One of the interesting things about travelling and sharing your travels on social media, primarily twitter and Instagram, means that people interact with you as you are travelling. Whilst my travels are no way as social as those by the Emirati brothers Peyman Parham Al Awadi and Mohammad Parham Al Awadi from WildPeeta – you can read about them here >> Peeta Planet, Social media gives your followers a chance to interact with you as you travel. The interesting thing about my travel in the Philippines was that everyone was recommending places to EAT – nobody recommended things to do our places to see, just what and where to eat which made me smile. Since I was travelling with a journalist (we’ll call him Journo) who was as excited about eating as I was, we made a few side trips to sample some of the eateries recommended.
First stop saw us hunting out the ever elusive Soup No. 5, called Lanciao is the infamous soup dish made up of bull male organs believed to have aphrodisiac properties. Whilst lots of people had heard about the dish, few people seemed to know where to find it, a search of the internet and a few pointers saw journo and me head off in a taxi towards a quiet side street somewhere in Cebu where after a few false starts, we managed to find a street restaurant selling it. Perched in the street on plastic stools, at a plastic table and surrounded by locals who were somewhat bemused at us being there, we were served a bowl full of Soup No 5 along with a dish of another soup which it seemed was complimentary, perhaps they read form the look on my face that I wasn’t going to eat Soup No 5. Journo literally dissected the contents of the soup to see what was in there, whilst jotting everything down in his moleskin book which goes everywhere with him. Me, I sipped the broth, which I have to say was quite good and I could eat again. Accompanied by two strong bottles of local beer and a lot of people/street watching our first mission was accomplished and all for less than 8/AED.
Mission Number two saw us returning to Larsian BBQ. We had visited Larsian the day before, but just for a quick photo stop to take a few pictures and leave. Our tour guides, although very good, were somewhat bemused that we would want to leave the world of five star hotels and hotel food to eat street food and so they had tried to see if a few pictures would suffice, of course it did not and so we found ourself returning a second time, this time with room in our tummies to eat and to enjoy the ambiance of a late night trip to Larsian.
Larsian also called Larsian BBQ is a square that is filled with small shops displaying their food (all kinds of meats and fish)which you purchase at the shop piece by piece. Once you’ve chosen what you want to eat, your food is taken away and cooked for you over a hot charcoal barbecue before being brought to you to eat at long communal dining tables towards the centre of the square.
We went to shop number 3 to take some snaps and to choose our food. When visiting the day before, we had been heckled by lots of shop owners eager for us to buy from them. Shop number 3 – Smiley Native Restaurant stood out to me as the lady behind the stall was patient and let me take photos and explained what everything was without being pushy. I had explained that I was only taking photos but would return, she smiled and waved goodbye and I think she thought she would never see me again, after all I guess a lot of people do that, they want to capture the moment but not risk street food. Imagine her surprise, when I returned the next day with journo and we made a beeline straight to her stall. Choosing a selection of meats and fish from her display when then headed to a table to enjoy a cold beer whilst soaking up the atmosphere and people watching.
Larsian is open from about 10 am but really gets busy in the evenings and weekends and even thought it was busy, Maria* our hostest comes to chat with us as we are waiting for the food to be cooked and she told us more about Larsian.
Larsian is a Government project which has recently recloated to the new area just two years ago, but it has been existence since the 1970’s. At Larsian stall owners rent the shop and seating area for a monthly fee. Maria has 4 stalls at various positions in the market and pays a monthly rent of approximately 5,000 AED per month serving between 300 – 500 customers a night with the majority of customers dining in and a few wanting takeout. It’s a lively place to visit and there is plenty to see as you wait for your food.
Maria tells us that her dad used to be known as the BBQ King of Cebu and that as well as the stalls at Larsian she also has a BBQ stall in another part of Cebu. With a degree in Management Accounting, Maria has plans to be a lawyer, and is using the money she saves from the Larsian business to help pay for her to sit the Bar. She’s passionate about her business and serves both tourists and locals. A keen foodie Maria explains that some of the dishes available at her shop are only available at her shop and she has developed them herself for example the giant squid and the stuffed boneless bongus (though not scaless as we find out later) which is stuffed with garlic, onions and tomatoes then baked. There’s lots of competition in Larsian but it seems to be healthy competition and Maria laughs when asked about this, “I don’t have enemies she says, but there is some friendly jealousy”.
As for the busiest time of the year, Maria tells us it’s in January when the Sinulog Festival takes place, she tells us to book a hotel soon as they will all be fully booked for the Festival.
No sooner have we finished talking about Larsian and our food arrives, a plate heaving full of BBQ Chicken, Pork, Intestines and locally made sausages, plus a whole baked bongus fish, accompanied with wraps of rice served “puso” style in leaves and served on a banana leaf which Maria proudly tells us she introduced to save on plastic (and the washing up) no doubt. It all tastes exceedingly good and washed down with local beer costs no more than about 50/AED for two of us.
There’s plenty to love about Larsian, it’s a place to go and sample real street food, a place to while away an hour or so whilst watching the world go by, a place to watch famalies come together and dine family style and for Maria a place steeped in family history and a business which will hopefully see her get to the Bar and become a practicing lawyer. I wish her well and have no doubt she will get there.
Larsian BBQ – Fuente Osmeña, If you are in a taxi it’s on Don Mariano Cui Street, just off Osmena Circle, and close to Chong Hua Hospital.
These are developing duck embryos which are boiled and then eaten, said to be an aphrodisiac they are sold on most street corners. The embryos are eaten at various stages of development from 17 days when it is said to be ballot sa putt (wrapped in white) e.g. the chick is not developed enough to show it’s beak, feathers or claws, to 21 days when it’s more mature and the beak, feathers and claws are visible….. Despite all of our tour guides claiming they are good for you and virality, and they would buy and eat one for us, since quite honestly both journo and I drew the line at eating beaks and feathers, elusively none of the guides managed to live up to their promises so we had to settle with one image of a lady selling Balut who let us take a quick peek into her box, but them swiftly covered up when she figured out we weren’t going to eat the eggs.
Not strictly Street food but worthy of another mention since pork in all of it’s guises is a very common food in the Philippines is Zubuchon who were featured in No Reservations by Anthony Bourdain.
Zubuchon is just one of lots of places selling whole roasted pig in Cebu (Lechon). Zubuchon was given the distinction of being the best by Antony Bourdain thus making it more famous than a lot of other places. The animals used are not commercially bred but raised by individuals and are cooked in a traditional style (acupunctured then roasted over charcoal) using organic ingredients including olive oil, sea salt, lemongrass, peppers, green onions and a few other herbs and spices. Bought by the kilo in the restaurant and best eaten with fingers, it tastes amazing if pork is your thing.
Disclaimer : I was a guest of the Philippine Department of Tourism, however all views and opinions are my own.