Coming from the Pintados-Kasadyaan Festivals in Leyte where the 1st Leyte Food Summit was launched, we explored and re-discovered the diverse flavors of Leyte and the different tastes of Tacloban.
For outsiders, Tacloban is still associated with the 2013 super typhoon Yolanda. Many of us would probably recall images and stories of the unfortunate catastrophe that hit Leyte’s capital city. One and a half years since the tragedy though, Tacloban has endured the road to recovery and is now well on its feet as Eastern Visayas’ center of business and trade. The city is now witnessing a return to its progressive state all thanks to the Taclobanon’s Tindog spirit, international aide, and local advocacies such as Pilmico’s Mahalin Pagkaing Atin which champions the region’s backyard farmers. And with iconic restaurants going back to business-as-usual and a slew of new hole-in-the-walls popping up here and there, now is the perfect time to paint a new picture of TacTown- a bustling foodie haven. A day’s worth of exploration is simply not enough, as you’ll find yourself already filled to the brim after just one food stop with more must-visit restos left to be tried.
Tacloban city’s rise from the ashes spurted a gastronomic renaissance with countless hole-in-the-wall restaurants and cafes coming back to life post-Typhoon Yolanda. A quick Internet research of “Where to eat in Tacloban” will give you a plethora of food reviews that will trigger hunger pangs in an instant. There’s Sunzibar along Burgos St.- the quaint Mexican restaurant known for its nachos and huge servings of their famous rum ribs, Jose Karlos Café which is deemed by some as the country’s best original Filipino designed coffee shop, and the Filipino-French fusion restaurant Café Urbana. The list of must-visit restos doesn’t end, really. Tacloban’s food scene stays true to the variety of flavors that so characterizes the city’s food identity and it only promises to surprise the palettes of locals and tourists alike for years to come.
Their own brand of cuisine
The Taclobanon brand of cuisine is rooted on the rest of Leyte’s gastronomic peculiarity. “It’s very varied. But what I love most about the cuisine of Leyte is the use of coconut milk. ‘Yung ginataan,” Loudette Ruiz of the famous Calle Zaragoza restaurant shares. From its famous street fair that includes Tacloban’s version of the lechon, longganisa, and barbeque to the fresh catch off the coasts of its rich bodies of water, it is quite a challenge to get your tongue around the city’s culinary identity. The use of coconut milk ties it together though with hallmark ginataan dishes such as the Kinilaw sa gata- a best-seller at Ruiz’s restaurant, Ocho Seafood and Grill’s porbida (kangkong leaves in coconut milk), and the famous Leyteno pasalubong binagol. In a coconut shell (pun intended), Taclobanon food is pretty much an amalgam of authentic Filipino food favorites with a particular affinity for all things ginataan.
A variety of freshest seafood catch only available in Leyte Island is within reach at the Ocho Seafood & Grill.
Ocho and Calle Z
Ocho Seafood and Grill's Baked Scallops, a butter rich entree smothered in spices, is a definite must-try in Tacloban City.
In Ocho, you can grab some bukawil, Leyte's own sea snail. You can have it cooked with butter garlic, with coconut milk, or simply steamed.
Two of the many top-of-mind restaurant recommendations in Tacloban are Ocho Seafood and Grill and Calle Zaragoza or simply Calle Z. Ocho, located at down town Tacloban, is the ultimate seafood place known for its paluto specialties. For over a decade now, the iconic restaurant has been supporting local fishermen by harnessing its seafood supply from the nearby waters of Daram, Sorsogon and Guiuan, Eastern Samar. The day’s fresh catch then finds itself inside Ocho’s elegant confines, stored in clean tanks where patrons can hand pick the fish of their choice and have it cooked just the way they like it. Fish sinigang, calamares, chili crabs, and baked scallops among others are some of the more popular orders in Tacloban’s seafood Mecca. Aside from their famous paluto delicacies, Ocho’s wide menu also boasts of Filipino staple dishes and original creations that are uniquely Tacloban such as the best-selling porbida, which is made by cooking finely chopped kangkong leaves in rich and creamy coconut milk.
Practical and straightforward Filipino comfort food is what Calle Zaragoza is famous for. Think of their best sellers Bulalo- with numerous soup refills at that, crispy tenga, sisig bangus, and lechon kawali. Theirs are the food that will never fail to satisfy a craving for Filipino cuisine- food that you will most likely find at other restaurants. What sets Calle Z apart though is the equally no-nonsense and homey feel of the restaurant which used to be one of Tacloban’s first ever convenience stores. “People can come as they are. They feel like its home. It is a lifestyle that they’ve grown used to,” owner Loudette Ruiz says. Al-fresco or inside their simple air-conditioned space, eating at Calle Z can be compared to your own dining experience at home where your mom’s cooking welcomes you from a long day at work.
Classic street food and pasalubong
Mahalin Pagkaing Atin, Pilmico Foods Corporation’s agricultural initiative established at Palo, Leyte in 2014, aims to alleviate the lives of the country’s backyard farmers by providing them with various livelihood opportunities. It also envisions to champion the country’s many local food and its traceable origins. Aside from the region’s past experience in overcoming the adversaries brought upon by Typhoon Yolanda, Leyte serves as a fitting backdrop to the beginnings of the campaign with its colorful local food tradition. A journey through the streets and corners of Tacloban city is like taking part at a local food fiesta. The Taclobanons’ version of the lechon is found perfected to its crisp yet juicy goodness just about everywhere and when the night falls, one can’t miss the many barbeque stalls that pop up along Rizal Avenue and Justice Romualdez Street. TacTown also has their own take on the longganisa which is subtly sweet and is packed with more meat than its provincial counterparts.
SMB the staple pasalubong from Leyte (Sagmani, Moron, Binagol) can be found at Calle Zamora, downtown Tacloban.
When it comes to pasalubong, Tacloban city is undeniably the hub for local food souvenirs. Rows and rows of vendors selling S.M.B or the three most popular Leyteno pasalubong: Sagmani- a cassava and sweet potato suman version, Moron- suman with cocoa, and Binagol- sweetened taro pudding, are found at down town Tacloban. S.M.B., as locales would call it, all have coconut milk as a vital ingredient which gives the local delicacies its natural sweet taste.
Now, with your pasalubong all boxed up signifying the end of your Tacloban food trip, it now becomes clear as to why Douglas MacArthur and the rest of those who have gone to Tacloban have said, “I shall return” with full conviction and a full tummy.
Disclosure: Photos and press release have been provided by Pilmico Foods Corporation.