Part of this post has been first published at The Filipino Expat. You can also check it out here – On Pinoy Malling and Cebu Lechon.
It was beautiful and sunny the following day we arrived, fitting for what we planned to do first in the city of Cebu. Since I’ve been here several times, as expected, I prepared an itinerary for the first-timer – my hubby of course! He had also been looking forward to this tour, as this was going to be the start for him to truly explore what my home country has in store, beyond the beach life that he’d ever been acquainted with.
My last trip to Cebu was together with my mom in 2012. I was able to chronicle about our visits to Cebu Cathedral and Sto. Nino Basilica, Taoist Temple and the Ayala Center; and our food trip for delectable Cebu lechon at CnT. You can check it here – Cebu, Bai. The day tour with hubby is just as the same, but I dropped the trip to the Taoist Temple. I deemed that he must have seen better versions of this. Not worth it, so I thought too.
Morning Walk – Ayala Center and Pinoy Malling
We started our morning with a stopover at the uptown Cebu’s cosmopolitan mall – the Ayala Center. I started acting out as my husband’s tour guide, nonchalantly telling him, “It’s my favorite mall chain that’s owned by the Ayalas!” I sounded as if, I’m close to this rich and affluent family, and he knows about them. I later on confessed that I’m in this generation who grew up in a prevalent “mall culture” in the Philippines. That’s how I started my “Pinas 101” with him.
Malling is a deeply ingrained, favorite pastime of Filipinos. The love for shopping malls runs deep in the Philippines, to the extent that “malling” is a coined term to describe an act of spending time in the shopping mall. Evidently, the Philippines has the three of the world’s 10 largest shopping centers. And these giant malls, along with other dozens of equally popular ones, never run out of foot traffic (weekends are the busiest times of course). To date, there are over 80 major malls all throughout the country, and still counting.
I’m not quite sure on whether I should feel proud about it, but I’m used to be one of those who find these shopping malls as ballparks for conveniently finding everything I need (and want). Well, in the 80s and early 90s, malling used to define the status quo, because only the well-to-do’s could. Before the Mall of Asia, there’s SM Makati and North Edsa, which for me as a kid, were big amusement parks! It was already considered extravagant to go there mainly because it’s far from where we lived. Eventually, more and more shopping malls are being built; the more it’s getting easier and more convenient for everyone to visit. Overtime, the malls have not only become a place to shop and dine, but also to watch movies, play games, workout in the gym, relax in a spa, see a doctor, make bank transactions, pay the bills and many more. The country’s biggest shopping mall chain, Shoemart (SM), must have started it all; as obviously, they’ve lived up with their slogan – “We’ve got it all for you.” The Filipino masses got caught up and since then, malling has become a Pinoy way of life.
Believe it or not, I was flabbergasted when I first found out that there’s not much shopping malls in Geneva. It could even be boring to stay around too, since malling here isn’t as interesting, dynamic (and chaotic) as it is in Manila. People would simply come-and-go, purely just to buy things or for a quick drink or bite. You wouldn’t see big families or barkadas (group of friends) roaming around. They even wouldn’t dare to spend a day in a shopping mall. Most Europeans would rather spend their time either staying outdoors to do camping, hiking or to play sports, strolling (or biking) around parks and villages, visiting museums, reading a book, watching a movie (at home), gardening, among others. It then didn’t come as a surprise for me when my hubby admitted that he doesn’t fancy malling. Or it has something to do with being the typical guy he is – window shopping just ain’t their thing!
After buying a few important stuff and coffee break, we left Ayala Center and spent more time strolling around the business district instead. Until we felt hungry, I suddenly salivated for Cebu’s roasted suckling pig. We went on as planned – Zubuchon’s next!
Lunch – Lechon at Zubuchon
Lechon isn’t uniquely Filipino. It’s originally a Spanish word (lechón) that refers to a roasted suckling pig. Lechon is most likely served in special occasions such as birthdays, graduations, Christmas and fiestas (town festivals). The pig skewered on a large bamboo stick, roasted over a pit filled with charcoal for hours, and drenched in oil. Such cooking process makes the pork skin crunchy, which is what Filipinos enjoy the most. And in the Philippines, the best lechon you can ever find is in Cebu city.
We took a cab even though it’s just a few meters away from Ayala Center. We were less adventurous at that time because we’re already hungry. We just let the driver go figure it out and take us there. We arrived in Escario Central and quickly saw the red Zubuchon pig at the corner. Not much people dined in, it’s too late for lunch that’s why. “It’s gonna be a good, tranquil lunch for us, “ we both agreed.
