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Häfele Unveils Beautiful Showroom in Cebu

The leading international brand in architectural hardware and furniture fittings opens an elegant new showroom in the city. 

Living

Sugbo Mercado Proprietor Michael Karlo Lim Recommends the Best Cebuano Dishes You Should Try Other Than Lechon

Cebu food is more than just lechon. As a food writer and one of Sugbo Mercado’s proprietors, Michael Karlo Lim shares the dishes you have to try in the city, and some helpful tips on how to best enjoy them.

Cebu food is more than just lechon. As a food writer and one of Sugbo Mercado’s proprietors, Michael Karlo Lim shares the dishes you have to try in the city, and some helpful tips on how to best enjoy them.

Originally published in Zee Digital Vol. 1

I’d imagine someone to mention a trip to Cebu, and all in attendance who know of this island or have been to it would excitedly exclaim, ‘Lechon! That or the classic tourist buzzwords: Larsian, dried mangoes, ngohiong and danggit. The past few years have contributed several additions, extending that listing to mostly items held to the extreme or the unconventional, like Tuslob Buwa, but these haven’t really taken those from the outside looking in away from making a beeline for ‘the best pig ever’.

Food is at the heart of Cebuano culture. with eateries everywhere, as this city becomes more progressive, so does our cuisine. The island’s resources and the fact that it is a hub city in the South have given the people more than enough room and reason to explore cooking. Over the past decades, they have gone the distance, beyond perfecting roast pork to world renown. There are now a lot more local restaurants serving up items that I’d daresay would be quite competitive on the international culinary stage. From traditional recipes to exciting newfangled items, and from veritable kitchen science experiments to home-cooked simplicity, the breadth encapsulates Cebu’s diversity, tossing in what’s local with some global influence to simmer tradition and fusion in a big pot of delicious.

The Cebuano is notoriously hard to please, fickle, either always on the lookout for what’s new or extremely devout to their inclinations. we’re constantly shifting through the new kids on the block, hopefully seeing beyond distracting thematics, and zoning in on what’s damn good. There is always a handful of must-try food items anywhere that both represent the essence of the city and gives you a taste of its times. Here are five of my personal favorites that anyone visiting Cebu must try.

FIDEO NEGRO AT NO. 9

photography GIA MAYOLA

From the Latin-Mediterranean menu lineup done with creative avant-garde cookery, the unanimous crowd favorite is their Fideo Negro. Broken noodles are tinted silky black and pleasantly savory with a rich profusion of aromatic squid ink. Strips of the firm, ever so slightly sweet and almost nutty squid meat take it further into seafood territory, with a hint of the sea in its brininess. Chunks of intensely smoky, spicy and tangy homemade Spanish-style chorizo anchor it to shore. A creamy and smooth garlic aioli rounds out the rest of the flavors with its slight pungency.

Epic a dish as it already is, it still wouldn’t be a bad idea to add on the existing elements with an order of Calamares—fried squid, aioli, charred pickled Espada—and the chorizo above served with sourdough. The dark and different take on surf ‘n’ turf proves striking in both appearance and flavor, and is definitely one to impress with. I’d recommend pulling this card only on the second date or in comfortable company as it is, like the most delicious of dishes, rather enjoyably messy.

Excellent cocktails complete a significant lineup from their bar, of which their eponymous No. 9, a mix of light rum and calamansi, best pairs with this dish.

No. 9 E. Benedicto Street, Cebu City
Open from 5:00 PM to 1:00 AM every day

CONFIT PORK BELLY AT THE PIG & PALM

photography GIA MAYOLA

With three single-Michelin Starred restaurants among his many other spots across the world, Cebu first seemed an off choice for the celebrated Jason Atherton to open one at. He confesses that The Pig & Palm is a love letter a long time coming to his Cebuana wife Irha. The titular pig is a reference to our local predilection for pork, and the palm an even more obvious one for our tropical island.

Another ode to Cebu would be their Confit Pork Belly. This roulade sliced beautifully displays the layers of goodness: a crackling mahogany crust, a savory layer of fat and, in contrast to the crunch, near fall-apart texture in moist meat loaded with great garlic and herb flavors to ooze a rich and unctuous taste. Apple caramel pushes the sweetness of the meat in a classical pairing that is utterly delicious. Broccoli holds the fruity flavors back and reinforces that herbal earthiness, while silken mashed potatoes hold the dish down with a velvety finish.

