Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Agusan River Cruise

In the summer of 2005, I participated in the Agusan River Cruise hosted by the Department of Tourism. We started the day at around 8AM. We hopped on the specially painted motorized bancas and headed upstream. I am always in awe of the mighty Agusan River. Loboc River in Bohol pales by a mile in comparison. We rode up to the NIA complex in Bit-os enjoying the view of lush greenery along the river banks, passing by the construction site of the new Butuan Bridge (completed in 2007). We turned back in Bit-os and headed towards Banza, where a local high school choir awaited us. There, we were treated to local snack delicacies and various Butuanon songs.

The next stop was Magallanes. After docking, we were brought by land to the century old Bitaug tree. This tree is recognized by the DENR as the Philippine Centennial Tree. If this tree could talk, it surely has a lot of stories to tell!

Then we went to the Holy Rosary Parish Church. I went inside to say my prayers and later joined the rest of the pack at the Magallanes Marker. This marker was built in 1872 under to commemorate the celebration of the first mass in Mindanao held on April 8, 1521. Then, we had lunch right there in the mini-park surrounding the marker. After feasting on seafoods and local desserts, we continued with our photo ops until we were herded back to our bancas to head back to Butuan City.

Our day continued with a trip to the Regional Museum, after which, we were brought to the Balanghai Shrine in Libertad. These two stops should always go in tandem for a better appreciation of Butuan's history.

Our last stop was at the Buod promontory in Pinamanculan. This eco-park is believed by a lot of historians to be part of the lost isle of Mazzaua, the island which Ferdinand Magellan visited in 1521 where the first Christian mass on Philippine soil took place.

This experience is interesting enough as it is. This is made more exciting with recent news that future tourists and balikbayans will now enjoy the cruise in style. They will be cruising in balanghai replicas!

Read about it here: Balanghai River Cruise and here: DOT Supports New River Cruise in Mindanao.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Dining in Butuan

Let us now jump to my favorite topic: food. Filipinos love to eat. That is a fact. When visiting Butuan, expect to be offered food everytime you step inside a Butuanon's house. The best dining experience would be at your host's house. You are lucky if your host knows how to cook. If not, a hired cook may prepare the usual visitor's fare. In our home, visiting relatives are usually offered steamed prawns and crabs, grilled fish, kinilaw and lechon with leche flan or cake for dessert. If available, they may be lucky enough to sample local delicacies such as palagsing, tumpi, buntaa and inisab. If you prefer dining out, here are a few restaurants to try:

Manay Maling's, Almont Inland Resort - This is Butuan's default go-to place for tourists. Nothing beats eating with a view of the pool and man-made waterfall. It offers mainly Filipino dishes. Daily lunch buffet costs P200+/person. Don't forget to try the halo-halo.

Almont City Cafe - Located at the heart of the city, City Cafe is a good date place. It has fewer selections compared to its sister resto, Manay Maling's, but everything on the menu is a must try. A pianist plays on scheduled hours.

Embassy Hotel & Restaurant - If you want major artery constriction, head to Embassy. Its bestsellers include kare-kare, filet mignon and crispy pata. For the health conscious, try the equally popular steamed lapu-lapu.

Luciana Inn & Restaurant - If you don't mind climbing 2 flights of stairs, then Luciana it is. My personal favorites are the chicken pillows, buttered chicken and pansit canton. Enjoy the hefty servings!

Narra Restaurant - Which Butuanon hasn't eaten at Narra? This is probably the oldest restaurant in the city. Narra has been relocated to two locations - one at Ochoa Ave. and another along J. C. Aquino Ave. in Libertad. Try their garlic chicken, lumpia shanghai and toasted bihon to taste what Butuanons have been eating at Narra all these years.

Margie's Kitchen - Margie's is the newest kid on the block and, presently, the most popular, specially among the younger ones. The place is packed each dinnertime. Margie's is more known for its desserts, but they also have regular meals on the menu. My favorite? Pandan-wrapped chicken. For merienda, my top choice would be the Black Olive and Tuyo Pasta.

True Brew - As the name suggests, True Brew is more known for its coffee and gourmet sandwiches. On top of the crop are Clubhouse Sandwich, Pastrami Melt and Cuban Grill. They also have Mexican Tacos. For thirst-quenchers, try the Mango Fizz or Soursop Spritz.

Minty Passion - Probably the most overlooked on the list, Minty Passion is located right beside True Brew. The Taco Salad and Chicken Cordon Bleu are worth a try.

Uncle Sam's Burger - Uncle Sam's was an institution of its own at its previous location along J.C. Aquino Avenue. It started as a burger cart and later evolved into a favorite dining spot which serves a number of specialties which include mouth-watering burgers, steaming hot bulalo, and sizzling T-bone steaks. Uncle Sam's Burger is now located near the City Hall complex and is open until 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning.

Aling Cora's - Chicken barbecue at its best! A well-traveled Manila-based friend once commented, "This is the best chicken barbecue I have ever tasted!" Other must-trys: kinilaw and crispy crablets. Did I say very affordable prices?

Weegol's - Before there was Aling Cora's, there was Weegol's. After their top rival opened, Weegol's has been losing steam. Loyal fans go back for their buko halo and buko pie. You can expect the stream of government employees from nearby City Hall at lunchtime.

Mering's Barbecue - Butuan's best kept secret. It takes a real Butuanon foodie to locate this place. It is the cheapest and most delicious dining option in the city. Hint: Drive to the police station and follow the smell and the smoke. Good news to all barbecue lovers: Mering's will open a not-so-secret branch near Gaisano Mall very soon!

Until the next new restaurant opens, I say, "Madyaw nga pagkani Butuan!"