“Kaon ‘ta sa Aduana” [Let’s eat at Aduana] was my mother’s definition of nostalgia. I was 16 and about to enroll in college when I first set foot in a nondescript eatery in one of the oldest streets in downtown Iloilo: Nora’s Eatery. My husband, on the other hand, was 10 when his father brought him there as well. People in their 40s or 50s, rich and poor, are evidently avid customers of the place. So, it got me thinking: what’s with this place and the oldies’ fondness for it?
Next thing I know, I got so obsessed with their adobo nga lukos (seasoned squid) that I tried to imitate its recipe many times over the years but failed. The balance of salt, vinegar, sugar and spices in this dish is very precise. The thick black sauce, the tender squid meat… all right, stop, stop! I’m drooling already!
Anyways, this is the quick story of the establishment: since 1964, Nora’s Eatery at Aduana Street is more than a simple Ilonggo restaurant; it is an institution. Back in the old days when people from the province had to go to the city for business and government transactions, this place cured their yearning for food after a day’s leg works and liaisons.
This ordinary-looking eatery survived six presidential terms and the rapid changing of times that it became a symbol of oneness where hacienderos, politicians, ordinary government employees and the common folk shared elbow space with each other on long tables where their orders were served way faster than what its fancy fastfood counterparts can muster. For many of us, Nora’s reminds us of our parents’ generation; a time where our first cooking lessons were acquired through the humblest of places – our old-fashioned kitchens at home.
If you’re still not convinced by why you should visit Nora’s Eatery, then here are a few of its “stories” that should compel you to check it out:
1. It is a story of success.
The late Mrs. Nora Palacios started her business as a “rolling” [Editor: otherwise known as a “mobile”] eatery where she frequented the ferry boat terminal by catering to people from the Iloilo-to-Bacolod passenger vessels and vice versa. With a small capital, she sold banana cue, arroz caldo and pancit.
However, with combined hard work and brilliant cooking skills, she was able to expand a skimpy rolling store to a sizeable restaurant. It has been 51 years and the business is still standing strong with tables filled with diners comprising of every class in the city. The eatery’s specialties are grilled fish, grilled pork and fish soup, though the menu also includes a variety of Filipino and Ilonggo dishes.
2. It is a story of love and altruism.
This restaurant provided for the education of eight people. Tiyay Nora, as what her nieces call her, sent each one of them to school and are now living proofs of her greatest legacy.
Currently, Nora’s Eatery is owned and managed by the eight Jayawon siblings (Susan, Lorena, Adona, Juvy, Arlie, Teresa and Melissa),who are guided by their Tiyay’s principles and morals.
3. It is a story of authentic cooking one patiently.
In a world where everything is fast and people are impatient, this following quote totally blew my mind: “We don’t use pressure cooker. We slow-boil [the food] for two hours or more until the flavors come out. We don’t use a rice cooker, either,” said Lorena Jayawon, one of the owners.
4. It is a story of cooking without shortcuts.
I judge food not just on how delicious they are, but on what made them delicious. Remember the mystery of that adobo nga lukos above? This is Susan Jayawon’s answer: “We don’t use any artificial seasonings, no MSG, just natural and fresh spices. We use batwan (Garciniamorella) for the fish soup as Tiyay refused to use artificial tamarind powder.”
She continued, “She was also very specific about cleanliness. That was Tiyay Nora’s cooking principle. Our cook, who learned from her, has been working here for 20 years.”
Now, this may not matter to most people, but to us who are advocates of healthy eating and believe MSG should be banned, it does. It is the highest form of honesty you can give to your customers for their money and loyalty—by serving themdishes in their natural flavors without cheating them of the experience.
Buildings have since risen, gastronomes have gone grandiose, Wi-Fi has become a necessity, people don’t write letters anymore and the neighboring post office across Nora’s is not as busy as it used to be, but the place still remains as packed as ever. That should speak volumes to the kind of generation-transcending experience that Nora’s Eatery provides to its diners.
For those who haven’t been there yet, it is located at the back of Freedom Grandstand, the venue where Dinagyang’s main judging area is stationed annually. It still sits in front of the post office at the vicinity of Iloilo’s seat of government, the Iloilo City Hall.
Do you have any other humble karinderyas which you would like Project Iloilo to go to? Suggest to us your favorite places at the comments section below!