Food trip

I haven’t posted in a while, been busy lately but will post more recipes and stories soon. This one is about my trip last April in Southern Philippines. It was my first time in General Santos City, known as the Tuna Capital of the Philippines. Located in the island of Mindanao, which unfortunately has a bad reputation to tourists because of certain conflict areas, but generally speaking, most of the island is safe. In fact, in Region XII alone, the Department of Tourism recorded 3.1 million tourist arrivals in the region.

Greenleaf Hotel's tuna sashimi
Tuna sashimi by Greenleaf Hotel, General Santos City

General Santos is considered one of the business hubs of Mindanao. It is the southernmost city in the Philippines and is famous for tuna—its top export product. Its access to the waters of Sarangani Bay and Celebes Sea makes it a prime spot for its still growing seafood business.

The city is part of Region XII or what is also known as Soccsksargen or SOX, which is also composed of South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Sarangani. What the region is famous for is the food, raw export produce like pineapple, banana, and of course, tuna. Major importers of tuna is Japan and the US, while pineapple products are shipped across the globe.

Pineapple is one of Region 12's top exports because of the huge plantations of Dole Philippines
Pineapple is one of Region 12’s top exports because of the huge plantations of Dole Philippines

“We are no. 1 in Mindanao for rice production, no. 5 in the country; for corn, no. 1 in Mindanao, no. 2 in the country; for coffee, no. 1 in the Philippines. We also export meat like “pork in box,” which is exported to United Arab Emirates (UAE). Then, there’s organic rice, which is exported to UAE, Hong Kong, United States, Netherlands, and Switzerland. But two of our top exports are canned tuna and canned pineapple,” said DOT Region XII regional director Nelly Nita Dillera.

Dillera saw the potential of the food industry as a major player in the tourism sector. After the recently concluded Flavors of SOX, the region showcased several tour packages of the region that highlighted the eats instead of the usual sights. The Flavors of SOX celebration last April was the last leg of the Flavors of the Philippines, a program of DOT as part of its Philippine Food Month campaign.

Sarangani Highlands Garden tuna lechon
Tuna lechon of Sarangani Highlands Garden

The special packages include: the Gensan Tuna Food Tour, which explores the best product of the city through different offerings of several restaurants and hotels; Blaan Traditional Food Tour, a tour that immerses guests in the tradition and food of the Blaan Tribe; South Valley Food Tour, the tour that is all about the fresh fruits, which includes the abundant pineapple, that grows in the foothills of Mt. Matutum that covers Gensan and Koronadal City; Lake Sebu Culinary Experience, a territory of the T’boli tribe which is famous for its tilapia cuisine; T’boli Food Adventure highlights the traditional cuisine of the tribe; Halal Goodness that is all about the halal delicacies of Cotabato City and nearby areas; and the Gensan Agri Tour, which explores the bounty of the country’s southernmost city.

Although I was not able to experience all the tour packages, I was able to sample some of the eats and sights the region is known for.

T'boli heklafak and rice wrapped by a native leaf
T’boli’s heklafak or roasted native chicken

South Cotabato is known for its tribal roots and two tribes have opened their doors to the public so people can experience what life is like in a tribal community. Probably the most famous indigenous group in the province is the T’boli. Scattered around the province one of the tribe’s famous homes is Lake Sebu. Because of the place’s natural beauty and rich cultural heritage, it has become a prime tourist spot. The destination is famous for its natural sights but also because of the food. Several resorts and restaurants in the area offer different tilapia dishes. The fish is farmed in the lake as one of the community’s main source of livelihood.

The Blaan Traditional Food Tour, on the other hand, lets tourists experience the culture of the Blaan Tribe. Lamlifew (lam-lee-fao) Village, located in Malungon, Sarangani province, welcomes guests to its community of more than 150 households. A producer of corn, organic rice, and cavendish, the tribe is proud of its rich heritage and food. One traditional dish is the llolot anok, a tinola-like chicken dish that cooks native chicken with local herbs inside a bamboo. What’s unique about this dish is the herbs the tribe uses, which are the sangig, a mint-like herb and Blaan sibuyas, a type of chive. Both herbs grow in the mountains and the community just cultivate it in their own backyard.

Blaan's Llolot Anok, native chicken cooked inside a bamboo with special native herbs
Blaan’s llolot anok, native chicken cooked inside a bamboo with special native herbs

“What we want is Soccksargen to be part of the Philippine tourism map. What the national government promotes are the established destinations. I mean these areas can stand on their own already. If they can graduate these areas and identify the emerging destinations. If this happens a lot of the stakeholders will benefit from it. It’s not just the sights, but the food and resources we are proud of. We have so much,” Dillera ends.

Inquire: tourism@dot12.org

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