Eat + Travel: Iloilo, Philippines
Travel has always been a passion. Just the act of packing for a trip already lifts the spirits. As always, I make it a point to read up on the destination and, naturally, food figures heavily in the equation.
During a recent trip to Iloilo City, I nibbled on my share of biscocho, barquillos, batchoy and more.
One early morning, we headed to the La Paz public market for some authentic batchoy. Netong's, which has been open since the 1940s, serves steaming bowls of batchoy prepared the same way using pork innards with egg noodles topped with chicharon and bone marrow. The tasty broth is cooked for hours and is flavored with shrimp paste (guinamos). To get the complete experience, eat it with sweet puto Manapla wrapped in banana leaf.
Breakfast isn't complete without a cup of coffee but at Madge Cafe also at La Paz market, the coffee is served in a repurposed milk can. The cafe has also been open for decades and has been serving a loyal clientele. Need proof? Check out the wall of mugs with the owners' names emblazoned on them.
Both Netong's and Madge Cafe now have branches at Seda Atria but for that authentic feel, head to the market and jostle for space with the locals.
Siopao (pork buns) might not be the first thing on your mind when Iloilo is mentioned but Roberto's on JM Basa Street serves overstuffed buns with the "Queen" variant (P90) at the top of the list. It's packed with chicken and pork adobo with bacon.
Other variants include the King (chicken and pork adobo, ham, Chinese sausage and egg) that is P15 cheaper, and Jumbo siopao (P55) with chicken and pork adobo with egg. The fried meatballs on a stick (P27 for four pieces) is also worth trying.
If you want to splurge, the Camina Balay nga Bato (stone house) in Arevalo district offers lunch or dinner buffet at P500 per person. The 153-year-old house has a buffet set up in the room adjacent the azotea comedor, the main dining area on the second floor that seats diners at long hardwood tables.
The menu includes several vegetable dishes, garlic-laced lumpia Ilonggo and empanada kaliskis (flaky turnovers) but the star of the show is Bino-ug nga Baboy (roast pork seasoned with salt).
Reservations are required (+63 921 739 6491) at least two days in advance with a minimum of 10 diners for either lunch or dinner.
Butterscotch squares and mango empanaditas are always good for pasalubong but one delicacy I discovered at Panaderia de Molo is crumbled pork cracklings. Sprinkled over hot rice or used as sahog with sautéed vegetables, it's a deliciously decadent way to remember your trip to Iloilo City.