“Fresh and simple” is how Zuhairah “Zee” Abas, Chief Tourism Operations Officer and OIC of the Department of Tourism (Region XI) describes Davao Region’s local cuisine. Enclosing the Davao Gulf in the southeastern portion of Mindanao, the region—comprised of five provinces, namely Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Davao Oriental, and Davao Occidental—anchors its cuisine on the bounties of the land and sea, offering straightforward fare that encapsulates southern Mindanao’s diverse culture.
Anyone who has been to or is living in this part of the country would tell you to never leave without trying the popular dish called kinilaw, a local version of ceviche or raw fish cured in vinegar and spices. This dish is served in most Filipino restaurants in the region in more ways than one could imagine. “Tuna and blue marlin are [commonly] used,” says Abas.
Thanks to Davao Region’s rich waters, there is an abundance of these fish species, which enables the locals to enjoy both in their freshest state. There are local eateries that serve this dish straightforward—deliciously drenched in vinegar with onions, chilli, and ginger—and there are those who go out of the box with their own unique versions such as with coconut cream, mayonnaise, lemongrass, and the list goes on. Besides kinilaw, Davao is also known for tuna sugba (grilled).
“Recently, we are also seeing a lot of tuna pakfry [fish tail cooked paksiw-style then deep-fried] stalls opening up. The more adventurous should also try the bihod (roe), bagaybay (sperm sac), ubol-ubol (innards), and the eyes,” says Carmina Mapa-del Rosario, also known as The Crazy Cook, and a foodie who comes from Davao. Traditionally, bihod’s grainy texture makes it perfect for adobo, the grill, or sizzling plate, while bagaybay’s richness is close to sweetbread. Bistro Selera, one of the restaurants in Davao City that specialises in its local cuisine, serves delightfully pan-fried bacon-wrapped bagaybay. “The texture is quite similar to foie gras… We pan-fry this and top it with crispy garlic bits and infused oil,” says Googie Sanga, Chief Operating Officer of Bistro Selera. While Bistro Selera offers the more familiar bihod, the exotic version of bagaybay is one of their bestsellers, along with karekare that highlights ingredients from the region such as herbs and vegetables from the Marilog and Calinan districts of Davao City, respectively, as well as from the neighbouring provinces, such as peanuts from Cotabato and beef from Bukidnon.