Iloilo has two faces for me: the first being the Iloilo of 10 years ago, and the Iloilo that I just witnessed when I travelled there for work.
After 10 years, even if I couldn’t remember everything about my trip then, I could safely say that Iloilo has changed in many different ways. The roads seem bigger, there are numerous new establishments that seem to dwarf the old ones, various districts that seemed to flourish over the past years. However, in the midst of all these developments are jewels like plazas, churches, and old ancestral houses, reminiscent of a vibrant history.
I came back to Iloilo for my work, and stayed there for a week. During my stay, I was able to know more about Iloilo through Tita (Auntie) Rose Lim and her husband, Tito (Uncle) Arthur Lim, people who exhibit true Filipino hospitality. They have lived in Iloilo for decades, and so they were knowledgeable enough to bring me to common places tourists go, as well as to the not-so-known areas, which were equally as interesting.
Me with Tito Arthur and Tita Rose Lim enjoying a meal from Tatoy’s Manokan and Seafood Restaurant, known for its seafood and “daraag,” which is native chicken marinated in vinegar and roasted.
A lot of people would say that there are better places to go to especially when they visit the Philippines (such as the beautiful beaches and all other amazing sights), but I’ll be giving you my top 3 biggest reasons why visiting Iloilo will be more than worth your time.
1. Iloilo’s History
During my stay in Iloilo, I was able to visit Museo Iloilo, which housed beautiful contemporary art as well as fragments of Iloilo’s history.
Inside Museo Iloilo.
The museum houses Ilonggo artifacts such as jars dug up from various excavation sites all around Iloilo. These jars are remnants of Chinese trade relations in colonial times. Iloilo is also rich in Spanish colonial history, being one of the trade routes entering Visayas. It also flourished greatly in terms of sugar and textile, which cemented its place as the most important province outside of Manila in early days.
Jars from Chinese traders, as well as stone age pottery. To the bottom right is a replica of an indigenous person’s remains, presumably from the area of Panay.
Japanese money, or essentially “Mickey Mouse money” as coined by Filipinos. These were bills issued by the Japanese during their time in the Philippines, and these were worthless.
Iloilo is known to have a vibrant economy which stems from its history as a major trading route, and this economic boom still stands until today. This is why they have the ability to host tourists, provide attractions while at the same time keep their culture intact, which is perfect for anyone wanting to visit and experience Iloilo.
2. Iloilo’s Architecture
To many who have lived in the province, the idea of plazas being the center of development in cities is not a new idea, but to me it was. It was only when I toured Iloilo did I realize that the designs of cities from the Spanish colonial period persisted until today. For example, churches, schools, and many shops surrounded the city plaza, which served as a venue for socialization.
The Jaro Cathedral with its belfry separated from the church. The belfry in Iloilo is also one of the few belfries in the Philippines that is separated from the church, and also served as a watchtower for intruders during the colonial periods.
Iloilo may have developed a lot in recent years, but what’s interesting is that heritage houses and other colonial structures still abound within the area, such as the Molo Mansion and an ancestral house in Arevalo, Iloilo where I bought Sinamay cloth, which is handwoven cloth coming from the Western Visayas Region.
Facade of the Molo Mansion.
3. Iloilo’s Food
In talking about a city, one simply cannot miss out on a simple but powerful expression of culture, which lies in local food. In Iloilo, I was able to try places tourists go to such as the ice cream in Molo Mansion and Madge Cafe, as well as hidden culinary gems such as Nena’s Chicken Inasal and Kap Ising’s Pancit Molo.
Iloilo’s first must-try is the Molo Mansion’s blue ternate flower ice cream. It was easily one of the best flavors I’ve ever tasted, having a creamy gelato-like texture, with hints of sweetness that wasn’t overpowering.
The second is Madge Cafe, a small resto-cafe that lies within the heart of the Lapaz Public Market. What’s unique about this cafe is that the coffee is made in an unusual way, the prices are affordable, and as part of its decoration, the cafe is lined with mugs bearing the names of their regular clients. The Madge Cafe has been a part of Iloilo’s history because it is also the place where local officials and famous personalities go to socialize.
The coffee is poured into a sock-looking filter repeatedly. Note the mugs all around.
For hidden culinary gems, I visited Nena’s Chicken Inasal and Seafood Restaurant in Oton, Iloilo. In this restaurant, I got to try linaga, which is beef stew in English, as well as chicken inasal (grilled chicken marinated in calamansi, soy sauce, vinegar, and other spices).
Finally we have Kap Ising’s Pancit Molo. It is hidden within houses, and is only recognizable with the sign that bears its name. When you enter, you come into a house filled with dumpling makers, rows of wanton wrappers put out into the sun to dry, and big steel pots we call kalderos.
We had our meal in those tables and chairs. Many of the people waiting bring their own kalderos.
Pancit is noodles in English, and depending where you are eating pancit, it can come in many different varieties. However, Pancit Molo is different from typical dry pancit because it is a soup dish. It is something like wanton soup, with dumplings filled with pork, shrimp, chicken, or beef inside.
I could go on about how extraordinary Iloilo is, but I’ll let you discover more about the city for yourself. Iloilo is vibrant, living, and definitely worth a visit. So hopefully the next time you come to the Philippines, consider going to Iloilo, and I’m sure it’ll be an adventure that’ll be worth your time.