Sometime in the 1980s, Cebu City’s Busay Road was a favorite hang-out spot of locals. The thoroughfare ascends to a lookout point, where one can have a picnic, eat chicheria, have their merienda, drink beer or wine—all while breathing in the view of the city.
Today, people still get to satisfy their cravings at this popular spot but things have changed a little. Standing tilted on the road’s sides is a growing number of restaurants and bars, most of which are Cebuano-owned.
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One such place is Balay sa Busay, a Filipino-themed restaurant run by the Cebu Golden Restaurant Corporation (CGRC, the company behind Hukad and Golden Cowrie). The place opened in September 2018, offering a different interpretation of traditional and even long-forgotten Filipino and Spanish dishes.
The interior itself brings back memories of staycations at the grandparents’ house. To illustrate: a huge, vintage ceiling fan hangs by the entrance, and sulihiya chairs stand beside tables made of old wood.
Kristine Kokseng, product development manager for CGRC, tells us that when the location was offered to them, their first thought was that it was “very Cebu.” Kokseng explains: “We created Balay because we wanted to take advantage of how Cebu is created, where the mountains are just near the city, and you can enjoy good food with the ambience and good weather. You see the view of the city. We wanted to showcase that here at Busay.”
Kokseng, while not a chef, was exposed to the rudiments of the kitchen at a very young age. Her mother studied home economics, and every Sunday, their house turns into a veritable fiesta. When she married her husband, who comes from a family of restaurateurs, Kokseng very quickly got into the rhythm of the food business.
For Balay sa Busay, the creation of a dish could start from an ingredient, an old recipe, or a kitchen equipment.
The Pochero ni Lolo, their signature dish, for example, is served in a stone pot. Before she thought of the ingredients, Kokseng admits she really just wanted to use the stone pot. Then she thought of the pochero, and how to give it a twist: “It’s your usual pochero soup, but it’s almost like a bibimbap.”
The making of their sisig, called Ang Paboritong Sisig ni Tatay has a similar story. One day, Kokseng found a food-grade spade, made of cast iron. “I wanted to see what I could put there,” she says. And what Filipino food is served on a sizzling plate, very much like the spade she found? Sisig. The chicharon, which is one of Cebu’s delicacies, adds texture to the already appetizing dish.
Then there’s the Shrimps in Buko, which was born out of Kokseng’s desire to use the coconut (meat included) for a main course, instead of just for coco water or fruit salad. The dish is served in a coconut shell, filled with shrimps cooked in atsuete oil, spices, and topped with melted cheese.
Another crowd favorite is the Adobong Binisaya ni Bebe, a variation of the traditional adobo, but with all the sauce dried up. “It’s a cross between bagnet or lechon kawali, but it tastes like the adobo you get during fiestas in the provinces in the Visayan area,” Kokseng says.
Other interesting items on the menu are the lechon tinola, hamonada, and pinakbet rice. For the appetizers, the pomelo salad and mixed chips (with ingredients sourced from the mountains of Cebu), will not disappoint.
The restaurant also serves merienda and cocktails for those who simply want to take a breather from the city life. Do try their Palitaw na Yema and Banana Cue Ala Mode—they’re as good and as sinfully sumptuous as they sound.
“We wanted to also have the younger people be interested in Filipino dishes again,” says Kokseng of their choice of menu.
The place, which can fit around 300 people, is around 30 minutes away from the central business district. And even with Cebu’s heavy traffic, the view of the mountains and the seas of Cebu City and Mactan City—and the bonus feature of the sound of chirping birds—is worth the uphill trip.
Balay sa Busay is located at Cebu Tops Road, Cebu City 6000. They open at 11:00 a.m. daily, and close at 10 p.m. on weekdays, and 11:00 p.m. on weekends.
Photographs by Chris Clemente