It’s got to be Iloilo
Yes, that’s the Tourism tagline of this beautiful province, which occupies a major portion of Panay Island, and bordered by Antique to the west and Capiz to the north.
The very first time I set foot on Iloilo was when I was still in elementary school. My parents brought my siblings and me there for a vacation, and we stayed in a large house owned by an uncle. It was right next to a river, which would overflow and flood my uncle’s backyard on rainy days, giving us an instant “swimming pool.” We would be splashing around and doing all kinds of crazy things only children would consider fun.
I was already in high school the second time I visited Iloilo. A friend from Institucion Teresiana asked me to be her escort on her Prom Night. I was so excited to find a reason to have a brand new Nehru-collared suit made, which was the fad in those days. Needless to say, it was a most memorable evening of partying, lasting until the wee hours.
Subsequent trips to Iloilo in recent years have always been a pleasurable culinary journey. Even if the trip was for a conference or a seminar, I somehow ended up binging on delicacies found only in this beautiful city.
Why has Iloilo’s charm lasted all these years?
Its cultural and historical icons have endeared to domestic and international visitors. I guess the most popular spot in the city is the four-hectare Nelly’s Gardens with the mansion, considered the “Queen of Heritage Houses,” and owned by Don Vicente Lopez and his wife, Doña Elena Hofileña. This beaux-arts style masterpiece in Jaro district, named after the late couple’s eldest daughter, has been declared a National Historical Landmark by the National Historical Institute.
Also in Jaro, the Metropolitan Cathedral with its Romanesque Revival architecture, a one-of-a-kind church, has its bell tower across a busy street. This bell tower was actually part of another church destroyed by a big earthquake, leaving only the bell tower intact. The other distinguishing feature of the Jaro Cathedral is that only images of male saints are on display, in contrast with the all-female saints venerated in Molo Church.
About an hour and a half away from Iloilo City is another architectural attraction, the Miag-Ao Church, of Baroque Romanesque structure, with a distinctive ochre color due to the construction materials used---adobe, egg white, coral and limestone. What makes the church really attractive is its ornate bas-relief façade. The other distinguishing feature of this church, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are the massive stone walls, 1.5 meters thick, supported by 4-meter flying buttresses.
There are many other things that beckon tourists to Iloilo. But, just like me, most tourists are lured by the Ilonggos’ culinary fare, the most popular of which is La Paz Batchoy. This noodle soup made with pork organs, crushed pork cracklings, chicken stock, and beef loin, may be enjoyed at Deco’s, a modest restaurant owned by Federico Guillergan, Jr., who improved on the original recipe of his father.
There’s also Pancit Molo, a dumpling soup of ground pork in wonton wrapper, shredded chicken meat, and shrimps, best served piping hot. And if we talk of the Molo district of Iloilo, only one thing comes to mind—Panaderia de Molo, the most popular makers of Ilonggo pastry treats—Bañadas, Barquillos, and Galletas.
This bakeshop traces its roots to the construction of Molo Church during the Spanish colonial times. Hundreds of crates of eggs were used as binder for the stone blocks used in the construction of the church. However, only the egg whites served this purpose, so the nuns found a way to make use of the surplus egg yolks, thus, Panaderia de Molo came to be.
There is so much more to like and love about Iloilo, so if you are at a quandary as to where your next exciting travel adventure should be, It’s Got To Be Iloilo.
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