One of the reasons why people enjoy traveling is that it gives them the opportunity to discover new cultures. Apart from the customs and traditions of a place, you get to interact with people and learn more about them.
What interests me most is discovering where people eat and what they eat. Surely, the best way to know more about a destination is by experiencing what the locals go through during the day.
In the Philippines, the local food defines who the people are. How can it not when it is something they go through on a daily basis?
One place in the country that I always look forward to visiting is Cebu.
Yes, part of the attraction of the province is its lechon. I rarely have it when I am there, unless if a host serves it, or the restaurant I am trying has it on the menu or the buffet.
Instead, I bring home a kilo of the stuff so my folks can have a taste of it, too. I don’t really need to go to the local lechonan to buy this pasalubong. It is readily available at the airport.
Buying lechon at the airport also ensures that you bring home something edible. I’ve seen so many travelers buying their lechon the night before, only for it to spoil the next day.
I like the Zubuchon lechon inside the departure area. You can have it fresh or frozen, chopped into one kilo servings. I prefer to get the lechon Cebu belly roll because it is more eye-catching and mouthwatering.
Did you say mangoes? They don’t interest me because I can easily buy them in Metro Manila.
I’d rather have Cebu longaniza, which has a flavor profile unlike ordinary sausages. The sweet garlicky taste of those little globes of pork meat is what I find interesting. When cooked, the sugar in the sausages causes them to caramelize. You can buy it from Taboan Market, that mecca of all kinds of dried fish, or the supermarket at Gaisano department store.
Davao is known for its pomelo and mangosteen. While I like to have them, I don’t look forward to bringing them home. The cost of excess baggage deters me. Besides, they are readily available here.
What I do look forward to is durian ice cream, which used to be available only in Cagayan de Oro under the Magnolia brand. It is the most convenient way of bringing home durian. They won’t let you in the plane if you bring it fresh.
However, since both fruit and ice cream are now also available here, that’s one less package to bring home.
Pampanga is known for being a culinary center of the country. That’s why when I could, I spend a weekend in Angeles City just to discover new restaurants.
For the past few years, Angeles has gradually become home to foreigners who have decided to settle there. And I am not talking about Americans. Instagram is full of posts of world cuisine that abounds in the city.
There is a Korean avenue that is wall to wall with samgyupsal restaurants. If you want a taste of Korean food out of town, this is the place to go.
It is home to Vietnamese places that sell real banh mi, the unique sandwich that combines western and eastern flavors. There is also a local microbrewery that sells German style beer that is locally made. You can sample its brew under the Pinatubo brand at pubs around the city, or you can go directly to its office-restaurant where they also serve a menu of sausages and schnitzel to go with your drink.
The city is also home to restaurants run by celebrity chefs. My favorite is Downtown Cafe at Nepo Quad, which features the recipes of artist, writer and chef Claude Tayag. If you can’t make a reservation to the degustacion lunch at his home, this is the place to go to.
Nepo Quad also has a number of homegrown places that lets you try the cooking of many local food brands.
And since it is near Manila, all you really need is a day trip if you just want to enjoy good food.
Outside the city, in nearby Magalang town, is Abe’s Farm, a restaurant inside a farm at the foot of Mt. Arayat. Run by the LJC Restaurant Group in Manila, it serves all the Kapampangan dishes foodies have come to love from its restaurants. Of course, driving all the way to Pampanga to dine on food that you can order here in Metro Manila is not the point. The location adds a je ne sais quoi to the dishes. Perhaps it is the experience of having Kapampangan food in a Kapampangan farm. Whatever the reason, the trip and the sight make it worth the journey.