Cagayan de Oro is what the call the “City of Golden Friendship.” Though I was only there for a few nights, everyone was so warm and welcoming. Since it was my first time in CDO, I was eager to try everything! Cagayan de Oro, of course, is known for their whitewater rafting, but who knew that there was so much more food to discover!
Every year, Ayala Centrio celebrates the Big Bite Food Festival that features startup food concepts. This gives smaller companies and even homemakers a chance to showcase their products and creations to a larger market.
Sinuglaw is a hybrid of sinugba (grilled pork belly) and kinilaw (fish ceviche) using the hangsqueezed juices from tabon-tabon, local lime, and coconut vinegar with onions, ginger and chili.
It was a four-day celebration with activities such as culinary competitions, demos, song and dance numbers, as well as appearances by Megan Young and Mikael Daez. Every day had a different highlight, such as serving the largest buko halo-halo in Misamis Oriental, the largest bowl of shrimp by Choobi Choobi and the largest Chookie — or chocolate chip cookie — by Mercedes Bakery. All these were shared with event attendees and mall goers.
Homegrown goodies to look out for
The first thing that stood out for me was these Chookies by Mercedes Bakery. It’s most probably my nose that led me there. The bakery serves different kinds of baked items such as their pineapple crumble, Chunky Monkey Load, butterscotch bars and more, but their specialties are actually their Chookies. They have five variants available: classic chocolate chip, double chocolate, Smookies, red velvet and my personal favorite, Brookies. Their cookies are freshly baked on the spot, they bring their oven wherever they pop up and it smells amazing. That’s why I mentioned that my nose led me to their stall. Prices are very affordable, too, for only P150 per dozen for the classic and P175 per dozen for assorted flavors. They’re coming out with more specialized variants soon, so keep them on your list whenever you’re in CDO.
The must-try dessert at Candy’s Café is the tartufo, a multi-layered chocolate cake almost the size of a bowling ball. The chocolate cake is filled with vanilla ice cream, a layer of French macarons dipped in coffee liqueur, and chocolate ganache covered with more chocolate and a white-chocolate drizzle.
Next on my list were these Earl Grey egg rolls from Bevato. I enjoy tea more than coffee, so finding these got me giddy. They also have other flavors available such as original, espresso, dark chocolate, and black sesame. They look like barquillos but are thicker, just like the traditional egg rolls from Hong Kong and Macau.
Another interesting product I found were the dried meat products from De Oro’s Best. They had both beef and pork jerky, which is perfect as a snack, trail food or even as a viand. Also on my list are the flavored sylvannas from Pane e Dolci, a bakery turned into a café, then a restaurant. They are known for their sylvannas and have recently launched flavored variants such as red velvet, ube, Nutella, strawberry, chocolate matcha and coffee.
While walking around I also encountered this ice cream stand called Nenecitas Sorbetes. The flavors didn’t look out of the ordinary until I realized it was coconut milk-based ice cream, which is perfect for vegans and the lactose-intolerant. I got a cone with scoops of ube and keso sorbets. Other flavors available were mango, avocado, durian, macapuno, melon, cookies and cream, chocolate and strawberry.
Nenecitas Sorbets is coconut milkbased ice cream, which is perfect for vegans and the lactose-intolerant. Available flavors are ube, keso, mango, avocado, durian, macapuno, melon, cookies and cream, chocolate and strawberry.
I also discovered that these individually wrapped snacks from Bite Me Up would be a great topping for these sorbets or any ice cream, for that matter. The brownie bites come in three variants for now: brownie bites, crispy brownies and cashew crunch. I shared these with my family during Easter Sunday and everyone loved it. The brownie bites were chewy, fudgy and quite addicting. Cashew crunch somehow reminded me of lengua de gato with cashew bits. The crispy brownies with dark chocolate chips were what I enjoyed the most. I hope these make it to Manila soon.
Although I have mentioned that I am not really a coffee person, I found the Cookiegato from Bowerbird Coffee to be so creative. Bowerbird is a coffee catering service that you can hire for weddings, birthdays and other events, including corporate events. Their coffee beans are sourced from different parts of Mindanao and are translated into coffee creations and latte art.
The Cookiegato is a cookie shaped as a cup, lined with chocolate, filled with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and then a shot of espresso is poured into it. It may be confusing at first how to eat this since you’re not sure if you’re supposed to sip out the coffee first. I supposed the best way is to scoop some ice cream with some espresso then take a small bite from the cookie cup. That way you get all the flavors and texture in one bite.
Where to eat in CDO
Panagatan is a 16-year-old restaurant known for its seafood and sugba, or grilled dishes. We were able to try sinuglaw, a local dish that is a hybrid of of grilled pork, or sinugba, and fish ceviche, kinilaw. What I like about it is that the charred taste of the grilled pork adds flavor to the ceviche.
For the fish ceviche they use malasugi, which is the local name for swordfish. The marinating liquid is made of tuba, or coconut vinegar, tabon-tabon, local lime, onions, ginger and chili. I tried several versions of sinuglaw in the next few meals but nothing came close to the taste of the one from Panagatan. Other popular dishes are the bilao, which is a mix of grilled dishes, fried calamares, crispy shrimp and more, the buko halo-halo and the mango tapioca.
Cusina Higala’s version of humba was pork belly slow-cooked in a sweet soy-black bean sauce with banana blossoms, crumbled toasted peanuts, quail eggs, pickled onions and cherry tomatoes.
For more grilled items on a budget, drop by Boy Zugba, a very young and casual restaurant known for hugot, or pickup lines, and grilled items. After ordering, your server will throw a hugot line at you to draw out your emotions, which was quite entertaining. We ordered a bilao of grilled items, cheesy baked scallops, and the dish that stood out the most was the Bisaya express, their version of Bicol express. If you get the chance, order the cheesy chorizo — you won’t regret it.
To class up your trip, you may want to check out Cusina Higala for modern Kagay-anon cuisine. I absolutely loved their sizzling Wagyu beef short ribs nilaga. The beef short ribs were boiled until tender and deep-fried to a crisp. It was served on a sizzling platter covered with lemongrass-peppercorn gravy. It is also served with assorted vegetables such as pechay, haricot verts, fried baby potatoes, grilled sweet corn and the lemongrass-infused beef broth on the side.
We also ordered the chicken surol, which is a Camiguin chicken stew with coconut milk and fresh native oregano.
Cagayan de Oro is also known for its humba, so it was a must-try. Cusina Higala’s version of humba was pork belly slow-cooked in a sweet soy-black bean sauce and had banana blossoms, crumbled toasted peanuts, quail eggs, pickled onions and cherry tomatoes.
For dessert, we ordered the sizzling binaki with salted caramel sauce. Binaki is made of grated young corn and milk. It is wrapped and steamed in a coconut husk and is a popular street food and native delicacy from Northern Mindanao. Its texture and taste reminds me of denser and sticker cornbread, at least the ones I was able to try. Cusina Higala’s version of binaki was served out of the cornhusk and on a sizzling platter.
Cusina Higala is a modern Kagay-anon restaurant featuring favorite local dishes with a modern interpretation.
If you have time, you must drop by Candy’s Café for your dessert cravings. Chef Candy is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Paris for both cuisine and pastry. The must-try dessert at Candy’s Café is the tartufo. It is a chocolate cake filled with vanilla ice cream, a layer of French macarons dipped in coffee liqueur and chocolate ganache covered with more chocolate and a white chocolate drizzle.
* * *