Ever since I was a kid, I was a big fan of street food. To my mother’s dismay, I would often ignore her warnings about eating street food. From taho (soft tofu with caramel syrup and tapioca) and ice scramble to isaw (intestines) and baticolon (gizzard), I’ve had many a childhood memory associated with street food.
One Sunday afternoon, my fiancée and I were on a stroll downtown and I asked her if she was willing to have dinner at the barbecue places in Valeria Street. Not the most glamorous of dates, but good thing I was with someone who had a bit of an adventurous side.
Aside from getting a second entry on the Ilonggo Bucket List [Editor: Check out the previous entry on Museo Iloilo], this was also a trip down memory lane for me. My parents would often buy several paa (native chicken thighs) from Valeria on their way home from work and we’d have a hearty dinner at home. As a kid, my dad would sometimes bring me along when he’d go there to have a drink or two (I, of course, was only allowed to drink soda). A few of my uncles who are now based in the US used to live near the area, and they would always make it a point to buy chicken from Valeria when they come home.
For those unfamiliar with the place, Valeria resembles most sidewalk barbecue places around the city. A couple of grills stand beside rows of raw chicken and pork meat and innards on sticks. Small tables made of scrap wood are scattered around the area. The menu is pretty much what’s displayed together with rice, softdrinks and beer. Food is served on cheap plates and utensils. Of course, most of the clientele are there to have cheap drinks. So, you need to keep guard up a little bit when dining there.
I’m a sucker for native barbecue chicken paired with hot rice. So, of course, we had some paa and rice and then baticolon to round things out. While I’m always happy to get my fill of pretty much any type of barbecued meat, I can’t help but feel like it wasn’t the same experience as it once was. The taste, while decent, wasn’t as great as I had remembered. The size of the chicken wasn’t as big and, while still affordable (P211 for 2 paa, 3 sticks of baticolon and 3 cups of rice), it wasn’t as cheap as I expected. Nostalgia might have factored into my high expectations but, at the risk of sounding like an old geezer, it was better in the old days. I suspect that the addition of new spots in various neighborhoods around the city caused this decline in quality.
Nonetheless, I think it was still a decent trip down memory lane. And for those who still haven’t tried eating in places like these, give it a shot some time, but just be careful though. It doesn’t even have to be in Valeria. Practically, every other hospital, university or neighborhood corner in Iloilo City has a similar setup nowadays. It might not be the safest or cleanest of places, but it’s a raw, authentic experience that won’t hurt the budget.
What do you think about eating in these sidewalk barbecue places? If you have an experience you’d like to share or have suggestions for future Ilonggo Bucket List trips, let us know in the comments below.