The Flavors of Iloilo

This is the second part of my Iloilo story.

There is, of course, more to Iloilo than meets the eye, to borrow a phrase from the original Transformers series. It’s got some of the country’s oldest churches, the most lavish ancestral homes, but half of what makes Iloilo popular cannot be seen but rather, tasted.

BATCHOY

Deco's at Robinson's Place Iloilo

We immediately dove for local cuisine on our first meal at Iloilo, and there’s nothing more Ilonggo than a bowl full of Batchoy, and you can find a branch of Deco’s or Ted’s serving it on just about every square kilometer of the city. Batchoy is a local variation of the popular Mami, a Chinese influenced noodle soup popular throughout the country. The Batchoy exemplifies the typical Filipino ingenuity in wasting as little resources as possible, and the dish is filled with parts of a pig that generally no longer makes it into mainstream dishes, such as the livers and intestines.

The ingredients maybe daunting for some, but fans of Ilonggo food and adventurous outsiders would find delight at the very first sip of the soup. Deco’s and Ted’s are two of the popular outlets selling the dish, and though both are good, I tend to appreciate Deco’s a bit better. Theirs is somewhat a little bit more “refined”, as compared to Ted’s which I found a little bit more “pedestrian”. The taste of the pig’s innards are somewhat more subdued in Deco’s, whereas the slightly bitter flavor of the pigs intestines are more apparent in Ted’s soup. Either way I can eat batchoy from both anytime, though not by too much. There are some things too good that too much of it can kill, and batchoy is one of those. Morbid, but tastes utterly heavenly.

Batchoy from Deco's. It's a bowlful of artery cloggers, but what's life without tasting the real Ilonggo stuff?

Batchoy from Ted's Oldtimer

MANGO TREE

Another restaurant we made a point to visit was The Mango Tree, in Guzman St., Mandurriao district. We came across it on various magazines and articles while we were researching for places to go to in Iloilo, and it made its way to the top of our “must visit” list.

The Mango Tree is little bit more “formal” than usual for this laid back city, but it’s not a snobbish coat-and-tie affair. Their menu is typical traditional Filipino, with items like Sinigang, Kare-kare and so on. The place is quiet and cozy, and though it’s bit out of the way, the friendly and attentive staff will help you get a taxi, especially on a bad-weather day.

Their food was good – nothing to complain about with the three items that we ordered, and price of their food is also cheap, if you’re used to the Manila standards. This is what I like most about dining in other cities in the country…you can get Greenbelt 5 quality food, for the price of Max’s. Delightful indeed.

Sinigang na Hipon

Sizzling Bulalo Steak, a house specialty.

Mango Crepe

MOON CAFE

Another local restaurant that we constantly found packed was Moon Cafe, at the Northpoint arcade just beside SM City Iloilo. It’s a Mexican themed restaurant, though their menu is so varied, you can find anything from distinctly Ilonggo Molo Soup, to Italian inspired Pizza and Pasta.

Regardless if it was faithful to its theme or not, Moon Cafe was definitely bang for the buck. The pizza and pasta could put more expensive restaurants in Manila to shame, and they were so generous with the ingredients, our pizza almost swam in melted mozzarella.

Molo Soup

Spaghetti with Prawns (forgot the exact name)

Pizza with bacon, cheese and mushrooms (forgot the name too). That pizza probably had the thickest coating of mozzarella I have tried, and it was wonderful.

COFFEE BREAK

The coffee giant Starbucks does have a presence in Iloilo, but as in most major cities in the country, they have home grown competition that has been in the market longer, owing to strong nation-wide demand for the “cafe lifestyle”, and Starbucks’ shy penetration strategy for markets outside Manila.

Among the most prolific cafes in Iloilo is a chain called Coffee Break, and you can practically find them everywhere, from street corners to the airport. Judging by number of people at their Plazuela outlet, it seems Coffee Break has a good local following. They’re a few notches cheaper than Starbucks, their coffee is not bad at all compared to the global giant, and their pastries are delightfully different from what’s common in Manila’s cafes. What’s more, they have something that most cafes in Manila are disappointingly unwilling to offer their customers – free wifi. Bless them.

Brewed coffee from Coffee Break, served on nice looking earthenware mugs.

Mango Cheesecake at Coffee Break

Our short stay prevented us from exploring more of Iloilo’s food scene, and I would believe we have barely scratched the surface, but it was a satisfying “food trip” nonetheless. The Ilonggo after all, is known for culinary prowess.

* We went to Iloilo last July 2011. All photos taken with Panasonic Lumix LX5.

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