Finding the Nilusak and Nilambiran of Butuan City

Restaurateur and avid foodie Macky Calo hunts down two of his favorite Butuanon delicacies.

By Macky Calo
June 20, 2011

Spare yourself the awkward and sometimes futile task of soliciting Butuan food leads from total strangers and head directly to the heart of the city's food culture, the Langihan Market. A couple of meters inward from the third entrance, nearest the corners of Langihan Road and Satorre Street, almost camouflaged in the usual wet market confusion, is a small cluster of about four food stalls, all of them selling Butuan's favorite snacks (or dessert / breakfast / merienda). Pat yourself on the back for finding the elusive nilusak and nilambiran, and for the privilege of tasting a good sampling of Butuan's other native delicacies in such a small space. 


Nilusak (or nilupak) is cassava (or "balanghoy" in Butuanon, the local dialect) that is mashed ("nilusak") with sugar and margarine, sprinkled with grated mature coconut, and rolled into ping-pong sized balls. The yellow color of the cassava, speckled with the white coconut, makes nilusak balls, for lack of a better term, cute--just the way I think all small pastries should look. This "balanghoy" is sweeter than its suman and puto counterparts, and because it is "nilusak" with margarine, it is naturally softer and creamier. Sometimes, "nilusak na saging" or mashed plantain bananas is also available in the market. We call this "tinupukan," and this is considered to be more Butuanon.


Nilambiran is our version of the ubiquitous suman. It is made of two kinds of glutinous rice, the purplish red and the white, cooked separately with coconut milk, sugar and salt, and delicately intertwined ("nilambiran"), then wrapped in banana leaves. The result is a delightful brown-and-white-striped suman. You eat this as is, without any sweet condiment. The salt does the job of accentuating the sweetness that seems to be deliberately withdrawn to leave you wanting more. I am always deceived by the brown sticky rice, half-expecting hints of chocolate in every bite, but I never get disappointed upon detecting a certain fragrance, not found in other sumans, that is almost like chocolate. Butuanons love to pair nilambiran with native hot chocolate, which we serve extra thick and dark, and also not overly sweet.

To get to the Langihan Market take the Route 4 utility jeepney from the city plaza, or just take the ever-reliable orange tricycles. It is best to go on a Sunday at 7:30AM, when all the delicacies are at their freshest, and most abundant. Watch out for other Butuanon products like palagsing, kayam, pao with palatik, balanghoy na suman, balanghoy na puto, and bukayo. There are other native delicacies that are not readily available but are truly Butuanon like tinumpi, tinupukan, and binaki. These are made only by a few locals, usually old, who are considered experts in making such delicacies, and they have become part of our culture and tradition--more reasons to explore and unravel the ostensibly simple, but historically and culturally rich, Butuan City.

Finding some of Butuan's best treats is an adventure in itself. This isn't something you can schedule, but it's something that you will definitely enjoy.

Basta Pinas, Rock and Roll!


Macky Calo is a local restaurateur from Butuan City. He owns a coffee shop, a restaurant, and a beer and wine lounge bar. He travels around the CARAGA region in search of secret surfing spots and local delicacies.