Iloilo now a certified food hub in the country

Iloilo has always been known for its cuisine, reflecting the cultures of dominant ethnic groups on Panay Island, the Hiligaynon and the Karay-a, and showing influences from the Chinese, the Spanish and from neighboring islands in the Visayas.

An iconic dish is the batchoy, which many consider as the best noodle soup in the country. Said to have originated in a market in the district of La Paz, it is usually eaten with puto or rice cake or biskotso — crunchy, twice baked bread.

Popular batchoyans, some tracing its history to the market, now have several branches around the city such as Ted’s Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy, Netong’s Deco’s, Inggo’s and Popoy’s Original La Paz Batchoy.

Another popular dish is the soupy kadyos, baboy kag langka, often shortened to KBL, which literally means “pigeon peas, pork and jackfruit.”

Others include tinuom na manok, chicken steamed in pouches of banana leaves; laswa, a vegetable soup; kansi, beef soup made sour by batua; pansit Molo, a wonton soup from the district of Molo; chicken inasal, grilled chicken flavored with annatto seeds and lemongrass; and binakol, chicken soup with coconut water.

Several restaurants and eateries in Iloilo have become beloved such as Madge Café, Breakthrough, Tatoy’s Manukan and Seafood, Luna’s Arrozcaldohan and Cyril’s Eatery, while Biscocho Haus and Panaderia de Molo are popular for their pastries and breads.

Recently, malls and other urban development contribute to the ever-evolving dining landscape.

‘Creative City of Gastronomy’

Now this vibrant and beautiful city joins the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) as a Creative City of Gastronomy.

The designation of 55 cities around the world was made by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General Audrey Azoulay on World Cities Day, 31 October.

Iloilo City mayor Jerry Treñas shared the news on his Facebook page.

“This shows Iloilo City’s strong commitment to harnessing culture and creativity as part of its development strategies,” he said.

“Iloilo City, is officially now a member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and is the first Creative City of Gastronomy in the Philippines, with 350 cities in more than one hundred countries, representing seven creative fields: Crafts and Folk Art, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Media Arts and Music,” he added. “As Iloilo continue to get more awards, we will continue to bring Iloilo City to the next level and now in the international scene!”

The city in Western Visayas in central Philippines was endorsed by the Philippines to UCCN in 2021 but it failed to be included. Iloilo City then strengthened promotion and documentation of their cuisine and made improvements on their application.

The local government’s declaration of the city and the province of Iloilo as “The Food Haven of the Philippines” in 2021, celebrating its food and encouraging tourism, and the publication of food expert Rafael “Tibong” Jardeleza’s cookbook of heirloom dishes, Flavors of Iloilo, in 2022 are among the significant food-related events in recent years.

The Iloilo City government reapplied to be part of UCCN in February 2023, sending a letter expressing their intention to the UNESCO Philippine National Commission (UNACOM), which forwarded their letter to the Department of Trade and Industry and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts for consideration, assistance and support. The city became the lone endorsement of the Philippines.

Their efforts eventually paid off, and Iloilo City became the third Philippine city to be designated as UNESCO Creative City after Baguio City in the field of Crafts and Folk Arts in 2017, and Cebu City in Design in 2019.

One of the foremost Philippine senators, Risa Hontiveros, whose family hails from Iloilo’s neighboring province, Capiz, congratulated the city for this achievement and posted a picture of her enjoying coffee at Madge Café’s original branch at the La Paz public market on Facebook.

Congressman from Pangasinan and principal author of the recently enacted Philippine Creative Industries Development Act, Christopher “Toff” de Venecia, also lauded the city, saying that the inclusion “is an incredible recognition of lloilo’s rich culinary heritage, innovative gastronomic scene, enabling ecosystem, and unwavering passion for food.”

In a statement, he said, “lloilo’s vibrant and flavorful cuisine has captivated the Philippines and the world, and now, as a member of the UCCN, it has a global platform to showcase its culinary prowess. We can’t wait to see the delicious journey that lies ahead for this amazing city.

“Let Iloilo City’s success inspire others, as we eagerly anticipate the next bidding in 2025, encouraging more local government units to embrace the power of creativity and culture towards creative governance and a brighter and more vibrant future,” the legislator emphasized.

On the other hand, Senator Loren Legarda, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Culture and the Arts, said, “With the entry of Iloilo into the fold, we sincerely hope their cooperation with other UCCN member cities to strengthen resilience in the face of evolving threats such as climate change, rising inequality and rapid urbanization.”

She added, “I am confident our Ilonggo countrymen are committed to keeping the city’s spirit alive through their appreciation of history, culture, heritage and commitment to serving the best dishes.”

The Department of Tourism also sent plaudits and pledged its support. Its regional office has launched a culinary and rural tourism program, Slow Food in Western Visayas, that affords tourists to engage in and observe food preparations and farming of ingredients, in Iloilo City in September.

Harnessing culture and creativity

Iloilo’s inclusion in UCCN bolsters and celebrates its culinary culture, cement its reputation as a food hub and help in crafting programs and policies for meaningful development.

According to UNESCO, “new cities were acknowledged for their strong commitment to harnessing culture and creativity as part of their development strategies, and displaying innovative practices in human-centered urban planning.”

Launched in 2004, UCCN aims to foster collaboration among cities that recognize creativity as a fundamental catalyst for sustainable urban development.

“The cities in our Creative Cities Network are leading the way when it comes to enhancing access to culture and galvanizing the power of creativity for urban resilience and development,” Azoulay said.

Together with Iloilo, the newly declared Creative Cities of Gastronomy are Chaozhou, China; Gangneung, South Korea; Nkongsamba, Cameroon; Herakleion, Greece; Fribourg, Swi tzerland; and Battambang, Cambodia.

Other new members of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network are Ashgabat, Turkmenistan; Cetinje, Montenegro; Chiang Rai, Thailand; Chongqing, China; Granada, Nicaragua; and Valencia, Spain, which are Creative Cities of Design; as well as Asaba, Nigeria; Kathmandu, Nepal; Ouarzazate, Morocco; Penedo, Brazil; and Vicente Lopez, Argentina, which are Creative Cities of Film.

Meanwhile, Bremen, Germany; Buffalo City, United States; Hobart, Australia; Iasi, Romania; Kozhikode, India; Kutaisi, Georgia; Okayama, Japan; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Taif, Saudi Arabia; and Tukums, Latvia, also joined the network as Creative Cities of Literature, together with Caen, France; Casablanca, Morocco; Novi Sad, Serbia; and Oulu, Finland, which are new Creative Cities of Media Arts.

Also new members, as Creative Cities of Music, are Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina; Bissau, Guinea-Bissau; Bolzano, Italy; Bydgoszcz, Poland; Caracas, Venezuela; Concepción, Chile; Ðà Lạt, Vietnam; Gwalior, India; Mexicali, Mexico; Ipoh, Malaysia; Montreux, Switzerland; Şanlıurfa, Türkiye; Suphanburi, Thailand; Toulouse, France; Varaždin, Croatia; and Veliky Novgorod, Russia.

Bukhara, Uzbekistan; Castelo Branco, Portugal; Hội An, Vietnam; Montecristi, Ecuador; Surakarta, Indonesia; Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia; and Umngeni Howick, South Africa, were revealed as Creative Cities of Crafts and Folk Art.