its beachfront location, Breakthrough is one of the best places to try fresh seafood dishes in Iloilo City. Their specialties include fresh oysters, baked scallops, seaweed or lato, sinabawan na imbao (mangrove clams soup), sizzling crabmeat, and sinugba nga managat (grilled red snapper), to name a few. Depending on the season, you could also try the angel-wing-shaped shellfish called diwal from Capiz. This rare treat is usually steamed, grilled, or baked with cheese and garlic, similar to mussels and oysters. Since portion sizes are large, the dishes here are best eaten with a group.
Coffee and pasalubong
History buffs should make it a point to visit Camiña Balay nga Bato. Formerly known as Avanceña House, this century-old heritage house in the Arevalo district was built in 1865 and now serves as a living museum with art, architecture, and artifacts and a restaurant serving local delicacies and tsokolate de batirol.
Madge Cafe is also worth a stop even if it’s temporarily operating in a hole-in-the-wall stall while renovations are ongoing at the La Paz Market. The iconic cafe, which has been around since 1940, serves old-fashioned coffee and treats like kalamansi-flavored donuts and puto.
Biscocho and Butterscotch bars
When it comes to food souvenirs, you can’t go wrong with Biscocho and Butterscotch bars. The Original Biscocho Haus, which opened in 1975 as a family-owned specialty food products maker in Jaro, Iloilo City specializes in these treats. You can also buy these from popular pasalubong shops like Rgies Delicacies and PJ’s Delicacies (both of which opened in 1985), which you can find in the airport before heading home.
For more travel tips, visit the author’s blog at www.traveling-up.com