The Sins in Iloilo Cuisine

Iloilo City, the Philippines

April 18 and 20, 2011

Though the name Iloilo may have come from the word ilong, the vernacular for nose, the province is known for another facial organ – the tongue. Not only because its local cuisine is a delight to the taste buds, but for a molluscan species endemic to the waters around the island: diwal. The Ilonggo word means to stick out one’s tongue. That pretty much describes the appearance of this mollusk. When its shell is pried open, its elongated body hangs out limply like a tongue.

Diwal: Tongue in Shell

It had been years since I last tasted diwal. The species disappeared for a decade or so; I figured it had gone the way of the dodo. It was a relief to see it on my dinner plate at Breakthrough Restaurant. Diwal didn’t disappoint. Both tender and chewy, it was brinier than usual this time though. I used to flinch at the sight of oysters and other bottom feeders; diwal was my first bite into the sinful succulence of this non-kosher seafood. I’ve since developed a stronger tummy and an unrepentant tongue.

But the devil is in the dessert. Known for Iloilo’s best sweets, Mama’s Kitchen, which also goes by the name Sinamay House, is the perfect pasalubong (coming home gift) place. Sinamay is as a kind of fiber, better known as abaca, used for many things, such as clothes. It got me scratching my head – was it a confectionery or a haberdashery? It turned out that the two-storey Victorino Chavez ancestral house was more a museum and the home of a weaving cottage industry (managed by the fourth-generation descendant of Chavez) than anything else. So with apologies to my writing teachers, I shall go off-topic.

Mom Looming over a Loom at Sinamay House

Mother and Daughter Modeling Piña Shawls at Sinamay House

We were led to the second floor into a typically airy living room of a heritage house. The windows were wide and the walls topped with ventanillas (ventilation spaces on carved wood, usually with calado design). My sister, the fashionista in the family, had a field day modelling shawls and kaftans and checking out yards of fabric made from a combination of natural fibers: sinamay, piña (pineapple), and jusi (banana silk). These are the stuff that our national costumes are made of. Crisply elegant and sufficiently airy for tropical weather, these are the clothes we use when we wear our national identity on our (for women, butterfly) sleeves.

Mom, a fan of fans, got one with calado design, a kind of embroidery with spaces between elaborately woven patterns. Other than fabric, there are heritage items that can occupy the attention of those who are not sartorially inclined, such as a still-functional loom and the family vintage car. Mom picked up the receiver of an old rotary wall phone and was surprised to hear dial tone. It was still working!

Lady Mama with a Calado Fan at Sinamay House in Iloilo

Vintage Phone with Dial Tone at Sinamay House

Vintage Car at Sinamay House

But this is a foodie post, so on to the house’s sinful sweets. The mango chewies, thick cookies with mango pulp bits, delivered in both flavor and consistency. I’m from the island next door known for our sweet delicacies and I must say the chewies could hold their own. Its tempered sweetness and chewiness make it addictive. I could demolish a box in one sitting.

Mango Chewies from Mama’s Kitchen, Iloilo

The Bomb: A Bowl of Batchoy

Sweets and seafood aside, Iloilo is notorious for its baneful bowl of batchoy - a soup with stir-fried porcine innards, chicharon (crispy pork rind), shrimp broth, some vegetables, and round noodles, usually sprinkled with soy sauce. In other words, death by cholesterol. Nail that coffin with an extra serving of raw egg as topping.

Before heading to the airport, we couldn’t pass up Ted’s Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy, a local chain that serves various styles of batchoy: special, super special, and extra super special (casket choices?). I went for the kamikaze superlative, the richest broth with all the good bad things thrown in. By the time we got to Manila, I was staggering with a nasty migraine while mom barfed still-recognizable batchoy ingredients into the toilet. Corporal (thank God, not capital) punishment was meted out swiftly.

Ted’s Oldtimer La Paz Batchoy

The delectable dietary debauchery of Iloilo cuisine is a fall from grace of good grub. Just charge it to human nature and have your maintenance meds, and perhaps a barf bag, handy for deliverance.

