Iloilo is a mottled bombshell: a rural hodgepodge of shamrock green rice fields, palm-fringed beaches and rustic communities; its sophisticated capital boasts of hedonistic nightlife, a variety of shopping malls and an architectural medley of heritage houses, art deco buildings and Spanish era churches. Another lure of Iloilo is its food.
For first timers, a visit to the province will not be complete without sipping a hot bowl of the famous La Paz Batchoy. First sold at La Paz Market sometime in 1938-1945, hence the name, this noodle soup sprinkled with beef loin, pork innards, chicharon, chicken broth and minced vegetables is synonymous with Iloilo City. For a taste of the original La Paz batchoy, head to the unassuming Netong’s inside the La Paz Market. Deco’s is also highly recommended by the locals, since they have been serving this miki soup since 1940’s.
Another type of pancit known in Iloilo is the Pancit Molo, named after Molo – an old Chinese district in Iloilo. What makes this dish special is instead of using the typical noodles, it uses wonton wrapper where chicken broth or sliced pork is wrapped.
The province is also known for its mouth-watering seafood especially oysters! Rush to Villa Arevalo if you want to feast on seafood without breaking your wallet. My Ilonggo blogger friend Marcos Caratao Jr. of Explore Iloilo recommends the seafood restaurants along the shores here as they won’t break your wallet. For as cheap as Php 35, you can have a plateful of steamed oysters or add a few bucks to get the oysters with cheese or butter.
But if you’re looking for a different style of cooking for oyster, Greg Antoine Flores of Café Ilonggo blog recommends dining at Mango Tree Iloilo. Tucked away in Mandurriao, we enjoyed luscious food like oyster tempura, seafood paella and pancit Molo, among others at this cozy family-run restaurant that evokes a romantic vibe.
Don’t forget to drop by at Camiña Balay nga Bato, also located in Villa Arevalo. Jorry Palada of Flavours of Iloilo blog is an avid fan of the delicious hot tsokolate ( boiled in cast-iron tsokolatera) served here. What I also like about the place is for as low as Php 150, you get to enjoy a tasty snack composed of tsokolate, biscuits and Pancit Molo while touring around the house and buying native crafts, souvenirs and textiles like patadyong.
If Bacolod is known for chicken inasal (grilled chicken), did you know that the famous food chain Mang Inasal traces its roots in Iloilo? Edgar Sia II opened its first branch at Robinson Mall Carpark in Iloilo City sometime in Decemer 2003. Aside from its best-selling Mang Inasal, the chain also offers favorite Filipino food like sisig, dinuguan with puto and pansit bihon including snacks like halo-halo, banana spring roll topped with ice cream and ginataang bilo-bilo.
Unknown to most tourists, Iloilo also has this tasty Queen Siopao, the biggest siopao (7 inches in diameter) you can find in the province, which is sold at Roberto’s in Calle Real. The thing is, it is not served everyday, so you have to check with the restaurant first when is its next selling date.
Another old time favorite is Madge Coffee – a favorite hang out of locals who wants to tell and listen to stories and debates on politics while sipping a hot or cold coffee. This eatery brews coffee the traditional way – by using a good old flannel sieve! They serve strong coffee, regular coffee, black coffee, coffee with or without milk and delicious puto! Instead of posh interiors and fancy furniture, this modest eatery is adorned by mugs with stenciled names of regular customers. So the next time you visit Iloilo, make time for a culinary journey, and surely, you will go home with a happy tummy!