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Eats More Fun In The Philippines? – Dumaguete City

In Part 3 of our Eats More Fun In The Philippines? feature, we leave Bohol and pop over to the neighbouring island of Negros, the fourth largest island of the Philippines and one of the many islands that comprise the central region of the country known as Visayas.

Negros, which is made up of two provinces (Oriental and Occidental), can be reached by ferry from Tagbilaran City (Bohol) in around 90 minutes, and this is the route we chose.

Negros Oriental can also be reached by air from Manila and by land from Bacolod.

Photo: Melanie Casul

Our destination for this trip was Dumaguete City, the capital of Negros Oriental and the most populous city of the province.

Dumaguete is known as a university city, with Silliman University (est.1901) located in a prominent position adjacent to the boulevard. It was the first American-backed university in the Philippines and Asia.

Dive into Dumaguete

 
 
 
 
 
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For travellers, however, Dumaguete is becoming known for its nature, especially for diving.

In a rare move for the region, the local government decided to get behind environmental sustainability with a long-term vision that aims to secure the future of the island and its people.

Several marine sanctuaries have been set up offshore where fishing and boating are prohibited, making Apo Island Marine Sanctuary (approx. 30-40 mins by car from Dumaguete) a must-add to any itinerary.

However, my main mission was to investigate the culinary culture of the city.

Fishing scaled down

 
 
 
 
 
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With fishing and fishing boats prohibited in and around the port and along the coastline near marine sanctuaries, Dumaguete isn’t a place to come looking to dine out on fish.

A search for that failed abysmally when a sad, dried up looking piece of tuna shipped in from God-knows-where ended up on my plate at an ocean-side restaurant. It appears that’s the best they could offer.

My advice?

Save your piscatorial pining for another island. There are seven thousand of them, after all.

Photo: Matt Cowan

But, if you’re happy to eat most other things, then you should be able to find plenty (with a little effort) to keep you happy for a short stay.

Here’s our list of places to check out in Dumaguete.

Victoria’s Haven (1259 National Highway)

Don’t let it turn you off that this charming Spanish-inspired bed and breakfast that was once a family home is situated on a major road just minutes from the airport.

It’s not until you enter the compound that you can fully appreciate the space – and quiet. It really is a haven from the road noise outside its perimeter.

What greets you is a beautifully manicured garden (trimmed with scissors, true story) and a massive communal area that resembles something more of a machinery shed than a bar and restaurant.

But that’s a good thing.

Gentlemen, brace yourself, I’d go as far as describing it as a ‘man-cave’ on steroids, it’s that big. Great news for the lads.

Aside from plenty of seating, there’s table tennis, a pool table and a small bar that serves up some of the best craft beer the island has to offer.

And the kitchen serves up a killer chicken burger.

But probably the highlight on the menu here is the breakfast.

Breakfasts are hearty in this part of the world and they don’t come much heartier than a chorizo rice bowl.

Photo: Matt Cowan

Two fried eggs served sunny-side up on a bed of steaming white rice with a heaping of homemade diced chorizo to the side.

What can be better than that? Well, there’s also a sisig version.

Sans Rival Cakes & Pastries (Rizal Boulevard)

Photo: Matt Cowan

It seems a visit to Dumaguete City doesn’t count if you don’t dine at least once at the original home of an unusual thick buttery cookie that sends Filipinos from all corners of the country into raptures.

Step aside Jollibee. Make way for the silvana.

I’m sure Sans Rival has a cracking lunch and dinner menu, but it was this chilled yellow cookie made with buttercream sandwiched between a couple of cashew meringue wafers coated in crumbs that distracted me from the main menu.

 
 
 
 
 
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The original #sansrivalph location at 1 San Jose Street, Dumaguete since 1977

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As expected, it’s creamy, buttery and sweet, but the surprise comes in the form of its fragility. The wafer crumbles in your mouth as effortlessly as a Pinoy buckles at the knees at the mention of a slice of Sans Rival Dessert Cake.

And that’s what came out next.

How do you top a dessert like a silvana?

Bring out one just like it, but bigger and creamier.

Photo: Matt Cowan

The Sans Rival Dessert Cake is something to behold. It has all the same ingredients as silvanas, but this one should really be on the national diabetes foundation watchlist, if indeed there is one.

So popular is Sans Rival Cakes & Pastries it’s easy to know at Manila airport who’s just flown in from Dumaguete. Down at the baggage belt, there will be a sea of blue and white pasalubong bags filled with silvanas destined for the expectant mouths of family and friends.

Negrense Microbrewery & Food Lab (Noblefranca St.)

Things can get pretty thirsty in the tropics down Dumaguete way around December.

By high-noon you can sense the urgency around town as the Negrense rush to find a piece of shade with a cool breeze to nap the hottest part of the day away.

Sure you could do that, too, but a better option might be to pop into Negrense Microbrewery & Food Lab for a cooling craft beer.

With quite possibly the best view (ocean, albeit a glimpse) from a taproom I’ve seen so far in Southeast Asia, Negrense Microbrewery & Food Lab serves up the perfect panacea for heat stress.

They brew their own small batch of brews on-site and the taproom is nicely finished in the style of craft beer pubs the region over.

Photo: Matt Cowan

Their Belgian-style wheat beer goes down a treat and is the perfect pour to tide you over till the shadows grow a bit longer later in the day.

Food Net (Sta. Catalina cnr Noblefranca Sts.)

The good news is that when you stumble down the stairs when leaving Negrense, just down the street on the corner is this turo-turo (point-point) joint.

At turo-turo eateries, you point at the pre-cooked dishes you want, they load up your plate accordingly and then you pay at the register. Think of it like the old Coles cafeteria that you went to as a kid, kind of, but without the howling babies.

 
 
 
 
 
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Food Net also serves up some amazing lechon (roasted suckling pig).

Call it luck or just a nose for the good stuff, but we happened upon this place just as they were taking delivery of some freshly roasted, mouth-watering baboy ready to be chopped up and devoured.

Click on the Instagram video above to catch the action.

Lantaw Native Restaurant (EJ Blanco Drive cnr Flores Ave.)

Photo: Melanie Casul

Lantaw is one of those venues you end up when no one in your group can really decide what to eat.

The menu is loaded with Filipino favourites and it commands one of the best views in the city, hence, it’s name in Visayan, which loosely translates to oversee in English.

Lantaw overlooks the beautiful blue waters towards Cebu.

But you’ll only get that view if you can successfully elbow the tour groups out of the way.

It’s a rowdy eatery with indoor and outdoor seating and is for the most part a means to an end – to fill the starving and move on.

Don’t go there expecting silver service. Roll up your sleeves, count 2, 4, 6, 8, then dig in and don’t wait.

Words by Matthew Cowan. Matt is The Bureau Chief who responds favourably to being called pogi. Follow him on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon

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