Thanks from the pit of our stomachs to my cousin and his wife for leading us into the tasty temptations of Iloilo. Amen.

Mom with my Cousin, Julius, and his Wife at Sinamay House

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68 thoughts on “The Sins in Iloilo Cuisine

  1. i love diwal, glad to know they are available again. for the longest time, they went awol. but did you say it is more briny this time around? hmmmm. these bottom dwellers sure make you gather much courage to eat them.

    • That makes two of us. I suppose overfishing was the reason for their AWOL and they needed time to repopulate. As for the briny taste, maybe it was in the cleaning.

    • Rob dear, paper is made from trees. So you’re not really saving Mother Earth with your paper diet. Just eat your words! :D

  2. Ah, you left me wet and drooling (no pun intended). I haven’t heard any of the items you have mentioned in this post. The abrupt change from food to fabric was a bit confusing. Maybe that was exactly how you felt and now, you want us to feel it as well, I presumed. You succeeded!

    The mango dish had me drooling so bad that I almost touched the screen (hoping that it would come out of the screen!!).

    Great culinary adventure, Age.

    Joy always,
    Susan

    • Yeah, from food to fabric then back to food. Sorry about digressing, Mrs. Sus. I couldn’t NOT mention it since the house wasn’t just about the fruity cookies. I did warn my readers. :)

      Oh, and these foods are examples of indigenous Iloilo cuisine. Batchoy, though, has become popular throughout the country. You can have it anywhere here.

  3. This is such a wonderful post AJ! I am not sure I like all the food that you are showing :) I get such a warm and fuzzy feeling when I see your Mom in the photos. She must be an amazing person!

    Ps. love the snow flakes on your blog :)

    • They’re not for all tastes. :) With the exception of mango chewies, I can’t have them on a regular. They’re ok once in a blue moon, hehe.

      Oh yes, Mom is the most amazing person I know! :)

  4. When it comes to food, your blog never let me down (no other intentions, though). You successfully made me crave for sweets this time again. I wish I could taste Mango Chewie;,simple but looks so delicious.
    Thanks for this delicious post!!

    • There’s more to Visayas than Cebu, Karry. You should visit neighboring islands where more sweets await you. Good luck to your blood sugar! :D

    • It’s all in the mind, Kris. :) Never thought slimy bottom feeders and a bowl of swine intestines and skin would make a westerner hungry. :D

      • Haha. Well you aint met this Westerner… (I may have the appearance of a weak and feeble woman but I have the stomach of a concrete elephant! – Quote from a brilliant UK TV show called Black Adder)

      • No fear I´ve eaten sheep brains and drunk snake wine nothing edible, nearly edible or inediable, cooked or nearly dead is safe. Muuhaahahaaaa Recently tried chicken feet. urrggh. (IKR?)

    • You should live in China! They love chicken feet over there. I was on a train sitting in front of this dainty Chinese girl who was lost in her snack – chicken feet. She’d scrape (with her teeth!) the rubbery skin and claws off the thing to its crunchy bones. I just stared at her, shocked.

      Btw, congratulations for posting the 2,000th comment in this blog! :)

      • Did I really? I´m honoured!

        haha horrific. The woman I was with told me if you don´t like skin or cartilage then you probably won´t like chicken feet. I´ll try anything once but have a major problem wiith slupy eating sounds. Were you in China? I feel sorry for you!

    • Yup, nowhere else but China. Had lotsa weird-funny experiences there, like finding LIVE frogs and other creatures in a supermarket and LIVE snakes peddled by the roadside.

  5. “This is a nice post AJ, I luv it,” says a fellow blogger who simply posted on your blog so that people can discover his own blog. Wink wink. You can call people like him as “Hooker Blogger.” Kidding aside, the food looks exotically delicious and I hope to read this post out loud to you when you’re in the hospital after suffering from a stroke. It’ll be like “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” I love your mom’s pictures :-)

    • You’re not the first person to find the sight of diwal disturbing. :D Swallow it live and it would wiggle down your esophagus. Feels a bit ticklish, hahaha!

