Rediscovering the Bowls and Bites of Iligan City
Standing on a weighing scale especially after a vacation is always tormenting. It is at this time when we become momentarily remorseful of all the eating pleasures we gave in to. We say “never again” but whenever bewitched by the aromatic temptations of food, we begin to justify the craving and those failure-bound diet plans become a reality once more.
Iligan City, my hometown is not known for any signature regional dish. All of those claimed delicacies are just our versions of it and did not actually originate here. But I must brag that some of our Filipino food favorites are just done better in this small city by the bay.
In my recent trip back home, I dragged my friends to join me in guiltless stuffing of the food we grew up with. We retraced our paths to those food stalls that have become destinations and explored the new ones that are making remarkable additions to the food favorites in Iligan City.
Lechon (Roasted Pig)
I have sampled so many regional variations of lechon across the country (and as each one claims to be the best, I cannot claim my redemption from hypertension). Without hometown bias, nothing comes close to outstanding than that of Iligan’s version.
The tender meat and crunchy skin are kept flavorful by generous stuffing of herbs and spices. Notably, it is not salty. While other towns have taken their lechon to different levels (some are flavored super spicy and some are stuffed with chicken and paella), Iligan unpretentiously serves it with just vinegar on the side.
Gloria’s Lechon (infront of Timoga Pools), Jaime’s Lechon Bayug and Dadong’s Lechon
You can already fly in Iligan lechon straight to Manila with minimal freight charges. Call (02) 2398776 / 09266356397 or find them on FB at Lechon Iligan.
Kinilaw (Philippine Ceviche)
The key to a good kinilaw is to serve it with the freshest fish and good coconut vinegar. But Iligan City’s secret of its distinctive kinilaw is its use of the tabon-tabon, a fruit endemic to this part of Mindanao. The flesh is scraped and mixed with the filleted raw fish to reduce the tangy smell. It also creates a perfect balance with the tartness of lime and vinegar. Usually served as a zesty appetizer with hints of fragrant biasong, kinilaw goes well with lechon.
Do not eat kinilaw if its not prepped fresh. If it has been languishing in vinegar for quite sometime, the fish becomes overcooked. It is the acetic acid in vinegar that cooks the meat and therefore must be handled well to avoid indigestion.
Guso Salad (Seaweed Salad)
Another great side dish to that artery-clogging lechon is the gelatinous seaweed called guso. There is no other secret to preparing this, but Dad just deliciously serves it on that delightful sweet and sour side.
Halang-Halang (Pork/Beef Stew)
Reminiscing our joyful drinking sprees in the late 90s, all roads led to mercado where steamy bowls of halang-halang await the tipsy customers. As the name suggests in the local language, halang-halang is actually a super spicy stew sprinkled with spring onions. It is prepared in many ways using pork, beef or pig entrails. Today, makeshift halang-halang stalls mushroom at night on the side streets of Iligan.
Just ask any Iliganon & you’ll surely be directed to a good halang-halang spot. There’s just too many of it around.
If you want a little gastronomic adventure, dig in for good halang-halang at the back of the old Gaisano.
Pater (Chicken/Beef Rice Toppings)
Probably one of the most joyful reunions I had with food in Iligan City is Pater. It is just a simple rice meal topped with shredded chicken or beef in a dry curry finish. What creates the drama in pater is the side condiment called palapa. Popular among the Maranaos, it is made of pounded dwarf scallion bulbs called sibudjing, spiced with chili and aged to a perfect tongue-biting lash out.
The rice in pater is usually served yellow called dulaw from its turmeric blend, but I opted to have the plain rice so I can savor the topping even better. They say real men are not afraid of extra rice, so I didn’t.
Pater restaurants have recently sprouted in the city. But the most famous is the one beside Sanitarium Hospital. Alternatively, you may sample it from any restaurant serving only Maranao food (a lot of them is by the old Gaisano). It is usually wrapped in a banana leaf.
Over the years, Cheding’s Peanuts has been the most popular travel present from Iligan City. The peanuts are sand-roasted creating its signature greaseless version. Cheding’s Peanuts (along Sabayle Street) owes its success to its peanut-munching patrons that have kept on coming back over the years.
Pinakurat (Spiced Vinegar)
Another surprising must-try and must-have whenever in Iligan City is Pinakurat. It is vinegar made from fermented coco nectar added with spices for that amazing kick in the palate. It has gone to so many home kitchens and restaurants, delighting meals with every dip. Pinakurat truly surprised the nation when it grew into a successful small-medium enterprise from a lowly micro cottage business.
You can buy Pinakurat in many groceries and pasalubong shops. These can even be found in the shelves of your favorite groceries in Manila or Filipino stores abroad.
If you are carrying it as a present, make sure you pack them well and check them in. Vinegar is a flammable liquid, reason why most airlines do not accept ordinary handling. For ease in travel check-ins just buy the ones in small plastic/foil packs.
Pinakurat traces its brand name from a popular wild boar dish in Iligan. It is an exotic must-try (and hard to find because hunting of wild boars are not allowed anymore).
Faj Cakes and Pinch
My cookie jars at home are always filled with pastries from Faj. They started with those divinely sinful butter cookies and other baked goodies but rising to homegrown fame, they have leveled up into making gourmet cakes. They have also gone beyond those molded ones; they create exquisite, couture hand painted cakes.
Faj’s store have folded in their old location & have since joined its new flagship cafe called Pinch in Tibanga. Still carrying the Faj tradition, happy treats have been added to create a whole new level of experience.
Call +639175180143 or visit them along Permites Road, Tibanga.