Bienvenido a ciudad de Zamboanga!
I arrived in the city of Zamboanga as a side trip from my deployment in Jolo, Sulu. I am lucky enough to have a job that allows me to travel. In my first few months as a media relations officer in a government agency, I was able to reach the “Asia’s Latin City” in the Philippines – Zamboanga City. It is one of the cities that I have longed to visit, especially that some relatives of my father was in Zamboanga Peninsula, particularly Dipolog.
Our deployment really was in Jolo, Sulu. But because we failed to hitch transport that will bring us directly to the venue from Davao City, we flew to Zamboanga then took an 8-hour sea trip aboard a commercial ferry to Sulu. That was real quick because our schedule demands us to be at the venue ahead. But I and my co-officer promised to be back.
And so we did.
After the day’s work in a not-so-safe area, we hurriedly booked a commercial ferry ticket. Aside from the fear in staying longer in Jolo, it was the chance to go around Zamboanga that made me excited.
Our flight back to Davao is in the afternoon so we did not waste time as soon as we arrived in the city. Good thing we have the PIA in Zamboanga who served as our tour guides. We went around the city and fed our eyes with the romantic view of breaking dawn at the port for a while and they introduced iconic spots in the city – the Fort Pilar, the markets, and the preserved Hispanic or European architecture of the City Hall among others They tell stories that made me realize how much I neglected listening to my history teachers. Some fast food establishments also willingly adapted its architectural designs, keeping the Spanish feel somehow consistent during the tour. That tour was also quick as we responded more to the growl of our tummies than to the hunger of our sense of sight.
And one way to make the most of your travel is to eat something original. So we ditched the fast food and turned to some of the famous Muslim delicacies. Zamboanga City can be considered a food haven as it offers its own iconic gut-fillers.
As soon as the morning breaks in Zamboanga, we headed to Jimmy’s Satti House in Pilar St., Zamboanga, Zamboanga Sibugay. Looked nothing modern in this seemingly carenderia but it is the home of the residents’ long-time favorite satti.
Satti, according to our friends from the PIA, is an ideal breakfast for Tausugs. It is beef, chicken meat or liver barbecue “swimming” in the pool of spicy, orange, viscous sauce with cubed rice. To someone who only thinks that sauce was just meant to be dipped on, the liberality of sauce in a plate was overwhelming. Now I understand why it is a favorite. But my co-worker find it too saucy, something she is not into. Oh well, you can’t please everybody.
For our lunch, we went to the rustic and cozy Dennis Coffee Garden seated in San Jose Road, Baliwasan, Zamboanga. It is a restaurant distinct in their focus on Tausug cuisine. Aside from that, they are promoting the Kahawa Sug, the authentic Sulu coffee.
Since there are a lot of us, we decided to order the resto’s food platter. If I am not mistaken, it is called Latal. The platter comprised of the mother of the Tausug dishes, the Tiula Itum.
Tiula Itum is a spicy beef soup cooked with turmeric and blackened by burnt coconut flesh. In his article, the Sulu-born and Halal and Peace advocate in Zamboanga Peninsula Rezai Mijar described Tiula Itum as the “head of all viand”. “Without it at the center of a food tray, to some, it is incomplete,” he said in his blog, All Tausug. “Tiyula’ itum is a food that symbolizes the Tausug pride most likely the ethnic Buranun,” Mijar added. It is probably the reason why it is placed at the center of the platter. That’s cool!
Another delicacy beside it is the Pastil. It is a pastry that looked like empanada except that it has bean sprouts or rice noodles as its fillings. The thing about this that intrigued me is its condiment. They said it is “suka” or vinegar. It looked like one, yes. But it doesn’t taste as sour as vinegar. So you can be generous in putting it on your pastil. In fact, the more you drench the food with its warm ‘vinegar’, it becomes tastier, more exciting to eat.
Next up is the Kulma or the beef curry in a skewer and the Tyula Sug or the beef soup cooked almost similarly to Tiula Itum.
Lastly for the viand is the Chicken Piyanggang. It is a spicy chicken dish with burnt coconut meat and coconut milk.
One distinct characteristic of the Tausug cuisine is the spicy taste and the use of burnt coconut, perhaps a manifestation of the Malaysian influence. Sulu in the Philippines is geographically a neighbor to Malaysia and Indonesia.
For the dessert that is not really light, we had the Juwalan (fried banana dipped in latik or caramelized coconut milk) and the Putli Mandi (sticky flour balls filled with bukayo, rolled in grated coconut). Burp!
I sealed my meal with a cup of hot chocolate which ultimately pleased my sweet tooth. We walked out the resto uber satisfied!
Aside from the food places that offered authentic cuisines, we also tried some of the food hubs which were as old as like the pastry house Tsokolate.
There are still a lot to discover in Zamboanga. I failed to try their famous Knickerbocker and the Curacha (deep-sea crab) in Alavar sauce among others. Our food trip was swift because of our flight schedule. But it was already a well-cherished, satiating cultural gastronomic adventure one should not miss. I am definitely going back! Who’s with me?
- Food Trip: Zamboanga City by Kara Santos, Travel Up
- 10 Must-Try Food in Zamboanga by Glen Santillan, Escape Manila
- The Kakaun Sug by Rezai Mijar, All Tausug
- Have A Taste of Authentic Tausug Cuisine by Pinas Muna
- Tausug Food for Ramadan by Aliyya Sawadjaan, Rappler