  6. Your mom is really adorableeeeeeee! I love her silver hair! <3

    I'm not a fan of oysters. I tried the Tamilok sa PPS and didn't like the texture. But the Diwal looks interesting. Makes me wanna play with it before consuming it whole. =))

    • She’s a golden girl with the silver hair. :) Gah, the imagery ha…you playing with diwal before swallowing. Teka, whose diwal ba are you talking about? :D

    • Have you ever eaten scallops? It kinda tastes like that, just brinier maybe and definitely more chewy or rubbery. I hope that explains it clearly.

      My mom is such a trooper, right? :)

      Thanks Sheril! Happy holidays!

  7. Being Ilonggo.. I crave for Batchoy from time to time..
    Hirap dito sa Manila, konti lang ang branch ng Teds Lapaz Batchoy at Ilonggo Grill, so kailangan ko xa I hunting minsan.

    Diwal went AWOL for sometime.
    Thanks for featuring it!
    My hometown Roxas City takes pride in this delicacy.
    And as always, your Mom is such a trooper! Nice ng feeling pag tinitingnan ko yung pics nya.

    • You’re from Capiz pala. I’ve yet to visit that part of Panay and have my fill of diwal. :) Oh, and mom does not usually ham it up in the cam, but for some reason she was up to it in Sinamay House.

  8. ayun nanaman si mommy at kinukunsinte ni ate… hahahaha…. love your mom talaga….. I should try these when I go back to Iloilo…. sa bundok kase kame nagpunta the last time and not for a trek but to a visit someone…. btw…. is there such a word as diwalwal?

    • You should take Mum with you in your next trip! She loves travelling and the camera loves her. :)
      I think Diwalwal is a mountain in Mindanao.

  9. This isn’t fair! I’m in the middle of nowhere, reading about succulence and culinary heaven. I almost breathed a sigh of relief when you went on detour, but before I knew it, you were torturing me again. :)

    • Sorry naman. The title should’ve warned you. :D You should also do a post on Sudanese cuisine. I’m curious what they eat in your neck of the woods (or in your dune in the desert).

  10. I am totally amazed with the family continuing the business…The mango chewies l like and interested with their sinamay house since I am into fashion…. Thanks for the info and gotta start my research for it…:D

    • Oh yes, their Filipiana dresses, shawls, and accessories are all woven by local women using traditional looms. They’re doing a great job in preserving our heritage. A must-see for a designer like you, and enjoy the sweetness of mango chewies on the side.

  11. i’ve never tasted diwal. hindi ka ba natakot to taste it nung una? haha. it kinda looks creepy to eat, parang buhay pa. Haha.

    waaaaw! batchoy! i love illonggo batchoy, sobrang sarap compared to other versions!

    • The best way to eat diwal is to close your eyes. :D Yun lang, you can still imagine it wiggling in your mouth. It’s called tongue-to-tongue. Diwal means tongue after all. ;)

  12. That Batchoy picture looks so yummy!

    I love woven items, and I got to appreciate it more when I tried doing the manual machine. Very interesting.

  13. you know what AJ, your style of writing continues to amaze me…what did you take up in college? I have always taken Iloilo for granted and never took upon myself to explore the city everytime I go there. This is ironic because both sets of my great grandparents lived here before moving to Negros and Manila. In fact, my paternal great grand lolo and lola are both buried there. Reading this reminds me that I should take that sentimental journey soon.

    • Hahaha you won’t believe it – I took up Dentistry.

      Is it a Bacolodnon thing? Cuz when I was growing up, I just went to Iloilo once, despite the proximity. My maternal grandpop was from Leon, but I visited it for the first time last year. Really, more Negrenses should hop over to Iloilo and discover its delights. :)

  14. Wow… I miss bachoy but I never been to Iloilo which reminds me of putting this one on my vacation list this year. Great article.

  15. It’s been years since I’ve last visited Iloilo.. Hopefully on my next trip to Iloilo, I’ll be able to go on a food trip and taste all those yummy treats! :D Especially the diwal, since I haven’t tried it yet.

    • Yes, diwal is seasonal. And I don’t mean in a year. It disappears every 3 to 10 years. It’s the seafood holy grail. :D

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