The cocktails do not disappoint, with formulations potent both in alcohol, flavor and a whole lot of cheeky thrown in. Taking a cue from early MTV references, the inventive play on ingredients and presentations are matched with clever wordplay for an engaging experience. Their Notorious P.I.G. complements the confit with its maple syrup and sea salt in bacon butter bourbon for an almost seamless, spiked extension of the dish.

MSY Tower, Pescador Road, Cebu
Business Park, Cebu City
Open from 11:00 AM to 12:00 AM on
Sundays, Tuesdays to Thursdays, and 11:00 AM to 2:00 AM on Fridays and Saturdays

FLAN AL CARAMELO AT IPAR’S RISTORANTE Y BAR DE TAPAS

One other story about how this island’s name came to be was that a Spanish contingent came across a pre-colonial barangay, and asked a native for the name of the area. Thinking that the Spaniards were asking about the smell of pork fat wafting from the cookery in the nearby huts, the native replied, ‘Sebu.’

This unassuming mestiza served plainly, and all of just about five generous spoonfuls is an ultra-smooth and creamy all-egg yolk flan. Perhaps a wink to our famed lechon and his admitted love for that other white meat, Chef Ipar Miranda takes an Emeril Lagasse quote to heart and serves up hedonism in this most decadent leche flan with the phantom bacon on the palate.

Best enjoyed with coffee, have it with a cup of black or go all the way olé with a Café BombÛnóespresso with sweetened condensed milk. An even more adult treat to go with it would be a shot of Moscato off the menu.

Drop in for this alone, but as it is one of their posteres or desserts, you might as well enjoy their award-winning paellas and other authentic Spanish dishes before getting this, too.

F. Ramos Street, Cebu City
Open from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM and 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM every day

FAT BASTARD AT THE WEEKEND

photography GIA MAYOLA

Three-day marinated, dry-rubbed, panseared and oven-finished French-cut Pork Chop, served with French beans and roasted garlic. If all that wasn’t a mouthful to you yet, the inch-thick 450-gram slab would be. Done to a medium well, much of the juices and the natural porcine sweetness is retained and only punctuated by the seasoning. The slow roasting of the garlic tempers its bite and leaves a deep, rich, sweet flavor and creamy, silky texture. Pop the cloves out of the skins, mash and slather onto the chop for a savory boost. A pinch of himalayan pink salt is served alongside for more palatability to the diner’s taste.

Those with the New Year’s resolution to eat less or drop white rice from their diets entirely can fall off that wagon and start the habit of eating Dirty Rice instead. Garlic and rice are sautéed in Angus beef tallow, and is liberally peppered with confit of Angus beef trimmings for this accompanying starch which may very well be a standalone dish.

Indulgent as that all already is, I found that their Faux Gras starter spread on each forkful of the chop pushes it further into decadent, even borderline unholy, bliss. Bacon fat and pureed bacon are emulsified into a chicken liver pate, topped with Applewood and hickory smoked bacon marmalade. here the regular chicken liver bursts with the richness of the bacon fat and the savory-sweetness in the marmalade cutting through.

GF The Greenery, Pope John Paul II
Avenue, Cebu City
Open from 11:00 AM to 11:30 PM on
Sundays to Thursdays, and 11:00 AM to 1:00 AM on Fridays and Saturdays

PHO AT SAIGON OI

photography NATH YBANEZ

Missing home, Vietnamese ESL student Xavier started selling Pho as a way to connect with his roots and support his education in a carinderia collective across Mabolo parish. Presenting flavors that were strange to his proximal demographic and at prices four times his neighbors’ more familiar batchoy, he folded up to incredible losses but only to be determined to try again; this time at Cebuís first and biggest weekend food market, Sugbo Mercado.

It begins with a bone broth slowly rendered for hours on end from knuckles and shanks packed with gelatin-giving body and richness to the robust, intensely savory, subtly spicy and heady base. Charred onion and ginger add a smoky flavor with that of black cardamom. A generally sweetish profile definitive of the Saigon-style come in from cinnamon and anise. Generous coriander brings in herbal zest, chased by a latent menthol note from the cloves before that final touch of umami from Nu?c m?m, a Vietnamese fish sauce. Blanched rice noodles are topped with thin strips of raw beef brisket that cooks as the steaming hot broth is poured into the bowl. A heaping of crunchy bean sprouts and cilantro is piled on top with white and green onions and finely chopped birds-eye chilies. Local lime, hoisin sauce and Sriracha are added to the diner’s preference.

True foodies and some notable local society personalities have been making their way to the market specifically for this find. Until recently, the city recognized only a single brand chain purveyor of Ph?. Decent as that is, you’ll have to give it to the real McKong to imbibe to the dish a non-native can never capture—the authenticity of a Vietnamese home kitchen.

