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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Other Side of Cebu

Cebu, dubbed as the Queen City of the South in the Philippines, is best known as a vacation spot because of its pristine white beaches that are not far away from the city lights. However, unlike 3 or 4 years ago when I just stayed buried in the fine white sand, my trip this time around was met with cloudy skies and occasional rain. And, I was nowhere near any seashore. Nevertheless, my short stay was equally relaxing.

This time around, my husband and I stayed right in the middle of downtown Cebu, billeted at this modest hotel run by the University of San Carlos called The Carolinian Inn, and staffed by students taking up Hotel and Restaurant Management courses at the University. The school hotel or ˝schotel˝ as they refer to it, take up one side of the second floor of the original University building on Pelaez Street. Each room, like the one we stayed in, is handsomely appointed with indigenous Cebuana materials like the bamboo panel as headboard, platform bed made of sturdy molave wood, natural fiber weaved rugs, and rattan furnishings that went well with the original high ceilings and windows that reminded me of those little hotels in Paris, or in the south of France, like Beausoleil.

At PhP1,200/night (breakfast at PhP160/pax), our room was really cozy for rainy weather. While the University cafe was erratic (sometimes its open, sometimes its not in the afternoons), the warm and accommodating schotel staff can facilitate food deliveries, and other little errands for you. And so my afternoons were spent like that of a lazy cat’s, taking advantage of the solitude and pitter patter of rain. There are of course the occasional honking from the jeeps and the hollering of conductors from the street outside, but all these get easily shelved in the recesses of my mind (wow, i think that came from a song somewhere..)

Lounging in my cozy hotel room was nonetheless peppered with visits to restaurants for
satisfying dinners. What’s great about Cebu is that you do get that quality for just a few of your pesos. One such place is Casa Verde and their fabulous Angus steaks at around PhP200 or so per plate. They are also quite popular for their barbequed pork ribs (served with rice and vegetable side), for which my husband can give a testament to. I enjoyed my tenderloin prepared as Steak John Paul, with mashed potatoes that are creamy so it melts in the mouth, and a side of crunchy just cooked vegetables. Surprisingly, all that with fried calamares as appetizer, two rounds of vodka martini and other drinks, only cost us under a thousand. This despite the fact that it’s in an upper crust mall as the Ayala Terraces. No wonder there’s always a line outside.

While malls, big and small, are within spitting distance of each other in this buzzing
provincial city, one must not forget to try out stand alone traditional Cebuano restaurants like AA Barbeque Grill. AA has branches splattered across the metro, but any branch offers the same menu, but some more than the others. AA offers the novelty of allowing you to choose the particular food item to be grilled, that’s brought on display fresh, plus other short order items that you can ask from the waitstaff like their miki noodles. We chose the popular baked scallops that is both succulent and creamy brought to you smeared in butter and garlic. Sizzling squid came to us in a sizzling plate happily doused in this special sauce AA is proud of. From the grill, we just had to have the spicy version of chorizo de Cebu and some chicken gizzard and liver. AA also serves a good concoction of their mixed juices and their iced tea is always shaken, not stirred. They certainly know how to mix the flavors well. My husband and I might have kissed our diets goodbye, but having seafood and grilled items do not come too heavy on the digestion; it was just good food served fresh and simple.

Leaving Cebu cannot be done without having their otap, fresh or dried mangoes, and dried squid in hand for one’s own consumption or as gifts to friends and relatives back home. But the message is clear, you want something of Cebu to take with you. And despite the fact that I’ve been to Cebu several times before, I simply just keep coming back for more.

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