Dumaguete comes from the word “Dagit” which meant to snatch or kidnap. It was named that way because during the past, it was said that pirates had occupied the city. Nowadays, when you go and visit Dumaguete City, don’t be surprised if the beauty of the city will snatch your heart.
Given that we only had a few days in the “City of Gentle People”—Dumaguete City—we wanted to choose how and where we would spend our days well. An easy choice would have been to go to the nearby towns in the outskirts of Dumaguete, but due to limited budget and time, we decided to stick to the city and see what’s there to see.
Our palates led us to explore the different restaurant and establishments around the city. It was also a natural and easy excuse for us to visit since Mom had just celebrated her birthday, and we tried to find excuses to eat.
We’re pleased to find a paranomic view of a fine day in the city of Dumaguete at a restaurant called Lab-as and Hayahay, both fronting the sea along Rizal Boulevard on Flores Avenue, Piapi, Escano Beach. Officially, both restaurant serves the freshest seafood’s and traditional Filipino cuisine but they differ in atmosphere. Lab-as is more fine dining while Hayahay is more laid-back, chill, and relaxing treetop al fresco dining.
Eat what the locals eat. We had lunch Dumaguete style—heapings of fragrant puso rice (Visayan rice cooked in coconut milk wrapped in coconut leaves) and a plate of kinilaw na tanigue or Wahoo. In Dumaguete, kinilaw is eaten like ulam (viand), so each spoonful was a contrast of cool and steaming hot. The freshest, sweetest fish, the acid freshness of calamansi, the bite of ginger, the spicy heat of chopped chili, and a heap of crushed chicharon (crispy post rind) to add crunch meatiness + a picturesque view of the Visayan sea—truly made that meal unforgettable. It was the best kinilaw I had ever eaten in my entire life! On the other hand, the Sinigang na Blue Marlin with loads of veggies blew us away. It was fantastic!
After lunch, we rode a tricycle that would take us to the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria, Diocese of Dumaguete. Towards the side, a spectacular view of the city greeted us with the Grotto and the Belfry or Dumaguete Bell Tower piqued our curiosity. Originally built in 1754-1776, it was reconstructed in 1885 and was extended with its present façade in 1936.
Across the church is the Quezon Park. Take a photo at Maria Clara and our national hero, Jose Rizal at the heart of the plaza. Here’s a little trivia in history: Jose Rizal had been to Dumaguete City on the eve of July 31, 1896 on his way back to Manila from Dapitan, Mindanao. Rizal was with his love, Josephine Bracken and sister Narcisa. On August 1, 1896, Rizal met Governor Emilio Regal, head of the islands of Negros Oriental along with Faustino Herrero Regidor, Rizal’s former classmate. Rizal did an eye operation on Governor Emilio Regal within the same day just before he left the city of Dumaguete. And to honor and remember Rizal’s kind gesture, thus the statue of Rizal and the character of Maria Clara (from Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere) can now be found in the heart of the city.Don’t forget to take pictures with the old fire truck found at Quezon Park, as well as the display of old canyons located within the area. Sit on a bench and enjoy the beautiful day while watching happy locals strolled by. You might see some kiosk selling tempura (small kikiam also called as orlian) and Ngo-hiong (lumpia roll in five spiced powder). Go ahead, order some and dip them in hot sauce.
Tour the Silliman University. Established by American Presbyterians in 1901, it has pre-war buildings mixed with modern structures and facilities with over 300 acacia trees throughout the campus. It’s like the University of the Philippines in the South. Their Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium is similar to the Cultural Center of the Philippines. If I could only turn the hands of time, I would’ve chosen to study here.
Another fascinating attraction was Silliman University’s Marine Mammal Museum or University Town Anthropology museumon Hibbard Avenue where fossils and remains of different giant whales and sea creatures like Dugong (sea cow) were on display. This one fascinated Kyle to no end! Admission fee is P25 per person. This is quite far from the heart of the city because it’s near the beach (near the coastline) but definitely worth the trip.
Many sweets show European influences such as sans rival, silvanas, ensaymada, pastillas, cookies, muffins, cinnamon buns, pralines etc. The said business started by the late Trinidad Sagarbarria y Teves (1920-2004); she may have passed away but her family continues her legacy to the people of Dumaguete and up to this day, her to-die-for silvanas are still the best! Thus it became the famous Silvanas from Dumaguete. Remember the immaculate white and sky blue colors of the box—they’re guilty pleasures you must-try while in Dumaguete! Sans Rival’s Silvanas costs P125 a box (consists of 10 pieces). Their silvanas are made from heirloom recipe. Oozing with butter, its slightly sweet and chewy delicately layered yellowish or brownish (they even had chocolate flavored silvanas) crust covering is enough to make you salivate for more and drives more tourists crazy that they end up buying a big box of those heavenly goodies. Try their warm, soft and deliciously heavenly cinnamon buns. Even if you’re not a cinnamon fan, you’ll easily be converted upon first bite. Sans Rival’s cookie monster cake is also quite a legendary among the people of Dumaguete.
The next day, after checking the Google map for directions, we headed to the Dumaguete Public Market on Bishop Surban Street for some cheap breakfast. Realizing that it was just around the corner from where we were staying, we had to experience “painitan”—a cup of rich hot chocolate or coffee and a local budbod (read: “Suman”—local delicacy made from glutinous sticky rice and chocolate cocoa). While you’re there, be adventurous when it comes to food and sample the Dumaguete local viands such as Paklay (pork dish), Balbakwa (ox tail soup) and Chicken Halang-halang.
Along Sta. Catalina, don’t forget to try Pizza Jamba at a place called Food Net. It had everything I like to eat: chicken, seafood, viands, barbecues etc. But the best happens to be their Pizza Jamba with seven different flavors: Hawaiian (consists of cheese, base with pieces of ham and pineapples); Pepperoni (pepperoni spruced up with onions, bell peppers and cheese; Super Meaty (all-time favorite ground beef topped with pineapples, onions, mushrooms and cheese); Cheesy Pizza (topped with cheese, basil and sautéed garlic); Pizza Karne (loads of ground beef topped with mushrooms, bell peppers, onions and cheese); Hot and Spicy (Ground meat topped with peppers and cheese); Hungarian Pizza (topped with sausages, spiced with onions, bell peppers and cheese. For a 14” sized pizza, they’re pretty cheap for P120 each. Pizza Jamba’s very tasty and crunchy with its thin crust; they’re perfect for an afternoon snack. We spent a good six hours tasting all we could possibly sample. If you have extra money to spare, Dexter’s Pizza (also on Sta. Catalina) is your next bet.
The original inasal can still be found in nearby island of Bacolod, but Dumaguete had their own version called inato. Slow-cooked and grilled to perfection, chicken inato is best eaten with s sawsawan (condiment used for dipping) of sinamak (age old local vinegar) mixed with ginger, chili, and other spices and generous amounts of garlic rice. Don’t forget to drizzle it with annatto chicken oil. It’s like chicken confit simmered in annato oil. Most small native chickens have tough meat but this one is juicy and tender. For the best chicken barbecue, head over to City Burger (which surprisingly does not offer burger on their menu) along San Jose Street for some juicy barbecue chicken. Jo’s Chicken Inato (Rizal Boulevard and Silliman Avenue) comes close with its P95 meal with unlimited rice.Dumaguete will certainly be in your heart for its own rustic charm. I wish to go back there someday soon. Only The Lord knows when.