Sugbo Mercado, Garden Bloc, Cebu IT Park, Lahug, Cebu City
Open 5:00 PM to 1:00 AM on Thursdays to Sundays

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Culture

The Return of the Best-Tasting Lechon in Cebu, Rico’s Lechon

Cebuanos, rejoice! Rico’s Lechon makes a comeback in the city.

Several minutes to 11:00 on a cloudy Friday morning, a man clad in a pineapple print polo shirt stood in a tight circle of eager faces. His neutral-colored top contrasted with the boldness of their red uniforms. The man wore a serious look occasionally interrupted by a smile as he addressed his small crowd. He meant business. His hand gestures displayed a purposefulness that did not cause distraction but drew attention. The team huddle ended on a positive note as everyone placed their hands atop each other’s in the middle of the circle and recited their chant for the day, smiling all the while. The man’s smile was among the brightest, and it stayed that way for as long as he was in the room, welcoming people—young and old, foreign and local—to a restaurant that came back to serve the best tasting lechon in the city.

The man was Mr. George Pua, president of Meat Concepts Corporation and new owner of Rico’s Lechon. And the restaurant was the biggest one in the chain, which started officially serving the public on June 28, 2019. George had his hands full even before the restaurant opened, but he seemed to have drunk from the well of never-ending energy and enthusiasm as he tirelessly talked with and offered friends and guests a smile. My colleague and I were two of its many recipients. In an exclusive interview in one of the restaurant’s function rooms on the second floor, I learned that George’s enthusiasm went beyond the successful opening of another business. He was happy to not only be eating Cebu’s best lechon but also sharing it with his fellow and potential “lechon fanatics.”

L-R: Assistant to the President Meat Concepts Corporation Mari-Jo T. Barles, Vice President Meat Concepts Corporation Jay R. Lazaro, President of Meat Concepts Corporation George N. Pua, Sales and Marketing Manager Cebu, Rico’s Lechon Michael “Pops” S. Bacatan

A Long-Time Love for Lechon

“Lechon fanatic,” was what George called himself when he told us how his young self fell in love with the dish. “I lived in Baclaran, and every time I opened my window, it’s all lechon. It’s all lechon being paraded. Every time I opened my window I would see lechon and I would ask the maid to buy me ¼ kilo. Every time I opened my window.” The repetition in his response left no room for doubt; he was—is—indeed a real lechon fan.

Rico’s Lechon comes in orignal and spicy variants.

It was this love that brought him on a 5-day trip in the Queen City of the South six years ago, eating nothing else for lunch and dinner but lechon. He was on a mission: to taste the best lechon. He tried all brands he could get his hands on, even when it meant going as far as Talisay and Carcar. One store in the former, which was his host friend’s favorite, secured the second spot in George’s brief list of best lechon brands. Rico’s Lechon came first.

George’s list was no surprise. I’m not the biggest lechon fan—I don’t crave it when I’m overseas—but I appreciate a great dish when I taste one, Rico’s Lechon included. I liked how tender and flavorful the meat was that I didn’t even have to dip it in sauce. The skin was not fatty and had just the right crispness, which saved me from feeling jaw pain because of excessive chewing. There was an added sense of gastronomic satisfaction from seeing how the lechon was chopped before it arrived at our table. I might have eaten more than what I intended to.

A Determined Man

George liked the tenderness of the lechon he tasted in Talisay, but the brand only offered the original variant whereas Rico’s Lechon offered both original and spicy. “If you are a good businessman, or if you have a business acumen, you would want the original and the spicy,” he said.

He soon met Enrico “Rico” Dionson, founder of Rico’s Lechon. At that time, George only wanted to know the man who perfected the recipe to the best tasting lechon; he had no intentions of buying or franchising the brand. But he did ask him of potential plans to open a store in Manila, to which the latter responded with a firm no. Since then, George made it a point to eat at Rico’s Lechon and chat with Rico every time he visited Cebu. The question of opening a branch in Manila would sometimes come up in these conversations. The third time it did, George took a different approach and asked whether he could instead franchise the brand. Rico was steadfast in his initial response.

Things started to take shape when a common friend reintroduced George to Rico in 2015. This connection solidified the former’s love for lechon to the latter, who finally saw George as more than just a businessman eyeing a new venture. And in 2017, amid a busy night of setting up one of his restaurants and preparing for a flight to Japan the next day, George received an unexpected call from Rico. The call caught him off guard that he momentarily forgot who Rico Dionson was. “I should know him because he’s in my phonebook,” he said with a laugh. He picked up the call, and it was then that thoughts of eating Cebu’s best tasting lechon in Manila became reality—Rico offered to sell the entire brand. George had no hesitation in saying yes.

