Davao’s much-awaited annual Kadayawan festival goes in full swing this weekend with two grand street celebrations – the exciting Indak-Indakan street dance competition on Saturday and the colorful Pamulak floral float parade on Sunday.
Kadayawan has its origins in Davao’s ethnic tribes, whose rituals include a thanksgiving celebration for a bountiful harvest. In the modern-day festival, Davao’s fruits and flowers are artfully arranged into floats which parade the city streets in a burst of color.
For tourists, this is the best time to experience what Davao has to offer, starting with the city’s many culinary offerings. Although Davao does not have a dish, like Bacolod’s inasal or Bicol’s laing, that defines its cuisine, this fast developing sprawling city is really a showcase for Mindanao produce, particularly in terms of seafood.
If you’re joining the Kadayawan festivities this weekend, here are some of the restaurants that you can check out during your stay in Davao.
Davao’s pomelo and tuna get a modern treatment at Bistro Selera.Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Since Davao is not known for a specific dish, the city’s chefs have the opportunity to be more playful and come up with ideas that best highlight popular Davao products like pomelo or durian. One homegrown restaurant that is doing just that is Bistro Selera, which gives a modern twist to Filipino dishes.
The restaurant does the usual riffs on staples like kare-kare and bistek Tagalog but being a Davao eatery, it also has created sensational dishes that can become signatures for the city. For instance, although the pomelo salad is widely served in many restaurants here, Selera’s version arrives like a refreshing tropical burst in a plate with vivid colors and clean taste. Although obviously inspired by the Thai salad, this one comes across like a minimalist version, with the tangy fruit simply tossed with onions and herbs and the local patis.
Another potential classic is the bacon-wrapped bagaybay, which is tuna sac that has the odd creaminess of foie gras contrasting with the crispy pork strips.
I didn’t get to try Selera’s seafood soup, which is said to highlight fresh seafood and durian, as well as the mangosteen desserts (mousse and ice cream).
Instead I was tempted by the rather unusual palitaw and buchi hybrid, which was exactly as I imagined it -- white balls of palitaw with a sweet bean paste filling.
(Bistro Selera is located at SM Lanang Premier.)
Blue Post's Boiling Crab & Shrimps
Prepare for a boodle fight at this must-try seafood restaurant.Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Davao has a number of crab restaurants, with several of them competing to be proclaimed the city’s best. One restaurant that can definitely aspire for this title is this unassuming restaurant. In fact, many have already judged it as their favorite in Davao. While seafood boil restaurants are now sprouting in Manila as well, Blue Post is hard to beat.
The ambience has that local beach resort feel with its nautical décor. The simple interiors match the fun dining experience promised by the restaurant. This isn’t formal dining at all; in fact, it’s the complete opposite. The food is practically tossed on the table and guests are given plastic disposable gloves instead of forks and spoons.
Although there are other items on the menu, people come here naturally for the seafood boil. But even if you’re allergic to shellfish, don’t worry. Diners can choose from crabs, shrimps, mussels and tuna belly. Then, they give their cooking preference – the Blue Post boil or garlic-fried. Then select the desired spice level – regular, mild or hot and spicy. Want extras? You can add corn, potatoes and sausages to the mix.
Your order will be delivered in a boiling bag in a stainless steel pail, and opened up on your table, releasing that wonderful aroma. Although the mussels I ordered were fat and juicy, it was the sauce (they call it Cajun Special Sauce) that really elevates this dish. That sauce was downright delicious, the type you want to slurp like soup. Definitely, a must-visit.
(Blue Post’s Boiling Crab & Shrimps is located on J.P. Laurel Avenue.)
Durian cheesecake and durian cappuccino.Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
These days, a trip to Davao won’t be complete without stopping by this homegrown coffee spot for what has become a quintessential Davao drink: the Durian Cappuccino, which is available hot or cold.
The Durian Cappuccino features a strong espresso base but is really more like a dessert coffee as it is quite sweet. It also has real durian bits, which settle at the bottom, so stir it well. Despite the unusual texture from the durian, which we don’t associate with coffee, the drink actually works.
Pair your coffee with a slice of Durian Cheesecake, which despite the caramel topping, isn’t as cloyingly sweet as I thought. The cheesecake has just enough creamy texture to complement the cappuccino.
Despite the durian focus, there’s nothing colloquial about Blugre Cafe, which has that familiar, cozy feel we associate with coffee since Starbucks opened in the country. Davao actually has several homegrown brands that cater to the coffee-drinking, Wi-Fi-seeking crowd (you can also try Green Coffee) but Blugre, by virtue of its specialty drink, has become a symbol for the city’s fast-evolving urbane lifestyle.
