There are three places in the Visayas that I get excited to visit—Bacolod, Cebu and Iloilo.
First time I went to Iloilo was on an invitation from Nestlé Philippines. We did cooking demos around the island. Of course, after the event, we were brought to various dining places.
We went to this very popular restaurant beside the beach. I was not so impressed with the food then, so when we did our show, I suggested we skip the place. What a mistake.
Just a few weeks ago, I was again invited by chef Rafael “Tibong” Jardeleza to judge in a local competition called “Flavors of Western Visayas: The Hidden Treasures.”
I learned about the many ingredients unfamiliar to me, but ordinary to Iloilo residents. It was one of the most organized culinary competitions in the country. And many of the entries were interesting in that they were creative in the use of local ingredients.
La Paz ‘batchoy’
Tibong, someone whose taste I trust, took us to his favorite dining places.
First stop was La Paz batchoy. The popular batchoy places in Iloilo are Netong’s, Ted’s and Deco’s.
There is one Deco’s in the La Paz Market run by its original owner. This was where Tibong brought us. He prefers the consistency of this place, he said.
As we got down from the van, we were greeted by the sight of a man frying mounds of chicharon which, we would learn later, were used to top the batchoy that we were going to eat.
The broth was rich and flavorful, the variety of meat tasty and tender, and the noodles, a bit firm and delicious.
With a round puto on the side, it was a wonderful first snack in this dining paradise.
We also had some ube brazo de mercedes bought from La Paz Bakery. This is a fluffy purple brazo with the flavorful sweet filling of ube halaya. Very good!
Another must-eat is Roberto’s siopao. This version is like no other. We were having our culinary competitions and it was going to be a while before we could taste anything, so we decided to have them buy some siopao.
I love Roberto’s siopao. It has a bola-bola and an asado version. I was glad that Tibong gave us some in our loot bags.
He also took us to Breakthrough restaurant. This is the place I was not impressed with when I first visited. Boy, was I so wrong. As it turned out, we just didn’t know what to order.
Tibong did the ordering and my old impression of Breakthrough changed. We had grilled oysters, seaweed, a grilled mangat (mangrove jack) loaded with healthy Omega-3 fat, a delicious braised, fall-off-the-bone local duck.
I focused on that grilled fish and the duck.
The ginataang puso ng saging was the one I remember to be good, too.
At Tibong’s restaurant, Rafael’s La Cocina del Sur, he prepared a boodle lunch. The food, a combination of old Spanish dishes and local ones, gave me a delectable experience. This is a must visit when in Iloilo.
By far, this recent trip was my best culinary adventure in the island. I look forward to my next visit to Iloilo.
My next Japan food tours will be on Nov. 16-21 in Hokkaido; Nov. 25-30, Fukuoka-Hiroshima and Osaka; e-mail [email protected].