Before the official contract signing in February 2018, George’s Feng Shui master came to Manila to “read” him for the next year. George, who then wanted to know his compatibility with Rico as a business partner, asked his ninong to also do a quick reading of Rico. Rico consented. Then the reading happened. “You have a good heart, but you talk too much,” George quoted.

Nevertheless, the Feng Shui master gave them his blessings and they soon signed a contract. By May of the same year, Meat Concepts Corp. took over the entire operations. In August, they opened their first Manila store in Bonifacio Global City; in September, Glorietta 1; October, Tiendesitas; November, UP Town Center; and in February 2019, SM Mall of Asia. It was a productive year for George.

“Old Cebu with a Twist”

The success of the great RICOmeback seemed to suggest that this year will be as busy, if not more, as the last. The brand’s flagship outlet can accommodate 300 people and has four function rooms, whose names refer to the places where Rico’s Lechon used to stand. “We wanted to be reminded of our roots,” George explained.

George chose the location because it fits his criteria—not in Cebu City but near it. His friends’ opinion, that the area is a new segment of progress in Mandaue, made decision making easier for him.

The dining area of Rico’s Lechon Mandaue boasts Sinulog colors

He was also very much involved in the conceptualization of the restaurant’s interior design. He wanted to showcase the “Old Cebu with a Twist,” so he incorporated elements of Sinulog into the restaurant. Instead of hanging buntings like people do during fiestas, which can look messy inside a confined space, George asked his Cebuano chair manufacturer to paint the backrests of chairs in bright yellow, green, apple blue, and red. “So, when you lay out the seating arrangement, you all see the different colors. It’s like a bunting,” he said.

Other Cebuano-made items included tables and hanging lamps. What I found most interesting about the restaurant’s interior, however, was the lechon plate chandelier. George revealed that it was the last fixture added and its creation materialized mostly out of a desire to avoid wasting resource. George ordered these plates with the intent of using them for what they really were, but the vendor shipped them to him in the wrong size. Instead of complaining about what went wrong, George focused on the positive and asked his manufacturer to make a chandelier using his oversized lechon plates.

A Foodie’s Menu

Rico’s Lechon’s expansion is evident not only in the restaurant’s space but also in its menu. Other than their renowned lechon, they now serve more Filipino favorites like Special Boneless Bangus, Sizzling Lechon Sisig, Monggos, and Bicol Express. New additions to the list include Grilled Pork Belly, Sinigang na Baka at Baboy, Sisig Fried Rice, and Buttered Mixed Seafoods.

The new management may have tweaked the menu, but George promised that they did not and will never change the original lechon recipe. “There’s no ego here. I always say [that] it’s not who runs it or who owns it. It’s just the way that you present it to be the best and only the best, and make people smile and happy. That’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter who owns it anymore,” he explained.

As a foodie, George understands the feeling of going to one’s favorite restaurant and finding out—a true foodie will, almost always immediately—that the management changed their recipe. He does not want his food to be “bastardized,” and he assured me that it will never happen in his restaurant.

George shared that he can be adventurous and instinctive when it comes to food. When he goes to a restaurant, he orders a lot and eats them all (food waste is a no-deal). He cited his recent solo travel to Spain as an example, where he ordered about 12 plates of Spanish food for lunch. All for himself. The look on his face as he was narrating this story told me that he still could not believe what he did. And on the 4th day, to change things a bit, he had lunch at KFC.

After sharing a good laugh, I decided to bring the interview to a close. I wished George sincere congratulations and expressed my anticipation for brighter days ahead. With his familiar smile, he thanked me then said: “I promise with all my heart, with all my mind, with all my power, [that] we will maintain the same taste of lechon.”

 

Visit Rico’s Lechon Mandaue at Unit F1 Jamestown, Mantawi International Drive, Mandaue City. They are open daily from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM.

 

 

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Living

The Best Coffee Shops That Serve More Than Just a Hot Brew

A lawyer and the personality behind the blog Nindot Kaayo, Ethelbert Ouano shares his top picks for the coffee shops in the city that are worth visiting over and over again.

Once a morning brew that wakes us up to the day, coffee is now dominating cities around the world, day and night. while it may not be a modern discovery, the massive, upgraded resurgence of the coffee culture has completely permeated modern society that it has become more personal, a passion, and even a lifestyle.