(Blugre Cafe has multiple branches including SM Lanang Premier, Abreeza Mall and Matina Town Square.)
Grilled tuna belly.Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Marina Tuna is famous for preparing this fish in 10 different ways, although its large menu actually shows way more than 10 tuna dishes on offer (including tuna spaghetti and tuna lugaw for merienda). Diners can enjoy tuna raw (sashimi) or sizzling, grilled or as a soup. They can go for tuna belly, tail, jaw (panga) or even the eggs (bihod). There is even a tuna kare-kare, although locals swear by the tuna eye sinigang.
Since I was dining alone, I ordered the simple grilled tuna belly, which was properly juicy and meaty and didn’t disappoint. Best to dine here in a group so you can try more items.
But despite its name, there is more to Marina Tuna than this one fish as it also offers salmon, lapu-lapu, blue marlin and bangus, among others. Its tagline is actually “the best tuna and seafood,” so you can also order shrimps, oysters, clams, scallops and crabs. But the restaurant is really a hodge-podge of Pinoy favorites from barbecue to adobo, and there is also an obvious Japanese bent with items like sashimi and even bento boxes.
Marina Tuna is just the ideal casual restaurant to celebrate good times with friends.
(Marina Tuna has a branch at SM Lanang Premier; the main restaurant is located further up J.P. Laurel Avenue.)
Claude’s Le Café de Ville
The stately entrance of Claude’s matches its old-fashioned French menu.Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
If you’re looking to splurge on a fancy meal, you can’t find a more elegant setting than Claude’s, which is located at the Oboza Heritage House, which was built back in 1929. This reminds me of Café Ysabel or Guevarra’s in San Juan, both in terms of the general architecture and ambience, with antique pieces and old-rich décor.
Claude’s is said to be the first French restaurant in the city and the prices are obviously on the high side and more ideal for those with expense accounts who are entertaining clients. Perhaps this was why the customers were mostly foreigners and expats when we had dinner there. I was told this is also popular among romantic guys looking to propose to their girlfriends.
It’s not just the setting that is old-fashioned but the menu too veers more towards the classic, like baked mussels and steak. But I was impressed with the baked goat cheese salad, which uses Davao’s famous Malagos cheese.
The old mansion also houses the bar Cellar de Oboza, which you can visit for pre- or post-dinner drinks.
(Claude’s is located on 143 Rizal Street.)
Brazo cheesecake.Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Since we wanted to try as much restaurants as we can, we skipped dessert at Claude’s and instead drove to Davao’s popular Tiny Kitchen, which was still packed with diners even it was already late.
The name refers to its original outlet, which Davao foodies described as really tiny. It has since expanded into a full-blown restaurant and customers now swear by its seafood paella as much as its cakes and pastries. (Expect to pay Manila prices, though.)
But regulars still come for its breads and, of course, cakes. Locals recommend the silvanas and sans rival, as well as its frozen brazo de Mercedes. I ordered a variation of this, the brazo cheesecake, which was interesting and not as sweet.
Tiny Kitchen is also becoming popular for its food products like the bottled tuyo, which foodies recommend for pasalubongs.
(Tiny Kitchen is located at F. Torres Street.)
Aling Foping’s famous halo-halo and chili con carne.Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Matina Town Square, which is relatively far from the city center, is the hub of Davao’s nightlife, a compound featuring rows and rows of drinking bars that open up to an al-fresco common area where bands perform.
This is also where you find a lot of students, day and night. When we dropped by on a weekend afternoon, several groups of youngsters were rehearsing their hip hop routines at a pocket park – which is a common sight here, according to locals.
But even if you’re not scouting for the next South Border or KZ Tandingan, a trip to MTS should be part of your culinary itinerary if only to try the famous Aling Foping’s halo-halo. To be honest, there really isn’t anything new about this halo-halo (unlike, say, Razon’s, which stands out because of the limited but well-chosen ingredients). Perhaps the appeal lies in that you can customize your halo-halo.
Customers are given a check list: select from regular or special; then pick six ingredients from the usual suspects like leche flan, ube, saba, pinipig, sago, beans, nata de coco, langka, macapuno, kaong and gulaman. I also have to admit that the ice was finely crushed – think Milky Way’s halo-halo but at only P105 (for the special with ice cream).
