X-List: Dinner and Dessert in Dumaguete
I’m missing Dumaguete City already. I miss the fellows, I miss the workshop sessions, I definitely miss the alcohol (or as they all put it, “imbibing the spirit of the workshop”), and I miss the place in general. But if there’s anything that’s definitely worth missing about the land of gentle people, it’s the food.
Dumaguete is a tourist’s paradise. When we were there, Harold’s Mansion was a mini-United Nations: Sweden, the United States, Ireland, South Korea, Iran, the Bahamas, Slovenia… they were all well-represented in the place. No wonder the hostel menu included weiner schnitzel.
Like any small city, every restaurant and eating place in Dumaguete has to serve excellent food to rein in the tourists and make them stay a while. Or, at the very least, make so-so food writers like myself explore other adjectives for food. There’s no such thing as a “succulent” cookie, a “juicy” cup of coffee, and a “tender” slice of cake.
Two weeks is certainly not enough to enjoy everything about Dumaguete, especially its eating culture. While we’ve never been to every single restaurant in the city, I think we’ve covered just about every good eating place in town and ate some of the best food the city has to offer.
For this X-List, I’ll rant and rave about ten of my favorite food experiences (ah, yes, “food experience” seems to capture the idea) of Dumaguete City. And oh yeah, I take bad pictures.
1. Cashew Chocolate Cake
I’m not big on dessert, but this cake from Qyosko Bar and Grill turned me into a dessert fiend for a couple of weeks. So good that I was only able to snap a picture of it when people started eating it. It’s basically a layer cake made with chocolate and cream, and loaded – literally – with toasted cashews on top. It’s so good, that no mercy was left to the crumby chocolatey goodness left on the plate.
2. “Kuripot” Chicken Parmigiana Pizza
Like I said before, I don’t like pizza. It was in Dumaguete that I realized how much I hate fast-food pizza, and how much I really like cholesterol-bombs served at Neva’s Pizza, just a few blocks away from Harold’s Mansion. The “kuripot” pizza is a 14-inch wide solo pizza that costs P90. I had the chicken parmigiana version because I like the dish, but I never thought it would taste so good on a pizza. The best way to digest and metabolize this baby is to go straight to Hayahay Bar and Grill and drink your ass off.
3. Pork Stuffed With Apples and Prunes over Pilaf
Mamia’s is one of Dumaguete’s more upscale restaurants, that is if you consider P180 for a dish you’ll easily pay P300 for at any Italian restaurant in Manila. The dish is basically a rolled-up pork loin stuffed with a fruity sauce cooked with the pork’s own gravy, fresh apples, and dried prunes. Say what you will about the effects of pork and prunes on your digestive system, but this is one of the best dishes you’ll ever have in Dumaguete.
4. Chicken Inatô
I do not know the difference between inasal and inatô, but I’m firmly convinced that the only good way to eat chicken is to marinate it in a mild sourish sauce, stick it on a skewer, and barbecue it. No MSG, no artificial flavor, no breading The inatô places in and around Dumaguete are fairly common, although the best inatô to be had is a kamayan place just near Rizal Boulevard. The only way to eat inatô is to wash your hands, and just shred the chicken off the bone. With a bit of patis and a generous helping of atchara, inatô is one of the city’s best kamayan experiences. All that for P70.
There are many ways to serve sisig, and we’ll have a long debate on what makes this dish of pig head-parts what it is. The sisig at Sta. Theresa’s may look soupy compared to the dry, sizzling varieties served at almost every bar in the Philippines, but the dish is something worth every single order of extra rice. It’s a little on the salty, fatty side – it definitely does not look appealing – but this dish is, without a doubt, excellent. For P35 for the whole meal, you’ll defnitely spend a whole lot on extra rice.
Eating at Dumaguete is not complete without that dessert far beyond compare: sansrival from the Sans Rival restaurant. Unlike the fast-food versions of this delectable dessert, there is no floury consistency or the taste of too much sugar going on in here. In other words, it’s just perfect. The restaurant guards the sansrival so closely that it’s not shown on the display cases; instead, you need to order the cake from the counter. It literally melts in the mouth, and you couldn’t faultme for having two of these in a 15-minute setting.
7. Chicken Parmigiana
A serving of parmigiana at an upscale Italian restaurant will cost you around P600 or more. This serving of parmigiana at Neva’s Pizza and Pasta may not come with that P400 spaghetti at Italianni’s, but it has the exact same flavor-structure of proper parmigiana: breaded fried chicken coated with a cheese-infused crust, marinara sauce, grated Parmesan, melted mozzarella. All that goodness for the price – get this – of P101.00. I don’t think any one of us will be having foo-foo Italian food again.
8. Chocolate de Batirol
There’s only one way to have native Filipino chocolate: mangoes, millet (many types of suman, a friend tells me, is made from millet, not sticky rice), and drizzling the chocolate over whatever you want to eat. When you have this fantasticsnack on a cogon cottage with a good view of Lake Balanan, and your eating accentuated by the ambient sounds of birds and rivers leading to the lake, you’ll forget that the dessert looks like dinuguan from a distance.
9. Frozen Blueberry Cheesecake
The only way to enjoy a cheesecake is to have it absolutely cold. Frozen. Then have a cigarette after to heighten the creaminess of the cake and the decadent blueberry jam topping. The great thing about this cheesecake is that even in summer heat, the dish remains cold. I didn’t wash this doozy down with beer like I did almost every meal I had in Dumaguete (Cafe Mamia’s is a family-friendly place), so if you’re not a hot coffee person, a cold can of Coke will do. For P68, not a bad deal.
10. Sizzling Pochero
God’s gift to Dumaguete City is worth P390 at Royal Suites Inn, and is made of 4 or so kilograms of beef knuckle, bone marrow, and pochero ingredients on a giant sizzling plate. It is only fitting that our last lunch in Dumaguete was this bit of absolute goodness. The meat was thick around the knuckle, and there was enough marrow inside the bone for a taste. Sizzling pochero is not for the health-conscious; there are only a few pieces of potatoes, carrots, and beans on the delectable sizzling gravy to cut the fat. The only way to keep yourself from getting umay is to drink this with a bottle of very cold San Miguel Pale Pilsen… and a helping of choco dough peanut butter cake.
I’m sure I missed out on a lot of places to eat in Dumaguete, and what passes for a “review” may not do every single dish the justice it deserves (there’s digestive justice, but that’s another story). Then again, there’s always the promise to come back to Dumaguete; not just for writers’ workshops or breaking a beer-drinking record at Hayahay, but also for the best food that fine city by the sea has to offer.