Just recently, Cebu was one of the cities included in the hit miniseries Netflix show that highlighted and featured the various street food dishes Southeast Asian cities have to offer.
From then on, the local food of Cebu started to generate a buzz on social media with some even going as far as throwing their two cents into the mix insomuch that at some point, it caused quite a furor online. However, controversy and internet squabbles aside, Netflix’s unique feature of the Queen City of the South’s street food did accomplish one thing: It emphasized little-known and rather unconventional Cebuano street foods—something only extreme Cebuano food loyalists and locals are privy to.
By now, if you have even the slightest interest in Cebuano cuisine at all, you must have already read articles that highlighted our world-renowned succulent Lechon or our savory and crunchy Chicharon—both of which still remain unmatched in terms of taste to this day. While both Chicharon and Lechon are excellent Cebuano street food staples that showcase Cebu’s culinary prowess, they are not the only food fares that display just how incredibly diverse and interesting the Queen City of the South’s food scene truly is. If you wish to witness the true potential of Cebuano cooking, you need to see it from the eyes of a local who grew up in the city and is, therefore, well-versed of how Cebu’s food have culturally evolved and adapted to the times.
In fact, you will find quite a lot of restaurants that specialize in incorporating modern gastronomic innovations to local food—a feat that shows just how far Cebuano food has come. Today, while Lechon is still very much recognized as the definite Cebuano food staple, there is a myriad more of Cebuano food offerings that tourists and travelers alike should try if they genuinely wish to experience the Queen City of the South’s unique food scene.
So, if you wish to eat your way through Cebu, here are some of the stops that should definitely make it to your itinerary:
1.) Alejo’s Lechon
Of course, Lechon deserves a spot on this list. This iconic Cebuano street food is iconic (and at times beyond reproach) and there is little to no doubt that nobody does Lechon better than the Cebuanos do. However, in lieu of going to highly commercialized restaurants such as Rico’s and House of Lechon, why not opt for something a little obscure but nonetheless packed in taste such as Alejo’s? While both Rico’s and House of Lechon are recognized as the twin stars of Cebu’s roast pig food scene, Alejo’s Lechon has been making waves on its own right. The unassuming eatery is located in Labangon, Cebu and although the restaurant is very much lacking in ambiance, it certainly makes up for it in taste.
2.) Part’ebelle Seafood Restaurant
Back in the day, Cebuanos used to venture out all the way to the Mactan Shrine to get their seafood fix. However, when seafood prices in that area started skyrocketing locals started looking for cheaper alternatives that are closer to the city. Enter Part’ebelle Seafood Restaurant, a humble eatery located in North Road Reclamation Cebu that caters to the seafood cravings of both locals and tourists. If you have a hankering for fresh seafood, Part’ebelle is the place to be. The place is said to offer the best, and freshest tuna belly in the city and diners have repeatedly been raving about their tuna panga (tuna fish jaw) which is apparently a dish that keeps patrons coming back for more.
3.) The Pig and Palm
One of the more luxurious and lush entries of this list is a restaurant in Cebu that has its very own Michelin Star. The Pig and Palm is a modern Spanish tapas restaurant in Cebu owned by British chef, Jason Atherton and his Cebuana wife, Irha. From their relationship dynamics alone, you will already have a glimpse of what they have to offer in their menu. While the restaurant’s menu is primarily a contemporary take on Spanish tapas, The Pig and Palm puts emphasis on promoting local ingredients.
More importantly, while The Pig and Palm is aptly designated as a fine dining Michelin restaurant, the vibe is very laid back. Their menu offers an excellent balance between local food favorites and international delights. So, if you are looking for something a little more upscale to include in your food itinerary, you will never go wrong with The Pig and Palm.
4.) Food Stalls Near CDU
A Cebuano food trip is incomplete without making a pit stop to what the locals recognize as “pungko-pungko sa CDU.” Composed of rows upon rows of food stalls, this is the humblest and most unassuming entry of this list yet. “Pungko-pungko” literally translates to sitting down in English, which in retrospect might have been the colloquial term thought of by the locals given the way you are seated while eating your meal.
“Pungko-pungko” is a type of communal eating wherein you and other diners dig into a box filled with fried goods ranging from fried intestines to vegetable fritters by the roadside. While it does not exactly make for the most comfortable dining experience, it is definitely one of the things a tourist should experience to have a glimpse of what Cebuano dining truly is. More importantly, it is said that no restaurant Chicharon bulaklak can ever compare to their rendition of the Ginabot (a street food staple that is also known as the star of the menu).
If you do not wish to literally rub elbows with other diners, you can always have your very own box of fried goodies delivered via social media. However, if you wish to give your experience an authentic feel then head on over to the food stalls near Cebu Doctors’ University in the North Reclamation Area.
5.) Tymad Bistro
Serving mostly authentic French pastries and dishes, Tymad Bistro is one of Cebu’s best-kept secrets. Known for their wide selection of crepes, Tymad Bistro has been one of the well-loved eateries in Cebu for quite some time now. Located in a little nook in Maria Luisa Road, this rather clandestine bistro is owned by French Chef, Philippe Estienne who settled in Cebu with his Filipina wife. If you have a hankering for French croissants, Tymad Bistro does them best as the restaurant is known for their flaky, light and perfectly-buttery croissants, kouign amann and chocolats–all of which are baked fresh daily.
If you have a proclivity for eating rather unconventional food that does not only test your palate but your nerve as well, you might want to try the Cebuanos very own variant of fondue: Tuslob Buwa. The dish is essentially a mixture of different spices, sauces and one very special ingredient: pig’s brain. While making fondue out of pig’s brain might seem inexplicably bizarre, we can you promise you that the taste is anything but. Starting out from the streets of Pasil, Tuslob-Buwa became an inventive meal concept that utilized pig parts that were normally discarded. More importantly, it appropriately addressed the need for cheaper meal alternatives in Cebu—especially for students who were struggling to budget their daily allowance.
Back in the day, Tuslob Buwa was made for communal eating with strangers and you only needed several pieces of puso (hanging rice) to dip into the savory fondue. Unfortunately, this did not sit too well with a lot of would-be diners who wished for a more hygienic experience. To answer the public’s demand and clamor for a more sanitary alternative, Azul opened an eatery that caters to the Tuslob-Buwa eating public who wish to eat it with their family or friends instead of strangers.
To ensure that you maximize your dining experience in Cebu, be sure to visit both high-end restaurants and unassuming eateries. This list gives you an excellent combination of both and will surely give you an insight of what Cebu’s food scene is truly like in the 20th century.