It used to be no more than six degrees of separation between each person. The internet and social media shrunk that down to possibly just two. In more local, personal relations it is at one degree, a generation, one hundred twenty kilometers and pushed back by twenty-four Pesos.
My year in Beijing may as well have been an internship for a degree in International Relations. Each acquaintance — each new friend — connected me to another in what would later be a picture more vibrant and colorful than a Benetton ad campaign. Former colonies all of the Spanish Crown, a predominantly Latin American motley crew naturally became my crowd. An unconventional weekend family grew over food, genuine interest in Chinese culture and everything else essentially laowai. Communication in a bastard mix of English, my Chinese-takeout menu Mandarin and whatever I could muster from college Spanish 101 helped move things along and maintained my ties across what the Great Chinese Firewall would allow a year hence from my repatriation.
Representing Ecuador for Team Latin America, Rafael swung by The Island as part of his CNY holiday. Searing himself to a well done at Be Resorts, we gave him more of the tropical sun the next day. Billeting him at the Islands Stay Hotel across Marina Mall made it easy to refer him to Meximama Cocina Latina. When we caught up for a Downtown Heritage Walking Tour, effusions for that Mexican Street Food stall in the most emphatic Latino accent quickly followed pleasantries.
Catching up at the uptown branch of Islands Stay Hotel shortly before lunchtime required brunch. We decided to ease him into the scene with a mall experience, the relaxed atmosphere, homey ambience and hearty food of Café Sarree at Ayala Center-Cebu. From the extensive, all-day breakfast menu we had our favorite Fluffy Pancakes along our Silog’s and Breakfast of Champions sets. Skipping dessert, we took Rafa to Islands Souvenirs to get the requisite *name* ❤ Cebu shirt.
Our tour began at the Cebu Heritage Monument Park for a concise history lesson on Cebu in a roundabout. The next door Yap-Sandiego Ancestral Home never fails to impress with its massive hoard of antiques, backstories and the very fact that the ancient structure still stands. Skipping Casa Gorordo, which was currently under repair, and, Jesuit House of 1730/Ho Tong Hardware, which was closed for the weekend, we proceeded to the oldest and shortest national road in the Philippines, Colon.
The tour, of course, while keeping it cultural and historical, always attempts to introduce the very local and, if possible, the very pedestrian, with stops at every feasible food cart or hole-in-the-wall along the way. The iconic Shamrock was also closed and we ended up escaping the heat for refreshments at the nearby Ngohiong Express where street favorites, Ngohiong, Siomai and Fried Chicken came to the table. For a Pepsi-drinker, Mountain Dew was strangely new to our guest.
We moved over to Plaza Hamabar, the Cathedral Museum and the immediate neighbor, Cebu Cathedral, where we had the yet another snack of waffles and drinks from Waffle Sa Cathedral. Skipping a lot more downtown delights in consideration of a later lechon dinner, we went on to the Basilica del Sto. Nino, Colegio Del Sto.Nino, Magellan’s Cross, City Hall Park and, the exterior of the upcoming Cebu Chinese Heritage Museum. Having previously established cultural similarities, Rafa marveled further at how almost exactly the same The Island and its people are to his coastal home. For once, my tour didn’t seem as much poverty porn as it usually does for my G8 guests.
On the way to Malacanang of Cebu we just had to stop for some Kwek-kwek, a dredged, deep-fried quail egg. With the adjacent Plaza Independencia and Fort San Pedro giving Rafa a better feel of the everyman’s Sunday, we thought it best to take him on a jeepney ride to our last stop. Sadly, we didn’t make it to the 5PM closing time of Museo Sugbo. We then made for Rico’s Lechon at Acacia to drown our dismay at the latter misfortune in The Island’s iconic specialty.
Purportedly using only garlic and leeks to flavor their lechon, one would wonder what kind of sorcery Rico’s employs to infuse these ingredients into the very meat of the whole roast pig. Soft, juicy and flavorful meat contrasts with the very crispy skin in this all-occasion Cebuano favorite of already thirteen years. While their innovative introduction of a spicy version sparked the current flavored lechon trend, they remain straightforward and bring out wonderful complexities of flavor in simplicity.(a)
We wanted to have our guest experience puso but they only had single servings of rice in miniature rice pots available which made up for the puso in novelty. Calamares and some native sides rounded out the meal washed down by refreshing Buko Slushes. Sadly, the Pinterest craze for Mason Jar Mugs worked its way into the presentation instead of the ideal whole coconut. Overall, it was a wonderful meal and a great introduction to lechon for Rafa.
To be continued . . .
(a)borrowed from my own write-up for Rico’s Lechon in Sun Star Cebu’s Best of Cebu 2014