Photo by Xtian Lozañes

An Ilongga Confesses to 5 Things She Loves about Iloilo City

By riza ornos

Iloilo City has been called by many names. Although she delights to be called as the ‘City of Love’, don’t make the mistake of calling it as the “Paris” of Asia. Rather, this is city who prides herself chiefly as the home to 447,992 Ilonggos.

A thriving city full of dreamers, Iloilo is a truly noble city that can tame even the wildest of hearts. The Queen Regent of Spain was so right when she gave her the honorific title of “La Muy Leal Y Noble Ciudad de Iloilo” (The Most Loyal and Noble City), because the city has lived up to its name through the years.

While not as progressive as Manila or Cebu, this is exactly the quality that makes Iloilo such a livable city amongst the country’s giants.

If you want more specifics, allow me to count the ways why I love Iloilo City:

1. Fort San Pedro

Ilongga Confession: Fort San Pedro - Project Iloilo
Photo by Xtian Lozañes

This ancient fort, which witnessed both the Philippine Revolution and the Spanish-American War, was originally built to protect the city from Moro attacks. These days though, Fort San Pedro offers the best Instagram-perfect sunset there is in the city.

Like a lady in waiting, this long-forgotten place lights up like a blushing maiden as the sun kisses the horizon. I also love how its waves sway back and forth, as if she moves her hips to flirt at the fading sunset.

With so much going on in the city center, watching the sun as it fades away while chilling at the city’s oldest park is the perfect way to cap your day. If only Fort San Pedro’s walls could talk, it would tell you how many times it witnessed lovers’ first kisses, the saddest of goodbyes, and the blissful hellos accompanying so many friendships that were forged through every sunset and sunrise.

2. Kadyos, Baboy, Langka (KBL)

Ilongga Confession: KBL Kadyos Baboy Langka - Project Iloilo

Ask any Ilonggo family who shared a KBL meal, and they will tell you how each bite reminds them of simpler times—when Iloilo was traffic-free and the inasal that we know can be found at BBQ stands near waiting sheds.

On the other hand, every spoonful of KBL reminds me of family gatherings around the table, where we swapped stories about what went during our day. Yeah, it sounds cheesy, but there is more to it than just loving the way she tastes: It’s the purest Ilonggo comfort food one could have.

A truly Ilonggo dish, this mouth-watering fusion of black beans, pork, and jackfruit is best paired with unlimited rice and pinakas. Picture yourself eating this on a rainy Sunday morning. It’s foodgasm at its best!

3. Butong-butong

Ilongga Confession: Butong-butong - Project Iloilo
Photo by Riza Ornos

Ever played piko, panaguay, or tumba patis during your childhood? Chances are, you had butong-butong (a Hiligaynon term that means “to pull”) and “ice water” after an exhausting but fun-filled game to give you a quick sugar fix for the next round of playing until your nanay starts yelling at you to go home because the church bell says it’s already 6 PM.

This muscovado (unrefined brown sugar)-based sweet treat goes through a lot of hand-made twisting, bending, and pulling to achieve its whitish color and delectable flavor. I love how her pure sugar decadence lingers in my mouth as I savor the last drop of her sweetness. Back when Choco Mucho and Cloud 9 were not yet available, butong-butong was THE go-to dessert not just in the province, but also even in the city.

4. Fishing Port

Ilongga Confession: Iloilo Fishing Port - Project Iloilo
Photo by Martin Espino

The smell of the fresh catch of the day, the saltiness of the air, the sweat, the relentless haggling of wholesalers, and the voices of vendors calling out for more customers… at two in the morning. There is something poetic about being at the Iloilo Fish Port Complex during its “wild morning rush” while the rest of the city is in deep slumber.

I love the way she smells, for she is sultry like the sun and calm like the ocean, and more. The array of people gathered there—from party-going millennials trying to sober up with freshly-cooked sinigang to brave fishermen looking for a good deal for their day’s catch—offers a microcosm of what Iloilo City looks like today.

And finally…

5. The slow life in the province

Where else can you find a city that still offers soft blankets, warm hugs, hot coffee, kind souls, and genuinely good-hearted people in this day and age? Ilonggos, no matter how busy they are, will still find time to smell the flowers. For one, places likes Esplanade, beaches, malls and restaurants are full of families taking time off from spreadsheet, deadlines, Facebook and meetings during Sundays. In this regard, Iloilo City is like a mother with outstretched arms, and I love the way she readies to welcome me home.

On the other hand, Iloilo’s art scene is getting more vibrant for the past two years, with so many artists coming together to show the world what makes Iloilo unique. Millennials, yuppies, and young-at-hearts are finding time to check out the latest exhibits, spoken word sessions, bike rides, marathons, and various gigs around the city. Despite all these activities, we’re still able to maintain a “low-key” lifestyle that synonymous with provincial living.

With so much going on in the city today, I just hope (keeping my fingers crossed) that amidst the industrialization of Iloilo, we can keep the Ilonggos’ “chill” lifestyle intact. I really believe ours is a city with a heart.

We don’t want to be the next Manila or Cebu. We always wanted to be Iloilo.

Riza Ornos is the Queen Mermaid of EarthingPH and Visionary Nomad of Home of the Lost Soles. She is a true-blooded Ilongga who delights in writing her thoughts on while getting lost on the road.