When one thinks of food destinations in the Western Visayas, Iloilo should be on anyone's list. Iloilo's famous batchoy, hearty molo soup, and the fresh seafood are just some of the best eats the province has to offer. This is one province that knows how to pile on the flavors: from stews, soups, and perfectly seasoned grilled seafood, you will always end up going for seconds even if you were bent on saving space for the next meal. But it's all good -their delicious dishes, like the Ilonggos, have a way of charming you into staying for yet another meal.
Here are some places and dishes you shouldn't miss out on your next trip to Iloilo:
Roberto's has been around since 1978 and it sits along the stretch of J.M. Basa Street in downtown Iloilo, where one can still see Art-Deco buildings in the city. Roberto's attracts a crowd, thanks to its affordable and satisfying eats. The chicken meatballs on a stick go for P30, the lumpiang Shanghai is priced at P14 per piece, and the hefty plate of Chicken Bihon is only P100.
But what Roberto's is most known for are their siopao: fluffy soft buns enveloping flavorful meat that you don't need sauce at all. They are most popular for their Queen Siopao, which used to be only available every Thursday. What made it so popular? The big-as-your hand siopao has soft buns hugging the filling made with bacon, Chinese sausage, chicken-pork adobo, and hard-boiled egg.
Due to the demand, they now offer the Queen Siopao daily. It's a satisfying meal and is worth lining up for (drop by early and skip the long lines!).
When in Ilioilo, do as the locals do and when they want to get a good cup of coffee, they head to Madge Café in La Paz Market. A no-frills space, people from all walks of life flock to Madge for a caffeine fix. Madge sources Arabica beans from Guimaras and Iloilo and the coffee beans are roasted, ground, steeped, and strained using a culador, a flannel sieve. You can have it hot or iced, either way, you get a drink that hardly has any acidity but delivers on caffeine and flavor.
They also serve panaderia-style bread such as pan de ciosa and betchokoy (similar to bicho bicho). They also have local doughnuts and select cakes from Bacolod's Calea.
More than just coffee, the café has built a community. Some start their day at Madge, some have been going for years, and the place has also been known to have high-profile visitors, including thought leaders and local and national politicians.
Open from 5:30 am to 6 pm (Monday to Saturday) and 5:30 am to noon on Sundays.
Batchoy is synonymous to Iloilo and you can't leave the province without sampling a bowl with a rich broth, springy miki noodles, and loaded with meat, offal, and bone marrow. Netong's doesn't claim to serve "original" batchoy. The business was borne from the business smarts of Patrick Guillergan's grandfather, Netong, who married a butcher's daughter, and they created a dish from extra bones and offal.
Nowadays, the Netong's staff starts the day at 3 a.m. to cook the broth for around 4 hours. By 7 a.m, they are ready to ladle piping hot broth into bowls. What keeps people coming back: unlimited caldo (broth), garlic, and crushed chicharon.
Netong's is at the La Paz Public Market, Iloilo City. Open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Iloilo is known for having fresh seafood and one of the best places to have it is at the Arevalo branch of Breakthrough, their seaside branch, to sample some of the best seafood dishes. You can order turo-turo style or check their menu for their bestsellers.
Go for the baked scallops, talaba (oysters), Diwal clams (if available), and grilled managat (red snapper). Some seafood dishes are seasonal like the succulent Camantaja (mantis shrimp) and the bangongon with gata (local escargot), both of which you should have if available.
They're also known for their native chicken inasal, best paired with their aligue rice. If you still have space for more food, try their version of Arroz Valenciana, a homey and delicious dish that will remind you of your lola or mother's cooking.
Breakthrough is at Sto. Nino, Arevalo District, Iloilo City. Tel. No. (033) 337-3027. Open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
If you're looking for panaderia treats and pandesal any time of the day, Panaderia ni Pa-a serves simple pugon-baked bread that's meant to be enjoyed with a generous slathering of mantekilya or palaman.
Don't be surprised if it's not as sweet as the pandesal you may be used to-the panaderia has been around since 1896 and they still churn out "pre-war pandesal" that's compact, a bit crunchy, and has more salty notes than sweet flavors.
Panaderia ni Pa-a is at Lopez Jaena St, Jaro, Iloilo City. Open from 4:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Kansi is a dish that originated in Bacolod but Ilonggos love it just the same. Kansi is a soup made from bone marrow and vegetables, and is traditionally made with batuan, a native fruit and souring agent.
Pat-Pat's has been serving kansi since the 1990s and they have several kansi options to choose from: kansi lawas (bulalo) and kansi unod (which has meat). It's a delicious soupy broth rich in flavor (and cholesterol). Pat-Pat's is also popular for their dinuguan and pork sisig, both of which locals love as much as the soup.
Pat-Pat's is at 120 Seminaryo Road, Jaro, Iloilo City.
Panaderia de Molo's story spans decades, having been founded by the Jason sisters in 1872. Three spinsters from the Jason family-Soledad, Mariana, and Natividad-used the surplus of egg yolks used by the Spaniards to bind the stones in Molo Church. The bakery was born in 1872 and Luisa Jason Sanson, the spinsters' niece was left with the bakery, grew the business to what it is today.
They are most popular for the hojaldres, a biscuit made with layers and layers of flaky dough, slathered with pork oil in between, before it is shaped into a butterfly shaped-biscuit and goes into the oven.
"We're the oldest bakery in Panay and no one makes hojaldres anymore," shares Lally Sanson Golez-Nava, who is part of the fourth generation of the family managing the business. Everything at the panaderia is lovingly made by hand, including the molo wrapper used in their pancit molo. Galletas is the best seller at Panaderia de Molo but they also have bañadas, prinsipe, broas, rosquetes, kinamuncil, biscocho, and more.
Panaderia de Molo is at Avanceña Street, Molo, Iloilo City. Open from 8 a.m. to 6p.m.
Iloilo is also synonymous to biscocho and a trip won't be complete without getting a few packs of this baked bread. Biscocho is twice-baked stale bread coated in butter and sugar. Ilonggos love having it for merienda with coffee or pairing it with soup.
Drop by Biscocho House for biscocho and pick up a few packs of their other popular pasalubong items: butterscotch, toasted mamon, polvoron, meringue, piaya, and more.