The Nestle Chef to Chef event took us to Iloilo. Last time I was there was when our TV show “Foodprints” featured the best dining places and food discoveries in the province.
On our Nestlé trips, it is usually the local guide who suggests where we would eat. Not this time. It was my turn.
We arrived around 2 p.m., dropped our bags in the hotel and went off to try what I believe is the place that serves Iloilo’s best batchoy—Netong’s. It had just opened a branch near the hotel.
There was hardly anyone in the mall but Netong’s was packed. The batchoy arrived steaming hot.
There were various textures in the pork, innards, chicharon, beef, vegetable toppings and the freshly made noodles. On the side was puto.
Every spoonful yielded a lasting taste of the rich broth combined with the fillings and completed by the noodles. I loved it!
Even before we could finish our meal, I was already planning our dinner.
I decided it would be at Nato and Helen’s. This ihaw-ihaw place was a tiny eatery a few years back. It became so successful, it is now a two-story restaurant serving mostly seafood.
The dish that stood out on my last visit was kilawin na tanigue. It was among our appetizers aside from the freshly shucked oysters.
The kilawin was a bit sweet, marinated in gata with minced ginger, fresh onions, a few tiny slices of finger sili which made one’s nose perspire and awaken taste buds for the coming main courses.
We ordered a seemingly simple sinigang na ulo ng lapu-lapu. But it was not your usual sinigang.
This was like a whole new level; dumped into it were perfectly cooked but still crunchy kangkong. It was delicious!
The fish head melted in the mouth, with the meat and gelatin from the cheeks and eyes.
We also had diwal or angel wing clams, broiled. On the side, all of us made our own sawsawan. I got a bottle of sinamak vinegar with soaked finger sili, poured three tablespoons on a tiny sauce plate, mixed with a little soy sauce, added Rufina Patis (when you ask for patis in Iloilo, they give you toyo or soy sauce) and added crushed sili.
We ordered native chicken inasal that looked like it had done Pilates—it was so thin. But it was unbelievably tasty and perfect with my dipping sauce.
We also had inihaw na hito and boneless bangus. The kalderetang kambing didn’t fit in, its taste on a much lower level.
We also had homemade atchara.
Rice was a must. So I got a piece of inasal meat, dipped it in spicy sawsawan, got a handful of rice and simply closed my eyes in satisfaction.
I did the same with the hito, bangus, and would occasionally get a sip of the piping hot sinigang.
The six of us at the table simply ignored each other during the entire feast. It was I, my plate and no one else.
It was so good we were back the next evening, ordering exactly the same dishes. But I just had the sinigang and rice. Trying to eat healthy, of course, I did not succeed and surrendered to the tempting food. Again!
The next day, we asked the guide to buy us Kapitan Ising’s pancit molo and fresh lumpia. That was our lunch.
The piping hot molo was the very best I had tasted. Chef Tibong, maker of the best boodle menu in Iloilo (tel. 0917-6206900), introduced me to this dish. It was tasty, peppery and had the clean taste of rich chicken broth with great tasting molo filling.
The lumpia with sauce made from taba ng baboy was equally fantastic.
After our second dinner at Nato and Helen’s, I took the group to Maridels—to me, the best baker in Iloilo.
All the desserts we had were outstanding. We had Ube Cake, Frozen Brazo, Turtle Pie, Reese with a spoon (peanut butter dessert), Warm Chocolate Crepe with Caramelized Banana Sauce, Salted Caramel Cake, Carrot Fruit Nut, Snickers Pie and Heaven and Hell.
We went back the next day.
But we missed three places: Roberto’s Siopao, Chef Tibong’s and Ube Brazo at La Paz market. Still we were able to go to Heather’s Panaderia de Molo. Love those goodies!
Iloilo is culinary haven. And so, as Arnold would say, “Ol bi Bak!”