When one is visiting a place, whether for the first or the umpteenth time, it is the first meal that sets the tone for the rest of the visit.
Arriving in Davao City at past noon, we held our hunger pangs because we were promised one of the best tapa in the country.
My friend miscalculated the distance to the place, figuring we could walk it. Thankfully, he hired a tricycle instead and, as it turned out, it could be walking distance if one was willing to eat an hour later.
Sara’s is a carinderia owned by a Boholanon. It bills itself as “Original Kabawan and Bulalohan.”
A kabaw is a carabao, my Visayan five-year-old niece told me years ago. She looked at me strangely when I corrected her—kalabaw!
The piece de resistance came shortly after we were seated on benches—shredded carabao tapa fried into crisp strands. And then a bowl of balbacoa, the Visayan version of bulalo or boiled beef.
Whether Visayan or Tagalog, you just have to take a sip of the soup and a spoonful of tapa with rice to be happy with the superb food we can get in this town.
We swore to bring home some kabaw tapa for the man of the house who dreams about carabao meat.
We were told, not in words but in pictures, that Sara’s is one of President Duterte’s favorite eateries. The walls are covered with photographs of him and his guests, plus other guests.
The trip to Davao City was for a seminar called Power of Pen.
Five speakers, myself included, gave our ideas on food writing, how research is a vital part of the process and how to effectively present their research.
At one point we mentioned how we have been to one of the restaurants in town. When Lachi’s was mentioned, there were smiles of recognition among the audience and a hum that meant approval.
Mike Aviles, one of the twins, both chefs of Lachi’s (the other is Melvin), texted the day before our flight inviting our party. It was six years ago since my last Davao trip and it was good to be reminded that I could bring people who haven’t been to the place to taste “Unforgettable,” the braised pork rib dish, and the laing, now sold bottled, and the pastries the place is best known for, such as durian sans rival, crème brûlée cake and baked cheesecake.
Like the visits before and that evening, it was Melvin’s turn to be the designated cook, but he arrived after his stint and the better part of it was we met two other members, their sisters, Millete and May.
Family stories were connected to the business, with all siblings contributing time and talent and all agreeing it was their mother who started it, whose recipes they still do and who still is in charge of quality control.
Evening transforms parts of the downtown city street, sidewalk and island, into a “grill park.”
We chose to go to Dood’s because we wanted to see why the ihawan was included in the “World’s Street Food Master’s List.” The smoke, the plastic tables and chairs, the skewered choices of meat and fish make it like any other ihaw place in the country. It is the good barbecue, yes, but what really makes it work for me, list or not, is also the company, the noisy ambience of the traffic almost next to where you are seated, the relaxed mode after work, the night sky above you, the fact that we can drink outside until the alcohol curfew in this southern city.
One treat arrived just before we left Davao City.
It was Lachi’s Tarta de Santiago, a cake made with almonds and flour that is a specialty in Santiago de Compostela. I asked for it at our dinner but Mike Aviles said they don’t make it since their customers don’t know what it is.
They make it for their Jesuit friends on special feast days. It was like the “icing” on my cake, unexpected and wonderful, an additional memory to the many about Davao City.