Eat & Drink Travel

Cebu Street Food: A Primer

By Jigs Arquiza

The island of Cebu is one of the most popular places in the Philippines, with millions of tourists coming in each year.

Cebu’s hospitality industry is one of the fastest-growing in the country, with hotels and restaurants opening ever so often to accommodate the constant influx of both domestic and foreign tourists.

Accommodations range from your average bed-and-breakfast to the more luxurious foreign brands, and restaurants run the gamut from cheap eateries to fine dining establishments.

And of course, there’s the street food.

A selection of street food from Cebu

Cebu doesn’t really have food trucks or food carts like the ones you see in New York. Rather, the vendors lug around big plastic storage containers and sit on their heels on the side of the street, hawking food items like ginabot, ngohiong, kwek-kwek, and chorizos to passers-by.

Likewise, customers squat by the vendors when eating, hence, the phrase “pungko-pungko” which means “squat”. Other vendors set up small grills where they sell food items like pork barbecue, isaw, butsi, and puso.

Ginabot – This is made from mesentery, the membrane that holds pigs’ innards together, which are tossed in flour and deep fried. They cost around US30 to US40 cents apiece, and taste like pork crackling.

Ginabot

Isaw – Grilled chicken intestines. Don’t worry, they’ve been cleaned thoroughly before cooking! They cost around US10 cents.

Isaw

Kwek-kwek – Boiled quail eggs dipped in orange batter then deep fried. Another version is called “tokneneng” which uses chicken eggs. They’re around US25 cents for three pieces.

Butsi – Grilled chicken gullets that taste really good dipped in spicy vinegar.

Butsi

Ngohiong – From the Chinese word “ngo hiong” meaning “five spices”, this is a spring roll containing bamboo shoots or palm hearts. It’s uncertain if the traditional five spices (usually star anise, pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel) are used or not, but it tastes great all the same. This is different from the ngohiong found in Hong Kong and Singapore, which resembles a sausage.

Puso – Hanging rice, which is very similar to the Indonesian ketupat.

Fried chicken wings with puso

There are other food items sold in Cebu’s streets like deep fried pork, siomai (Chinese-style dumplings), and even fried chicken, and most are very cheap by Western standards. If you can, try to meet up with a local who actually knows the origins and recipes of the food, and knows where to take you.

Jigs Arquiza is a journalist-turned-mechanic who lives on the island of Cebu, Philippines. He’s been cooking since he was 12 years old, but refuses to go professional because he doesn’t want to get into arguments about how authentic his food is. You can follow him on Instagram at @eatssogood

All photos by Jigs Arquiza, except for featured photo by The Bureau

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