That’s “Christmas in Cebu”. Having spent the last two weeks there, we saw the spirit, the joy and the pride that the Cebuanos are imbued with, in preparation for the country’s longest holiday. The streets are lit brightly in the colors of the season, the womenfolk and their families mill around the malls and dining places (hundreds have mushroomed everywhere). They are full of happy folk, surely to the great satisfaction of the restaurateurs.
Cebu is ambitious, but action-driven. This makes it one of the best achievers in the country. The beautiful Greenbelt complex in Makati has been the inspiration of the city’s newest playground, The Terraces. If one has been a frequent visitor, he/she would miss the lagoon in the Ayala Town Center, but soon will rejoice that the new complex is the re-developed area that houses dining and entertainment multi-decked structure with louvered escalator towers and covered walkways. This building hugs the entire length of the northeast side of the mall, and connects to the rotunda all the way to the Cebu Marriott hotel. The trees and shrubs have been preserved, thus it is a ‘green’ place to relax in, sit and maybe read a book. And yes, dine. More cooling is provided by the cascading waters of the ‘falls’.
Most of Manila’s chains have established their foothold in this new development. Figaro, already having one in the IT area, inaugurated an outlet in the Terraces’ second level (233-5660). As expected, it offers the Batangas coffee blends that have drawn coffee aficionados to its doors. But we missed their rum cake and pasta Carlo. The Gustavian (514- 1979) also in the second level has a deli that sells Christmas food – roast turkey and pate champagne. There’s Mooon Café, (the three O’s represent the initials of the partner-owners), offering take-off dishes from Mexican cuisine. There’s the Laguna Chain – Garden Café and Café Laguna (tel. 032-233-8600), of Lita Urbina who was transplanted to Cebu 16 years ago. She hails from Laguna and introduced her province’s flavorful dishes to the Cebuanos. For Christmas, the specials include the traditional chicken relleno made with chorizo bilbao, and puto bumbong. The Lemon Grass also of the Urbinas (032-233-8601), gives diners the authentic taste of Thai cuisine. One starts with a pitcher of citrus and herbs lemonade (P175) then deep-fried spring rolls, the traditional phad thai.
Outside of the mall, several new restaurants dot the city. Pino! Serving Filipino cuisine, is named to represent everything Pino (fine dining, culture, etc). The restaurant is done in old and elegant design. Try their bulalo and paella. It is on Wilson Street, (032-232-0939). La Tegola in another area, has pasta and osso buco, among others. They have an Italian chef.
We can’t leave Cebu and miss buying the Kwong Bee pork sausages on V. Gullas street, tel (032-254-7989). They come in packs of half a kilo at P135 each. Very good for cooking pancit, or even have for breakfast. Neither can we miss the Villalonga Chicharon, P48 a small pack. They are located on M. Velez Street, (032-254-5460). Ideal gifts or desserts are the Belgian lace cookies of Lyn Moro, available by phone orders (0917- 855-5502).
Where to stay? Up on Nivel Hills is the Marco Polo Plaza hotel (032-253-1111), which has been a haven for weary travelers. This season, they have the traditional giant tree in the lobby plus Santa’s sleigh. Dine at the Blu on the top floor, where the Chef will regale you with his specials, from innovative appetizers to lamb concoctions. Or enjoy the big buffet at the Café Marco, or relish a cool evening breeze with pizza and pasta at El Veinto by the pool. It was at its lobby Lounge that a Kapampangan tenor, the 26-year-old Lorenzo, successfully invaded musical Cebu, where his classic and modern songs were greatly appreciated by guests. The December performances were his encore appearance after the November shows.
The Marriott Hotel (032-415-6100) – on Cardinal Rosales Avenue, connected to The Terraces. Part of the hotel, including the lobby, has been re-done, the rest in the finishing stages. The coffee shop, its only dining outlet, has taken a new face – expansive, neat, fresh. The buffet is indeed mouth-watering with a wide selection from Japanese to Continental.
The Microtel Inn and Suites at Punta Engano, Mactan (032-236-8888) is a charming place to relax and enjoy nature, as it opens up to the Mactan Bay. The lobby, in white with green accents, is customer-friendly. The coffee shop, called Rice, has the unique version of the Hainanese chicken rice, done by their executive chef. Take time out from the city, go to Microtel.
For entertainment, a lot of shows are held practically everyday from the Puente Osmeña where we caught a performances of local young amateurs, as well as the San Jose University-Recoletos students (scholars of Amparito Lhuillier) under the tutelage of Cebu’s “Mistress of the Stage,” Mila Espina, President and CEO of Speechcom International Inc. with able assistance from Triccia. The group was on a musical tour of various regional cities, culminating in Cebu this month. With local talents plus “imports” from Manila like Martin Nievara, Lorenzo, Mitch Valdez , Anna Fegi and Vernie Varga, truly, there is no dull moment on the Cebu stage.
In Pasil, a few kilometers off the city, early in the morning, seafood from various provinces such as Palawan and Iloilo are sold either by the baneras or by retail at very good prices. Lapu-lapu at P60 a kilo and a fish that looks like jumbo kitang at P40 a kilo. By the time they get to the supermarkets, prices would have doubled or trippled.
On the tourism side, Cebu has a very energetic lady at the top of the tourism totem pole. Dawnie Roa, Regional Director, who revealed that arrivals have increased by 14 percent. Better than Manila? We won‘t be surprised if it is. Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia, is very supportive of the private sector that mounts promotional campaigns. She is a graceful dancer, as well, good – looking too.
Like the rest of the country and the world, Christmas might bring in the pesos and dollars outside of the natural happiness brought about by the Holidays.
Nobody knows how the economy would fare in 2009, but the Cebuanos, ever optimistic, are not really that worried. Carry on Cebu!