He also loves lechon as much as I do. I started teasing around that we could get half a kilo of lechon for each of us. Of course, we wouldn’t. “Maybe one-fourth?” he added. The waiter then suggested we share one-fourth kilo of lechon. Sharing didn’t sound like good news for hubby, but I assured him, after having one-fourth kilo serving of lechon just for myself in CnT, I trust the waiter’s advice. Alongside with lechon, we also ordered a full plate of stir-fried rice, a bowlful of pumpkin soup and a leche flan (a dessert, an egg caramel to be exact). I got curious with Zubuchon’s kamias shake so I took it as my thirst quencher. Kamias is essentially a tropical fruit grown from bilimbi tree (or also called as cucumber tree or tree sorrel). It is typically used as a sour agent for a few Filipino dishes. I thought the said drink could be as extremely sour as my equally favorite green mango shake. Surprisingly it wasn’t, and even more the taste complemented well with lechon’s oozing greasiness.
I had my first CnT lechon two years ago, but regardless, I can still clearly tell the difference between the two. CnT is one of the earliest litsunan (lechon stores) in Cebu that was able to thrive over time. Zubuchon’s quick claim to fame is hugely attributed to Anthony Bourdain’s musings about their lechon – the best pig ever, as he claimed so. CnT certainly has kept the Pinoy rusticity and mass appeal; spicing up your stay by seeing these red-and-yellow clad women unforgivingly hacking away every lechon they get for everyone to partake. Zubuchon on the other, is a modern casual dining restaurant, with a more sophisticated ambiance and smooth service. They’re both as crispy as hell, but CnT has richer (and saltier) flavor and Zubuchon is more balanced.
CnT is like watching “Breaking Bad” – damn dirty good; while Zubuchon is “Big Bang Theory” – wholesomely satisfying. What does it mean then? I can’t deny it, but I just love both!
Afternoon Visit – Fort San Pedro and Cebu Churches
We stayed a bit at Escario Central where Zubuchon is. We started stroking each other’s hair, saw a Korean-owned hair salon, and realized, “Boy, we need a haircut!” Besides, it’s sweltering hot at 2 in the afternoon. We would be profusely sweating and as roasted as lechon if we continued strolling under the tropical sun. Happy to feel brand new after our hair makeover, we then left the salon for more sightseeing. The Spanish-built fort was first on the list.
Fort San Pedro was built in the 17th century as a military defense structure for the Spanish, primarily against Muslim raiders who would plunder coastal villages. It’s a mini Intramuros (a Walled City located in Manila), local tourists would say. Yet it is the oldest stronghold fort that served as the starting point of Spain’s settlement in the Philippines. It was originally built in 1565 under the supervision of the first Spanish conquistador and governor, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi; however it took over 200 years to complete it. It must be the mañana habit kicking in, because it’s just too hot in the Philippines!
Overtime, Fort San Pedro had served the Filipino revolutionaries, the Americans and the Japanese. Major restoration of the centuries-old fort began in 1968, when its 2 towers were the only pieces left standing. Nowadays, Fort San Pedro serves as the regional office for local tourism department. There are some rooms dedicated as the fort’s museum, showcasing not only its own history but of Cebu as well. It’s got a nice open garden theater in the middle, which can be an ideal space for events and celebrations like weddings. Just like any other tourists, we took some photos, strolled around, and still took some more.
Not so far from Fort San Pedro are the well-known historic churches in metro Cebu – the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral and Sto. Nino’s Basilica. Next to the old basilica is the city’s symbol, the Magellan’s Cross. I hate repeating myself (though I still do quite often), so here’s the part I said about these churches (and the cross).
Sadly, last October, an earthquake with intensity 7 struck Bohol and Cebu. We were already planning to visit Bohol, and we could have really stayed there but I chose not to do so. It’s because I didn’t want to see the historic churches in Bohol in total ruins. Seeing the basilica’s bell tower partly crumbled was already heartbreaking to see, what more when I’d see the others in Bohol, most especially my favorite, the Baclayon church.
The Magellan’s Cross on the other hand, seemed to be fine. Thanks to the support pillars surrounding it, the symbolic cross is still standing tall.
Our trip around metropolitan Cebu went very well. Somehow I was able to vividly explain my husband as to why I like Cebu to an extent that I can live here if there’s a chance. It has a city vibe but less chaotic and messy as Metro Manila. Yet it is very close to some best beaches in the country, if not the world. Fortunately, he’s very much convinced.