Food · Travel

Zamboanga Bonanza

 

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ZAMBOANGA CITY is a haven for seafood lovers like me; there’s no other place in the country that can boast a variety of seafood dishes – fresh, colorful, so aplenty – as much as Zambo City, and believe me, the seafood is glorious!

I went to Zamboanga to participate in the Savores! Festival of the Zamboanga City government and the Department of Tourism. During the two-day trip, I got to sample the best Zamboangueño cuisine through a tour around the city.

HEAVEN IN ALAVAR! Our first stop was Alavar’s Seafood Restaurant. Without exaggerating, this is probably the best seafood restaurant I’ve eaten in by far.

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When cooked, curacha, or spanner crabs, are chewy and meaty, and more flavorful than your average crab. Though the claws and legs have little to no meat, they are very juicy.

Zambo is known for its curacha, or spanner crabs. These saltwater crabs are highly meaty—meatier than your regular mud or river crabs, but take a lot of patience to enjoy.

The curacha crabs at Alavar were superb.  The crabs are stewed in the restaurant’s patented Alavar Sauce which is made of a variety of spices and nuts (while the rest is a trade secret). The dish had a nutty yet savory taste with a hint of zest, but all the flavors bound well—like eating crab kare-kare.

STREET SWEETS. En route to the festival, I roamed the streets of Zamboanga and tasted its merienda fare – locot-locot, rice and sugar shreds twined in a candle shape, and saging rebosao, fried and glazed banana cuts similar to banana cue. Everything though was just a prelude to the grander gustatory event I went to Zamboanga for.

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Locot-locot are historically eaten during Islamic wedding festivals and are present regardless of the groom and the bride’s class. Now, they are typically eaten as a snack, best with hot chocolate or coffee!

SAVORES! After a quick stop at our hotel, I then went to Savores at the Centro Latino, where seven prominent restaurants in Zambo convened to highlight the different cultural roots of Zambo cuisine, which are Chinese, Malay, Spanish, Islamic, Tausug and Moro, historically.

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During Savores!, seven prominent restaurants showcased their best dishes which are rooted in Tausug, Spanish, Malay, Chinese and Moro influences.

Bay Tal Mal, for instance, offers Islamic-Moro dishes. It was my first time to try Islamic-Moro cuisine and I was not disappointed. Bay Tal Mal served beef kulma, rice, crab cakes and, my personal favorite, the beef piyassak—beef stewed in toasted coconut meat and milk and cooked in Tausug style.

The Bay Tal Mal platter was strong, pleasant and very spicy. I wish more Moro dishes could be introduced in Manila, but only halal restos do. Bay Tal Mal reflects the strong Islamic influence of Zamboanga, and how it effects to the present generation. Definitely, more people should be engaged in Moro cuisine, especially the spice munchers.

The resto South Avenue and its varieties of asao—the chavacano word for skewered barbecues — floored me. The lightly seared varieties of asaos, including fish, chicken and pork, make South Avenue popular not only during Savores! but also to the younger people of Zambo.

After sampling platters from the seven restaurants that set up shop in Savores, it was time for dessert. Just nearby the event, I got to sample Zambo’s other famous treat, the Knicker Bocker. Imagine your typical halo-halo, but instead of monggo beans, ube, camote, you have watermelon, ice cream, mangoes with pinipig, buko shreds, gulaman, kaong and nata de coco. It’s close to being a fruit salad but still closer to halo-halo, and it was delicious.

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Zambo’s Knicker Bocker is light, fruity, and creamy. Definitely now part of my fave halo-halo versions, which include Ice Blinker’s Chocolate Halo-Halo from Naga City, and Razon’s.

Everyone should definitely put Zambo on their next itinerary. Beside the great culinary experience one can have, Zambo also has surrounding pristine white beaches and cultural sites which offer a lot of activities for everyone. Zamboanga City is the crossroads of many cultures of the south, which make it the beautiful city it is today.

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