The Street-food Scene of Cebu

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Street-food is an equalizer for society because regardless of background or income status, when you’re hooked, you’re hooked to it for good. It’s like softdrinks, there is no Coke premium for the rich, there is only one kind of Coke.

People living below the poverty line will drink the same Coke the privileged few will drink. Yes there is Diet Coke maybe for the pseudo health-conscious individuals, but that’s still Coke… let’s face it, if you’re really health conscious, you wouldn’t drink sugar rich carbonated drinks at all.

So goes for the street-food of Cebu and all over the country, they only make one kind, the kind that makes us go out into the street and brave the scorching sun, disregard the dust and brush off all other health-risk contaminants that abound the street-food scene. When you love to eat these food items, then you would do anything to satisfy your craving, never mind the fact that you are rubbing shoulders with complete strangers and sharing with them more than just your meal. (Yes, the risk of contamination is real… really high)

But hey, we only live once, right? So carry on… forget all that, let’s venture out into the streets of Metro Cebu and check out the street-food scene that is growing in popularity and variety.

BBQ

Our love affair with BBQ runs deep, and the BBQ establishments of Cebu aren’t limited to street-food. Popular BBQ restaurants include AA’s BBQ, Matias, Neo-neo, KKD and many others. These restaurants cannot be called street-food but the BBQ items they offer are similar in taste and quality as those you find in the streets.

Well, not totally, but if you consider the price difference, you would compare and deduce that quality wise, there isn’t much difference at all. The distinction of course is with these restaurants you get to sit down, get served by waiters in clean uniform, courteous and smiling and all that. The taste, the quality, the products served, the variety, the BBQ restaurants versus the street-food BBQ, they are not far from each other, and that’s a good thing actually.

What to look for when treading the streets of Cebu and searching for a good BBQ stand, look for the crowds. Yes, the more people flocking towards a certain food stall wherever that may be, the more chances they are serving good quality, delicious BBQ products.

A sidewalk vendor selling Filipino BBQ wrapped in banana leaves and rice wrapped in coconut leaves

Good BBQ has that basting sauce smothered all over it once it’s done and taken off the charcoal grill. You’ll want to look for this basting sauce and for some stalls, they serve it separately like gravy in case you just can’t get enough of it. In Larsian’s, in the original hub of Cebu’s finest BBQ stalls, they used to call this the “dicer”. It’s made up of ketchup, soy sauce and oil.

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Variety is also a key factor in choosing that “suki” BBQ stall. Aside from the quintessential pork BBQ viand, if your BBQ serves a wicked Stuffed Squid BBQ and Chicken Skin then you’ve got a keeper. Any self-respecting BBQ aficionado would know how difficult it is to pull off a perfect squid BBQ especially the stuffed kind. The technique needed to pull off a sumptuous, tender chicken skin BBQ is equally as challenging.

Chicken Skin BBQ and Stuffed Squid

Fried Chicken and Pork Chop

Recently, a growing number of mobile stalls have invaded Cebu and usually, they gather around the Fuente Circle area, near Larsian’s and sometimes in certain corners along Osmeňa Boulevard. The mobile stalls, usually on bicycles carrying portable cooking stations, attract a good number of customers.

They sell fried chicken and pork chop, and for less than p50.00 you get a decent meal, a full stomach and enough fried goodness to fill your heart’s content.

Mind you these fried products are not at all healthy (of course they’re not), but when enjoyed infrequently and in small dosage they are quite a treat.

A mobile stall selling friend chicken at very affordable prices.

The Classics

Our childhood memories would not be complete without Tempura and Fish-balls. Luckily for us, these all-time unweaning classics don’t seem to be slowing down. In fact, their quality seems to be leveling up as more and more mobile stalls are offering high quality fish balls and tempura. The sauce seems to be leveling up as well as new flavor profiles are being offered to complement these fabulous fried favorites.

Yes, there are entities out there (overbearing hovering parents for one) that prevent and discourage us from patronizing these mobile stalls but that all too familiar soul filling flavor is just too enticing to pass up especially when “manong suki” will happen to pass by our neighborhood.

 
When you indulge in the classic tempura and fish-ball experience please remember always to bring your manners and proper etiquette and never double dip.
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The classic Tempura

Global Village

Despite the onset of technology and the world getting smaller, we Filipinos are frequenting more and more our own culture and tradition. One would have expected Filipino street-food to experience a decline in patronage and sales but what we are seeing now is an unprecedented rise in their popularity.

Street-food is comfort food and our need to cling to something familiar reflects our struggle within. As we are bombarded on a daily basis with things that are foreign and alien to us, we seek what is comfortable and easy to understand. Street-food is not about the culinary level that it represents but rather the experience that invokes our spirit of patriotism and our link to our past.

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