Photos by Noel Pabalate

In a way every festival is a return to our long-ago roots, a recollection of our ancient selves, who believed in magic, in ritual, in ceremony, in the invisible, inexplicable forces that governed life on mysterious earth.

Day 1

THE ILOILO DAILY

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Lunch: St. Martha’s on Fundidor Street in Molo. Highlights: Too many to mention, but the bamboo shoots, the taro vines, the paksiw na isda are worth the two cups of rice.

Merienda (more like after lunch): Kap Ising’s Molo at Barangay South San Jose in Molo. Highlights: the wonton soup, of course, for which I’ll come back when I’m hungry, but the fresh lumpia, sweet-ish, is a discovery.

Dinner: Tatoy’s Manukan in Atria in Mandurriao. Highlights: the free-range chicken inasal (chicken called darag, native to Iloilo) stuffed with tamarind leaves and lemongrass, also the adobadong hito (catfish in thick sauce).

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Dessert: Maridel’s at Plazuela de Iloilo, also in Mandurriao. My cake of choice: The frozen Ube Leche. They say the guava cake is TDF, but it’s seasonal.

On this food trip with me, along with the frenzy and noise of Dinagyang fever, are Angelo Fuentes Comsti and Iloilo chef Tibong Jardeleza.

DINAGYANG FEVER

Friday night at the Pool Bar on the seventh floor of the Richmonde Hotel Iloilo with my trusty old Black Russian.

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On the eve of Dinagyang, the festival fever is already sky-high with simultaneous parties, concerts, strEATs going on all over Iloilo, the hotels like Richmonde are overbooked, the airport is crowded and so are the restaurants and the parking lots, and the way in and out of the seven districts in the city has been rerouted.

No problem, if you go with the flow. There have been brief showers all day and the wind, cold and brutal, blows steadily, but the mood is jovial.

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Ati Warriors on their coloroful costumes, contingents from different places and schools of Iloilo, January 27, 2019 join Dagyang Tribe dance competition on its Dinagyang Festival’s highlights. (KEVIN TRISTAN ESPIRITU)

Dinagyang, a religious festival in honor of the Child Jesus, means “merrymaking” and the whole city does get in the mood to dance or be merry. It has been voted many times as the best festival in the Philippines and has achieved the status of a world class festival.

Day 2

BENEATH THE MASK

A mask on display on the breakfast buffet spread at The Granary of the Richmonde Hotel Iloilo.

To Dinagyang, Iloilo’s world class festival, the mask is an essential ingredient, just as it is to the Mardi Gras in the French Guiana, La Diablada of Peru, the Carnevale di Venetia, the Paro Tsechu in Bhutan.

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The author, Nat Lim of Richmonde, and Chef Tibong

The mask gives the festival a face, a mood independent of the variability of human nature.

The mask is the face of the past frozen in time, monsters long dead, myths long demystified, gods long proven false, dreams long crushed, memories of an age long over.

In a way every festival is a return to our long-ago roots, a recollection of our ancient selves, who believed in magic, in ritual, in ceremony, in the invisible, inexplicable forces that governed life on mysterious earth—and the mask allows us to recreate that time of magic, mystery, and mysticism, when the stars held power, the moon cast a spell, the sun demanded worship.

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Local tribe dancers, with their Ati Warrior costume, gather around the monument of Ilonggo her, General Martin Delgado in Iloilo Business Park during the Dinagyang Festival revelries from January 2018 (photo by Rio Leonelle Deluvio)

All the history, all the secrets of our culture etched in every mask, but now beneath it, prompted by the festival music, all we see is that it is time to drink, to dance, and to have a good time.

But that’s how we keep any festival alive.

ENOUGH

I said enough and—after maybe eight oysters, native chicken inasal, dinuguan, lots of lato, adobadong hito, clam soup, and more at lunch at the beachfront go-to restaurant in Iloilo, Breakthrough—I meant it.

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But Tibong Jardeleza doesn’t believe me anymore and so he ordered me this halo halo.

Either I was lying or I don’t know myself enough because I finished the dessert anyway.

I only really eat this much in Iloilo.

STREET PARTY

I don’t know how I managed to walk though that thick crowd and eat grilled stuff—barbecued liempo, grilled pusit, native chicken inasal, kinilaw na tanigue—in the middle of it, with three live concerts on this one stretch of street alone.

Hala bira!

Day 3

NEW FLAME

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Went to a fiesta 
In a town called Janiuay
33 kilometers from Iloilo City
There I met Corel Locsin Yap
Whose father Frankie Yap was the town mayor
We went to their ancestral farmhouse
Home to their many gamecocks
And venue of many family events
And there in a buffet spread
I met my new love
A stew called lauya
Tender pata cooked in langka
The meat morsels so tender
As usual I regret not eating as much
Because my first love was also there
Arroz Cubano, to which I could have helped myself even more
If lauya wasn’t there 
Hot and steaming like a new flame

LAST TASTE OF ILOILO

Literally on my way to the airport, I stopped by a shack by the roadside called Tinuom and Restaurant.

The mission: To try the tinuom, a popular dish in a town called Cabatuan.

Tinuom in the local dialect means “ballot” and it is a soup dish wrapped in banana leaves (saba leaves are preferred for their aroma and flavor), kind of like binakol but no coconut, kind of like tinola, but wrapped in banana leaves and more like double boiled chicken.

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To cook it, boil chicken, preferably native and free range, cut into bite size portions, along with onion, tomatoes, ginger, lemongrass, and salt.

Line a separate bowl with banana leaf, pour everything in there once the chicken is tender, wrap them all in the leaf, whose ends you have to tie together with a bamboo string.

Before serving the dish, place it back in the pot to boil some more or you can steam it.

Remove from heat and enjoy!

Author’s Note: This article is a memory.

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