CEBU is not just lechon and danggit.
Waiting for my flight, I overhear a group plan the Cebu hoard they will haul back to Manila.
Roast pig and dried rabbitfish seemed to be on everyone’s list. What else? asked someone.
My flight got delayed so, with the extra minutes, I answered the question in my head until I realized I needed to write down the answers.
For how can anyone remember except through the papillae, tiny receptors that store taste as memory: chicharon (fried pork skin, fat and meat) and kusahos (sun-dried beef) in Carcar, pinabagtik nga baboy (crunchy pork cutlets) and tinap-anang tulingan (smoked fish) in Danao, inasal manok (roasted native chicken) in Dumanjug, ngohiong along Gen. Maxilom Ave., sweet or spicy chorizo in Guadalupe, fall-off-the-bones goat’s meat and goat’s head in Panganiban, fish head tinowa at Reclamation, nilarang (seafood in a sticky broth of black beans) and tuslob-buwa (puso or hanging rice dipped in sizzling pig’s brains) sa Pasil, bakasi (eel) and sa-ang (spider shell) in Cordova, adobo ni Carmen of Argao, budbod kabog (birdseed suman) in Tabogon, bibingka (ricecake) and tagaktak (fried sticky rice noodles) sa Mandaue, tabliya (native chocolate) and torta (unforgivingly made of pure egg yolk, tuba or coconut wine and pork fat) of Argao, guisadong kabaw (carabao menudo) in Carmen…
When I reviewed the list, I was dissatisfied. Fortunately, I’m not one to impose views on strangers. That enthusiastic band of first-time visitors would have been confused, flabbergasted or disgusted if I had rattled off my gastronomic recommendations, only to stick in an even longer list of caveats.
First, taste is personal. Picking a goat’s eyelashes from the tip of the tongue after one has swallowed eyeballs made gelatinous from several hours of slow cooking is hard to translate, even without the vexations that oppress a speaker remembering as a Cebuano and speaking in English to communicate to a Tagalog speaker.
Second is the trickiness of giving directions. In the 48 years that I’ve lived here in Cebu, I know where to find what I want to eat at prices I will not walk away from. Many of these places don’t advertise or run blogs. Some are still linked to the cooks that made the original recipe famous (Matmat, Gilang, Didang, Esmin and Auring) but many can only be located by minimal pre-Waze directions (by the highway, before the bridge, across the school, rightside of the market or, typical of a small-town mentality, by the pursing of one’s lips in the sought-for direction).
Destination is part of flavor. When the husband interviewed a taxi driver that took us from Taguig to terminal 4 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, the fellow—who was also a forest ranger, heritage warrior and guide for National Geographic photojournalists—gave us very specific answers to his favorite food eaten in Cebu: tinap-anan and puso-mais eaten “kinamot (with hands)” by the seashore of Danao City.
We have never eaten “hanging rice” made of corn grits, even the husband who traces his roots to Danao. But I don’t doubt the taxi driver’s endorsement of eating mais by hand. In the fish market of Pasil, P45 will get you a sarten or plastic plate of steaming corn grits, over which you pour sticky brown taosi sauce and mash with the nilarang ubod (eel). Even with the extra challenge of swatting at divebombing bluebellied flies (resembling fat taosi beans with wings), you will find yourself tapping your empty plate to loosen the mais grains stuck between your fingers for the grand finale.
Lastly, like all things in life, a list of Cebuano favorites is subject to change. A mural recently began outside St. Joseph’s Academy in Mandaue bears origami images of sharks and the message, “Dili mi karne (we are not meat)”.
As delicacies and aphrodisiacs, pawikan (sea turtles) and tadlungan (shark) violate the Law and nature conservation. Even without endangering species, one will still have more than lechon and danggit to occupy one’s plate and palate in Cebu.
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* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s August 24, 2014 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”