Makansutra: Devour delicacies in Davao City
The city made famous by President Duterte has good food aplenty
My first trip to Davao City, where Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte used to be mayor, earlier this year, was an initial eyeballing of places, faces and tastes, and to curate for the World Street Food Congress.
My follow-up visit was for the annual Kadayawan Festival last week, and it was flooded with folks from Manila and neighbouring towns.
There was a tribal beauty pageant, discounted shopping, street festival dances - a la Chingay - performed by thousands of students, and of course, makan.
I weaved in and out of local street food festivals and iconic restaurants and had a preview of the attempt to turn a mountain tribal village into an eco and food destination.
Davao City is a no-smoking zone (unless otherwise specified) and regarded as the safest city in the Philippines.
It is framed by mountains, clear blue seas, rivers, forests and miles of black and white sand beaches.
Here are some of the equally amazing local food that remain etched in my memory.
DODS IHAW-IHAW SEAFOOD GRILL
Roxas Blvd, corner of Ponciano Street, 10am-11pm daily
These folks were one of this year's Top 50 World Street Food Masters and it was the first thing I had to tear into the day I landed in Davao.
The smoky streetside grill (above) is packed every night.
The self-styled yakitori marinade is nice, but it is the sheer freshness of the tuna jowl and the belly that did it for me.
It arrived supremely juicy and when you fork-press into the flesh, the juices ooze. Prices for a huge jowl begin at about $6.
NENENG FRUIT STALL
Magsaysay Ave (outside Magsaysay Park), 9am-11pm daily
It's not quite Mao Shan Wang, but the stall offers a sweet D24-type durian called Puyat, which came in second to my favourite, the bittersweet and creamy Arancillo.
At peak season, this famed Davao produce goes for under $1 (about 2kg each) and the smaller ones are left for pickers on the road.
You also have to try their Marang, a slippery smooth chempedak lookalike with hints of duku, durian, jackfruit and mangosteen.
CONCHING'S NATIVE CHICKEN
Araullo Street, Poblacion District, 10am-11pm daily
Their BBQ birds come smallish, about 1.2 kg each, and there's nary any fat - the meat is firm, juicy and incredibly flavourful. Upon order, each chicken comes fresh off the wood-fire grill.
PAKFRY KING RESTAURANT
12, Dacudao Ave, 10am-2pm, 5pm-10pm daily
To be honest, it isn't much of an idea for a dish - deep-fried tuna tail in spicy local vinegar.
But when I tore into it, layers of gelatinous cartilage greeted me before I struck the juicy fresh tuna meat.
It was moreish and the flavour grows on you.
The vinegar sauce makes so much sense with this fried fish.
The owners had so much confidence in the dish, they patented the recipe in the Philippines.