The very first time I went to Cebu City, I think it was May of last year for an anti-charter change conference, I didn’t really have a positive impression of the city. The taxi driver whose services we contracted tried to pull a fast one on us and while the food at the sutokil was great, I was put off by the tinderas behaving like money-grubbing vultures. Unfortunately, just because of those two isolated encounters, narrow-minded (and fanatically Ilongga) me announced that I’d never, ever go back. (Exag, di ba?)
A year later, I found myself eating my words…. and platefuls of yummy Lechon Cebu.
Went to Cebu last Friday with my friend Bobby. It was a work trip, actually, for the NGO we both belong to, PATH, dealing with the killing fields wrought by the Communist Party on fellow comrades. (Was there late last year too — also with him, also for PATH — but that was kind of a blur already since I think we only stayed for a night.)
It was my first time to ride a habal habal, which is an elongated motorcycle that is the transportation of choice in the provinces. We had to go to Bonbon, already part of the Cebu mountainside, to interview some witnesses. Though quished in between Bobby with his laptop and the metal back support of the motorcycle that was poking painfully into my ass (and having to put up with Bobby’s lewd comments about that particular “issue”), I was able to have a memorable experience nonetheless because the view was breathtaking and the driver was competent enough to give us a smooth, tagtag-free ride.
But the best thing about Cebu is the super yummy food. Despite my annoyance with the sutokil vendors the first time around, I must say that a sutokil experience is not to be missed. When I was there last year with AKBAYAN people, we had platefuls upon platefuls of humongous prawns cooked in garlic butter, steamed lapu lapu with swirls of ginger, baked scallops with a glistening blanket of melted cheese, and the fattest freshest oysters dipped in a potent cocktail of calamansi and vinegar and sili.
For this trip, I told — no, demanded from — Bobby that we shouldn’t leave without eating scallops. The other person who was with us (I don’t think I should name him, for security purposes) insisted that we eat in this place that supposedly served excellent pork barbecue. I had to restrain myself from throwing a hissy fit and screaming, “kung gusto ko ng barbecue, pupunta ako sa krus na ligas!” We eventually had dinner at this native seafood place in Orchid street. There was a row of restaurants in the area. The preparation of the baked scallops was a tad too sweet for me, but the scallops did not disappoint. They were fresh and plump and big, just as they should be.
The next day, I was in for a bigger treat. My friend from law school, Yenyen, brought me to CnT lechon to have a taste of the famous Cebu Lechon. I’ve never tasted it before, used as I am to Lechon Tagalog with the crisp fatty skin and the chunky if somewhat bland meat that one has to dip in liver sauce. Was I in for a treat! Lechon Cebu is as good as its reputation. The meat is fragrant with spices — one sniffs a hint of lemongrass, pepper and sea salt — and goes well with the rice that they serve wrapped in banana leaves. I bought one kilo to take home to my family. Yen told me that what CnT Lechon has over its competitors is that it has upped the standard of packaging. The smart people behind it have thus repositioned their brand to be the brand of lechon that one brings as pasalubong, as it is airport-friendly. No need to worry about spoilages with their airtight seal. No need to contend with messy drippings.
Yen also gave me some sausages from her family’s business to bring home (thanks, yen, for that and for being such a great host despite your busy schedule) so with a box of that, a kilo of lechon, danggit and pusit and bottled oysters and mango chips, I was one happy little camper.
* Photo of scallops is from http://www.projectfoodie.com
** Photo of lechon is from flickr.