But Aling Foping’s is not just known for its halo-halo these days. People also come for its Chili Con Carne, which is perfect for a mid-day snack. Don’t expect authentic chili that’s served in Mexican restaurants; this one is more tempered to the Filipino taste, so the spice level is barely there, just enough heat to make it interesting. I can eat this all the time.
(Aling Foping’s is located at Matina Town Square, Matina Crossing.)
Diners can make their own banana cue in this hipster restaurant.Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Customization is also the come-on of the recently opened Saging Repablik, which offers customers the chance to pimp their own banana cue. (Think of the make your own Magnum at Magnum Manila at SM Aura.)
Affordably priced at only P55, diners can choose from several dips (chocolate, white chocolate and caramel) and spreads (Speculoos, Nutella, peanut butter) for their banana cue. Then they can select three toppings from a wide selection of nuts, chocolate chips, almonds, sprinkles, rice crisps and even Choc-Nut. The made-to-order banana cue is then served on a board.
The banana cue is just one item in a pretty wide menu that features several dishes that incorporate bananas. Apart from the expected Arroz ala Cubana, it created hybrids like Sabadobo (adobo) and Humbananacue.
Since Saging Repablik opens at 7 a.m., one can have breakfast here with classics like banana pancakes to more creative ones like the Gigingka, which is actually a banana cake that’s prepared and served like a bibingka and even topped with cheese.
But more than the playful menu, Saging Repablik is making waves for how it looks like: It is located in a cube-like industrial building of concrete and glass, with a basic black-and-grey color scheme with pops of yellow. The hipster aesthetic is evident from the uniforms to interesting details that are instantly Instagrammable.
It even comes with a retail section with cool t-shirts, mugs and bags that can double as souvenirs of your trip.
(Saging Repablik is located on Tionko Avenue corner V. Mapa Street.)
Marco Polo Davao is said to have the best breakfast in the city.Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
The opening of Vikings at SM Lanang Premier has changed the restaurant landscape in Davao with its extensive, hotel-like buffet spread. It has become the restaurant of choice for special occasions and celebrations among Davao residents.
But when it comes to breakfast, Café Marco, the all-day dining restaurant of the Marco Polo Hotel Davao, is still the go-to place for tourists who want to fill up for the day ahead or even power breakfast meetings for jet-setting businessmen.
As with the buffets of other Marco Polo properties, Café Marco is known for its lavish spread, even for breakfast, with an international selection that includes Chinese, Japanese, Western and, of course, Filipino.
The array of breads, cereals and fresh fruit was enticingly presented, while the hot station featured both standard hotel fare like crispy, thin-cut bacon and sausages, as well as local fare like Pinoy-style corned beef and longganisa. I personally loved the danggit salad, which had whole dried fish mixed with a cold salad of cucumbers and the like.
My only beef was that eggs Benedict is not included in the buffet (although it is available as an a la carte item).
(Café Marco is located at the Marco Polo Hotel Davao on C.M. Recto Street.)
The mixed grill plate at Swiss Deli. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
If you’re missing your Western deli favorites, the expat-owned Swiss Deli will not disappoint. Many local foodies consider this free-standing restaurant-cum-food-shop among the city’s best, whether for dining in or as a source of prime deli items to cook at home.
When we dropped by for weekend lunch, it was packed with locals and expats. The menu is classic European – from salads and antipasti platters to steaks. The mixed grill was rustic, hearty -- and a break from the seafood feasts of the previous meals.
This is also the place if you want to buy some Malagos cheese to take home… or if you’re hankering for some ostrich steak, which is actually served here.
(Swiss Deli is located on J.P. Laurel Avenue.)
Lyndon’s World’s Worst Ribs and Awful Chicken
These ribs are really tender. Photo by Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNnews.com
Let’s be honest: With a name like that, who wouldn’t be intrigued? Even if they are not being self-deprecating and are in fact telling the truth, one is compelled to check it out.
And so we did. Lyndon’s has that casual feel one expects to find in neighborhood eateries that double up as drinking places where customers gather to watch a PBA game. This is definitely more local so don’t expect much in terms of ambience.
The ribs are definitely not the worst. The meat is fall-off-the-bone tender and well-seasoned with a barbecue sauce that’s more on the sweet side. This is the same sauce used in the chicken, which somehow didn’t work as well compared to the ribs. Stick to the ribs if you have to choose one.
Locals also swear that the seafood here is worth ordering (more than the chicken, they add), particularly the baked scallops. Next time, a surf and turf combo is in order.
(Lyndon’s is located at the Wheels ‘N More Compound on J.P. Laurel Avenue.)