Cebu ba? Sutukil, bai!
Althea Lauren Ricardo discusses the joy of Cebu cuisine, particularly sutukil, where you can have one fish cooked three ways.
It is often said in our family--and not without a little grain of truth--that when you go home to Cebu, you return at least five pounds heavier. How can you not, when the mere mention of the place brings to mind scrumptious staples like lechon, mangoes, danggit, chicharon, otap, ampao, and masareal?
When my mother, a native Cebuana, and I go home to Cebu, we still eat our way through the staples, no matter if most of them can now be found in most supermarkets. We consume crazy amounts of mangoes, chicharon, and lechon--oh, the proud lechon, which is always eaten with a reminder that it being Cebu lechon, we need no sauce for it other than vinegar.
At Shamrock, while people stock up on otap and rosquillos, my mother scans the bottom shelves for those unassuming bags of Mandaue piñato, those thumb-sized bars of peanuts rolled in melted unrefined sugar. In the markets or along sidewalk stalls, my mother also keeps an eye out for vendors of budbud and sikwate (sticky rice and native chocolate made from tablea), always on the lookout for budbud kabog (sticky millet cooked in sweetened coconut milk) from Catmon in Northern Cebu.
However, when I go to Cebu, all thoughts of lechon aside, I think sutukil, a term now so ubiquitous I'd put it the Cebuano dining guide phrasebook. Usually, if you go to a sutukil restaurant, you are asked to choose among the fresh or live offerings and then hand your selections over to the cook. If you ask them how they'll be prepared, you get just this one matter-of-fact answer: "Sutukil."
Sutukil combines the first syllables of three words, sugba, tula, and kilaw, which are the three ways to cook fish in the Queen City of the South. Subga means grill, tula means boil, and kilaw means raw. Basically, if you buy one big fish, parts of it will be in a soup, parts of it will be grilled, and parts of it will be served raw, kilawin-style.
My favorite sutukil restaurant is The Original AA Barbeque located along Salinas Drive in Lahug. From being no more than a barbecue stand for beer drinkers, it has since evolved into one of several casual dining open air restaurants that even families can enjoy.
At AA Barbeque, you first have to choose your meal from a huge display of marinated and cured meats and iced fresh seafood and place your order at the counter before you sit down at your table and call the waiter to order your rice, soup, and drinks. When I'm lining up, I make sure to win over my option paralysis by ordering a little bit of everything I like!
While I wouldn't say that I order typical Cebuano fare at AA Barbeque (my usual choices, pork barbecue, liempo, grilled prawns and squid, not being exclusively Cebuano dishes), I'd say that the price point, the top-quality seafood, the way of cooking, and the place's relaxed and unpretentious vibe make the entire dining experience oh-so-deliciously-Cebu!
If I want to imbibe more of the local flavor, I order a stick or two of those little round Cebu chorizos... and then down everything with an order of ripe mango shake. Or two. Or three.
So good. Lami kaayo!
Basta Pinas, Laag Na!
Althea Lauren Ricardo is Palanca-Award-winning freelance features writer and a regular columnist for The Freeman, a Cebu daily newspaper. She is working on her MFA in Creative Writing at De La Salle University while working full-time at an English training company.
*The TravelBook directory has listings to restaurants, hotels, resorts, and other establishments in Cebu.
See The Original AA Barbeque's contact listing here.
See Shamrock Bakery's contact details here.
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