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The Philippines is basically divided into the three major island groups; Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Each major region hosts its own unique cultures and even more dialects. When it comes to their culinary heritage, traditional Filipino dishes will have a different take depending on which region you’re tasting it from and you’ll know Cebuano street food when you taste it.
The second biggest metropolis in the country is the province of Cebu. Cebu City rivals all other regions of the country when it comes to its economic might, and cultural diversity as well. With cultural diversity comes diversity in their culinary influences.
The best way to explore the beauty of Cebu province is to explore their street food. In fact, in almost all city tours around the world, it is highly recommended that you try their street food.
These street dishes paint a picture of the beauty and reality of the Cebuano culture better than any five star restaurant can offer. By eating what the locals eat, your knowledge of the city gets richer, and you get to experience the Cebuano culture deeper than you would expect.
There are tons of varieties when it comes to Cebuano street food. So long as ingredients are available, chances are, Cebuanos have tried creating a masterpiece using those.
Among the most famous of these varieties are the savory cuisines in Cebu. Some of these dishes are, I’ll admit, pretty exotic and might take a strong stomach to handle. However, you can be assured that these dishes are delicious and are relatively safe to eat.
Kwek Kwek is essentially hard boiled quail eggs wrapped in batter, and then deep fried. Quite simple right? Well, yes, but though its simple nature, this is a big hit among the locals.
You can find this in basically every corner of the city, usually in food carts. Look for one near schools or universities. That way you can be sure that their products are clean and delicious.
What takes this simple dish to another level are the sauces. One thing you should know is that Cebuanos love having sauces on their food. For Kwek Kwek, you can usually see Cebuanos pairing this with sweet and sour sauces or with sweet and spicy varieties.
This is also a fairly simple dish like kwek kwek. Fish balls and squid balls (or sometimes rolls), are simply fresh fish or squid, grounded into a paste, seasoned, formed and deep fried. There really isn’t a specific type of fish used in the dish, so anything goes.
Like kwek kwek, Cebuanos love to enjoy this dish with a variety of sauces as well. You can also find this in food carts along the streets of Cebu, almost always beside kwek kwek
This is an example of those exotic dishes mentioned earlier. This dish is more popularly known as Chicharon Bulaklak, or deep fried intestines (usually pork intestines). It’s a crunchy and salty dish that goes really well with Puso or hanging rice.
Now, the idea of eating pork intestines might throw you off a bit, but best believe that you’d be hard pressed to find a dish quite like this one.
This dish can usually be found in small stalls called Pungko-pungko (literally translates to “squatting’). These small stalls are a favorite for lower to middle class Filipinos as they offer affordable yet delicious meals.
If deep fried pork intestines are still a bit tame for you, perhaps you’d like this dish. Tuslob Buwa literally translates to “to dip in bubbles”, is a dish made of, brace yourself, pork liver and pork brain. Yep, you read that right, pork liver and pork brain, sauteed with onions, garlic, and shrimp paste. Tuslob Buwa is often cooked in vegetable oil, lard, or even soy sauce.
Now the pig brain and liver concoction is the dipping sauce. The act of tuslo or dipping is performed by dipping puso, or hanging rice into the dish and eating it. It may sound exotic and may even be enough to keep you away from it, every bite of the dish simply bursts with flavor. Try it once and you’ll want to keep dipping that rice.
The Philippines and its culinary styles often get inspiration from foreign influences. Chinese culture has made a large impact on the culinary arts of the Filipinos and this is where siomai comes in, similar to a Chinese dumpling
Siomai is ground pork, ground beef, or ground shrimp, that has been seasoned and wrapped in wontons. The dish is then steamed before being served.
The famous Siomai sa Tisa in Cebu boasts of being one of the best and the oldest makers of the Chinese-inspired Cebuano siomai. This dish can also be found on siomai carts along the streets and is frequented by many Cebuanos, not only because it is an affordable meal, but also because it serves as a comfort food and is rich in flavor.
Cebu is filled with vendors for these delicious dishes. However, there are specific places wherein you won’t only enjoy them, but also save more cash for more. Serving size, location, and quality will affect pricing for these dishes, so it's always best to stick to well known places.
In order to fully experience the Cebuano culture, we won’t include five star restaurants serving these delicacies. For you to feel like a local, you have to eat like a local.
The best places to find street food will always be nearby schools and universities. These institutions are usually safety conscious and they tend to drive away vendors who aren’t trustworthy. When you see a vendor being crowded by students, oftentimes that vendor puts a premium on sanitation and quality of products.
Another place you can find these exotic street foods is in the downtown area of Cebu City. Now you’re going to have to be careful with the vicinity as pickpockets are quite prevalent. So long as you maintain constant vigilance, you’re pretty much safe.
Popular tourist destinations in the city are also filled with these street food vendors. Fort San Pedro and the Magellan’s Cross are just some of the Cebu city tourist spots where street food is accessible.
Food is often enjoyed the most in the company of fun loving people. When you’re on that cart trying out the different varieties, talk to the locals. Interact with them, and listen to their stories.
Cebuano street food not only allows you to experience the Cebuano culture, you connect to the Cebuano heart as well. And don’t worry, Cebuanos speak English well.