Coffee shops sprang up across cities that, of late, we judge the vibrancy of a city by how plentiful the outlets of coffee houses it hosted. More often than not, coffee shops are markers of local gentrification; it sustains a bustling city. Not only are they trendy social hubs for great conversations, but they have also gained increased acceptability for professional meetings. Deals are best closed over a cup of joe.

Coffee is a more tenable social lubricant that encourages discussions, as well as stimulates creative thinking. The slow and crafted coffee culture evokes the artistry and creativity of both mavens and fans through a mindful coffee experience from pouring to sipping.

In Cebu, international coffee brands mushroom in the metro. Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf opened at least five stores last year in a robust expansion effort. Local Cebu designer Vito Selma is showcased in its forest wood-themed interiors at the Light Site Parc.

Starbucks Philippines offers drive thru services at its Axis Entertainment Avenue branch. It has also progressively offered new coffee trends, like the cold brew and even the coffee planner craze.

Cebu’s very own Bo’s Coffee features Philippine homegrown Arabica beans from Filipino farmers north and south of the country, while Coffee Dream highlights local Robusta beans from the coffee farms of Tuburan, Cebu.

The number of coffee shops opening in Cebu grows exponentially. More are offering not just the typical hot brew, but also other coffee inspirations and activities promotion coffee appreciation. These are five coffee shops in Cebu that are distinct in their hipster aesthetics, and culture-forward events and initiatives.

Cardinal Coffee

photography by Gia Mayola

Coffee comes in many different guises. Mostly, it can either be milky lattes, or intense concoctions like americanos and espressos. however you like your coffee, Cardinal Coffee has a perfect pair for itóit was first known as a successful bakery before it became a coffee shop. Cardinal Coffeeís Cheese Roll is one of the trending souvenir food items from Cebu.

Savory breads and pastries like their hearty chicken quiche and light-as-a-cloud cheese rolls go along very well with their more intense coffee. The milky variants purvey complimentary flavors more to sweet food, like their Yema Cake and Boston Cream Pie Cake.

Don Jose Avila St. corner Don Gil GarciaSt., Capitol Site, Cebu City
Open from 7:00 AM to 11:00 PM on
Monday to Thursdays, and 7:00 AM to
12:00 AM on Fridays and Saturdays

Linear Coffee Roasters

photography by Gia Mayola

Linear Coffee Roasters is a small specialty coffee shop with a big passion to evangelize their love for their beans. Once you are here, you are not just up for some special blends, but also for a quick coffee appreciation session with their devoted baristas. They double as personal coffee guides, eager to unravel the coffee preparation from harvest to cup.

Like anything else, the capacity to appreciate coffee is only limited by the profundity of knowledge a coffeephile has acquired.

BIG Hotel, Parkmall Drive
Open from 9:00AM to 6PM everyday except Mondays and Thursdays
12:00PM to 6:00PM on Mondays
7:00AM to 6:00PM on Thursdays

Coffee Prince Cebu

photography by Gia Mayola

Coffee Prince is a leader in introducing Korean-inspired coffee shops in Cebu. Since they opened in August 2014, they have gained loyal customers and expanded the refurbished old house that they occupied by providing an equally lovely patio and a terrace for alfresco dining. The picturesque area is complemented by their regular soulful events like the Poetry Night and Jam Sessions, and for their more competitive patrons, Coffee Prince also holds Slogos Night.

0246 Osmeña Blvd., Cebu City
Open from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM everyday

Bicester Cafe

photography by Tristan Laput

Coffee is mostly associated with breakfast. Bicester Cafe cleverly makes breakfast available all day so that you can enjoy your coffee and breakfast, heavy or light, anytime without the trouble of waking up early in the morning. Bicester Cafe encapsulates the clean and bright high street vibe of Bicester Village in London, with a twist of neon lights.

Mahogany Place Arcade, Pope John Paul II Ave.,
Mabolo, Cebu City
Open from 7:00 Am to 10:00 PM on Mondays to
Saturdays, and 9:00 AM to 10:00 PM on Sundays

Drip and Draft

photography by Nath Ybañez

There is a place where the upper meets the downer, and it is called Drip and Draft. It’s a hybrid store that offers both healthier specialty coffee beans—high grade single-origin coffee from Rwanda, Panama and Nicaragua—and locally crafted beers on tap. Now on its new location, Drip and Draft has ample space, a bar, and bigger and longer tables for groups. The place is ideal for some beer nights when you just want the booze and not the loud music in bars.

Streetscape, Paseo Saturnino,
Banilad, Cebu City
Open from 7:00 AM to 12:00 on Sundays
to Mondays, and 7:00 AM to 2:00 AM on
Fridays and Saturdays

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