Stories and memories come to life in Dumaguete
Words and Photos by Tanya Diaz
Special thanks to Sta. Monica Beach Club of the Amorita Group of Resorts
I grew up with a fascination for my grandparents’ stories about their dear hometown, Dumaguete – the altade sociedad life of Kastila hacienderos, life as a student in Silliman University, dance parties or what they called “jam sessions” at the luxurious mansions of Spanish families, their stories about the war and liberation, the simplicity of life in the farm, and how everyone in town was practically family to one another.
Intrigued, I finally grabbed the opportunity to visit and explore this beautiful province, where life, as I will discover, is comfortably paced and relaxed. Upon arriving, I was immediately drawn to the laidback atmosphere. You will see students traveling through town in their scooters; tourists strolling along The Boulevard taking photos of the bay sunset; locals bringing home their daily catch from sea; boats and barges docking at the port; and vendors selling street food and souvenirs while greeting you with bright smiles and sincere hellos.
But in the middle of what you might initially assume as provincial plainness, you begin to sense an air of sophistication, an interesting character embedded in Dumaguete’s rich culture and history.
Aside from traveling around Silliman, enjoying a swim at the Manjuyod Sand Bar, and dolphin-watching in Bais City, journalists Trixie Reyna, Samantha Echavez, Yvette Tan, and myself, along with the staff of Sta. Monica Beach Club, explored the city to discover what most people often miss out on—Dumaguete’s food.
Due to the increasing influx of tourists and students in Dumaguete, good restaurants have started to pop up around the province. One of my favorite places in Dumaguete City is the Boulevard, which my Lola refers to as The Boulevard of Broken Dreams, a popular landmark that closely resembles our very own Manila Bay. Here, you will find a wide range of restaurants such as Sans Rival Bistro, Moon Café, Panda Ice Cream Parlor, Jo’s Chicken Inatô, Hayahay Tree House Bar, Lab-as and Taco Surf.
Another interesting restaurant to visit is Moon Café. Boasting a Mexican-inspired menu, Moon Café serves great Mexican Baby Back Ribs, Beef Burritos, Chimichangas, Tostalitas, Gambas and Quesadillas. When you visit, don’t fail to order their famous Sun Cooler, a refreshing drink that is infused with assorted fruits, perfect for hot weather! Furthermore, the personality of Moon Café is just as flavorful as the food that it serves. The adobe walls and Machuca tiles cheer you up with bursts of color, and the restaurant is filled with Latin music, celebrating food with fast drum beats, loud trumpet sounds and salsa melodies.
Sans Rival Bistro
You haven’t truly had sylvanas and sans rival until you’ve tried the ones from the famous Sans Rival Bistro in Dumaguete. Founded by Trinidad Teves in 1977, Sans Rival Bistro offers “the tastiest, crunchiest and the freshest sylvanas,” according to Head Chef Carmelli Teves Varela. But aside from just desserts, the restaurant also serves a lot of Spanish favorites such as Bacalao, Paella, Callos and Tapas, which are heirloom recipes of the Teves family.
Panda Ice Cream Haus
Cool down and take a break at the Panda Ice Cream Haus, the first ice cream parlor in Dumaguete City. Very popular among students, Panda Ice Cream is ice cream heaven offering a variety of cold treats—from homemade fruit-based ice cream, to ice cream cakes and parfaits, down to crêpes and halohalo! A best-seller is their fried ice cream which are balls of ice cream coated by a breaded crust. The sky’s the limit when it comes to their homemade ice cream, offering unique flavors such as Green Tea, Buko Lychee, Sweet Corn, Macapuno, Blueberry, Fresh Buko, Malunggay, Avocado, Chocolate Chili, Buko Durian, Langka and Melon, apart from their premium flavors Mango, Vanilla, Chocolate and Ube.
Jo’s Chicken Inato
Not too far off is Jo’s Chicken Inatô, where diners are encouraged to eat with their hands. Similar to chicken inasal, Jo’s Chicken Inatô offers freshly roasted chicken served with rice, achara and patis. Although diners confuse Chicken Inatô for chicken inasal, Jo’s inatô is actually sweet and has a more peppery taste. Inatô comes from the Visayan expression, “Ato-ato,” meaning “atinatin” in Tagalog; probably proposing that the chicken they serve is best eaten with the people you love, and maybe even with a couple of beers. Cheers!
Lab-As & Hayahay Tree House Bar
Lab-as, meaning “fresh” in Visayan, is a restaurant that serves only the freshest and juiciest seafood. Opened in 1988 by the Fuentes family, Lab-as remains the go-to family restaurant for anything and everything related to seafood. They’ve got it all for you (honestly)–from crabs, prawns and rabbit fish, to oysters, curacha, mayamaya, tuna and halaan! Moreover, Lab-as has a SUTUKIL station right outside the dining area. SUTUKIL is an acronym for different cooking methods practiced in the Visayan region. Su is for “Sugba” (Visayan for “grill”), Tu is for “Tula” (Visayan for “stew”), and Kil is for “kilaw” (Visayan for “raw,” as in kinilaw) suggesting that you have the choice of having your seafood grilled, stewed or served as is.
Right beside Lab-as restaurant is a casual bar called Hayahay Tree House, situated atop an old mango tree, owned by surfer Sande Fuentes. Here, people can cap off their meals with a beer and some live reggae music for a cool night outdoors.
Surfer-Chef Jerry Garife has found a passion for food, so he decided to put up his own restaurant right beside Hayahay, called Taco Surf. Having grown up in Cagayan de Oro and Cebu, and having spent a few years in South America, Jerry Garife offers his diners a unique gastronomic experience with what he calls modern fusion rolls. Must-tries are the Cajun Seared Tuna roll, the Bruce Lee Roll (made with avocado, tuna loin and eel sauce), the Macguire Roll (made with shrimps, avocado, cucumber and herbed chimichuri), and as a tribute to surfer friend Sande Fuentes, the Sande’s Roll (made with smoked salmon and torched oysters with ponzu sauce)
Out and About
More than just the restaurants that are starting to saturate the small province of Dumaguete, I think the side streets also deserve a mention. If you pay a visit to the Dumaguete City Public Market, you will be amazed by the cheap and fresh seafood that fill its stalls. Crabs come as cheap as P250/ kilo, halaan for only P60/kilo, and big fat juicy (uncultured) prawns for only P290/kilo. They also sell different kinds of seaweed including gusô and latô.
Also remember to try the local delicacies! Do not go home until you buy the famous Budbud Kabog – chocolate-infused suman rolls that come from the city of Tanjay. Also, try the bibingka on Bacong street, and get these fluffy buns for only P10 a piece.
A Second Home
I traveled to Dumaguete with an expectant soul and a packed bag full of memories and stories from my grandparents. Upon arriving, the stories I brought with me gave me an instant connection to the place, and it was a delight to finally see all these mental images come to life. My heart burst with sentimentality, and I played the part not of a visiting tourist, but of a homebound local. Dumaguete may not yet be as big or as popular as your typical tourist destination such as Boracay or Palawan, but what this province offers is the simple, straightforward pleasures of relaxation, sincere hospitality, and good food. Though leaving felt somewhat bittersweet, I left knowing that I will always have a home in the province of Dumaguete.