Everyone loves to eat. Who doesn’t? If given an opportunity to splurge on unlimited food trips with our loved ones, wouldn’t we just altogether respond with that resounding “yes!’? When it comes to the best food spots, we all have our favorites and just by limiting our gaze at the metropolis, every city hosts at least one. There’s Kapitolyo in Pasig, Poblacion in Makati, Maginhawa in Quezon City, and, of course, Binondo – the World’s Oldest Chinatown.
But if I were to pick a place outside Manila that for me is one of the best hubs when it comes to food trip and dining escapades, it would be somewhere down south in the Western Visayas region. Today, we venture outside the metropolitan center of the country and shine the spotlight on Iloilo City, also known as the City of Love.
Few weeks ago, I got invited by Chef Rafael Jardeleza Jr., known to many as Chef Tibong, to visit Iloilo for the 2nd Ilonggo Night Market and Street Food Hawkers Festival. I was also requested to sit as one of the judges at the 1st Nora Daza cooking contest. Allow me to share with you my experience in this truly remarkable food trip.
For some reason, our PAL flight got delayed, but I guess my excitement to see Iloilo kept me going. After less than an hour of flight time, we finally reached the progressive, bustling city of Iloilo. Chef Tibong is the main man behind the extraordinary food fest we were going to attend at, so from the moment I received the invite to the time the plane touched down on the city, I had it in mind that it will be a huge success. And it was.
But before we go to the highlights of the event, let me give you a sneak peek of my experience in Iloilo. If you think this city is only all about Biscochos and La Paz Batchoy, think again. Check out some of the interesting food spots we visited.
Day 1: To Iloilo We Go
Upon safely landing at Iloilo International Airport, we started planning where we wanted to eat. What I liked about this trip was its spontaneity. We just thought of our favorite food and visited the places where we can find them.
Our first stop was at Decos in La Paz market where we savored on a bowl of La Paz Batchoy. It was the very first Decos shop opened by butcher Federico “Deco” Guillergan Sr. in 1938. Where it all began, the stall is small, simple, and still looks like the eatery it’s been in the past. People from all walks of life eat here. I shared the table with the children of celebrated late Chef Nora Daza—Chef Sandy Daza and his sibling Nina Daza-Puyat—and of course, Chef Tibong and fellow writer Domenic Galeon. Food is food. And no matter where you eat it, if the food is good, people will go in droves especially since this place has contributed a lot to Iloilo’s culinary heritage.
While we were finishing our bowl of Batchoy, Chef Sandy suggested that we treat our palate with something sweet – the Ube Brazo de Mercedes found in La Paz Bakeshop. As the name implies, it’s a purple-colored Brazo de Mercedes with sweet purple yam filling inside–a fresh take from the original custard-filled version.
Located just a few steps away from Decos was an old panaderia that also serves frozen birthday cakes and their ube-flavored specialty delicacies. The panaderia offers a number of tables for those who want to dine in and although the place is not air-conditioned, I still highly recommend this place to be included on everyone’s Iloilo food trip itinerary.
Day 1.5: Celebrating Chef Nora’s Legacy
After our satisfying Batchoy brunch, we then proceeded to Courtyard by Marriott Iloilo, our official home for our three-day, two-night (3D2N) stay in Iloilo City.
We then left our things in our respective hotel rooms and then headed to the Courtyard’s executive lounge for the launch of the latest version of the cookbook Let’s Cook with Nora which was published in 1969. The event was attended by foodies and some important guests who witnessed the legacy of Chef Nora Daza, one of the most celebrated chefs in the country.
The new and improved version of Chef Nora’s National Bookstore bestseller was redesigned and updated with tried and tested ingredients. The cookbook’s recipes were reconstructed in such a way that it would be easy to follow and understand. There were also some cooking tips and pointers to remember.
Miss Nina Daza-Puyat, Chef Nora’s youngest daughter, gave a short speech to share the story behind the new and improved edition and what we can expect from it. Chef Sandy also demonstrated how to cook one of his favorite dishes which he learned from his mom, the ginger and spring onion chicken.
As we enjoyed the dishes served to us which by the way came from the recipes in the cookbook, Chef Sandy and Ms. Nina went on with the book signing and photo opportunity with the guests. The event was really jam-packed, yet remained solemn and genuine.
After the event, we had a chance to meet Justice Francis Jardeleza during a dinner he hosted for his family and close friends. We then trooped to Robinsons Place Pavia to experience the 2nd Ilonggo Night Market and Street Food Hawkers Festival.
Robinsons Place Pavia (FB Page) lies along Old Iloilo-Capiz Road, a major thoroughfare that links Iloilo International Airport to the city center. The highway is lined with shopping centers, food hubs, office structures, hotels, and commercial establishments.
The festival was held in a vacant lot right in front of the mall. It was a huge foodie haven that could potentially satisfy just about everyone’s hankering for almost anything yummy–may it be street food, grilled, home-cooked, fried, baked, or roasted. There were also desserts and even hot and cold beverages–not to mention, the ones alcoholics would love. Anyone with an insatiable hunger surely had a gastronomic treat in this event.
Read PART 2: FOOD TRIP: Exploring Iloilo’s Best Food Spots