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‘CULINARY GEM’: Iloilo, the City of Love… and Gastronomy

Iloilo City has been known as the City of Love because of the hospitable and soft-spoken Ilonggos–the same people who give much importance to the preservation and promotion of their unique culture and tradition, including their culinary heritage.

This similar love and effort of Ilonggos in preserving and promoting the traditional way of cooking indigenous recipes and the use of different native ingredients in the locality paved the way for Iloilo City to be recognized as one of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO’s) Creative Cities of Gastronomy.

The recognition makes Iloilo the first City of Gastronomy in the Philippines, putting Ilonggo cuisine on the global culinary map alongside other international gastronomic giants.

NAMIT GID. Iloilo is also known as the Food Haven of the Philippines because of its cuisine, like Pancit Molo, La Paz Batchoy, KBL, Kansi, and Linapuan, that are well-loved and recognized by many Filipinos across the country. (Photo from Iloilo City Government)

The honor is also seen as boosting the food and tourism sectors in the metro, according to Iloilo City Mayor Jerry P. Trenas, citing that Iloilo City is now among the 350 cities in more than 100 countries listed on the UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCNN) in the fields of crafts and folk arts, design, film, gastronomy, literature, media, arts, and music.

UCCN is a network of cities worldwide that have been recognized for their commitment to and achievements in various fields of creativity, including gastronomy. The “Creative City of Gastronomy” designation is given to cities that have demonstrated a strong commitment to promoting and preserving their culinary heritage, supporting sustainable food systems, and fostering creativity and innovation in the field of gastronomy.

These cities are recognized for their efforts to use gastronomy as a tool for cultural and economic development, highlighting the role of food and cuisine in

promoting cultural diversity and sustainable development.

“I share this award with the Ilonggos, like me, who love to cook our Ilonggo food. Now, we can be proud to say Ilonggo cuisine is taking the stage in the international gastronomy scene,” Trenas added.

Among the well-known Ilonggo dishes are La Paz Batchoy (noodle soup made with a savory broth, pork organs, crushed pork cracklings, and topped with green onions and a raw egg); Pancit Molo (soup dish that contains molo or wonton wrappers stuffed with ground pork, chicken or shrimp with a broth made from chicken); Native Chicken Inasal (grilled chicken dish marinated in a mixture of calamansi, pepper, vinegar, and annatto); KBL or Kadyos, Baboy, Langka (traditional Ilonggo soup made with pigeon peas locally called kadyos, pork, and jackfruit, often flavored with local souring agent called batwan); and Kansi (a soup made with beef shanks, green jackfruit, chili peppers, and batwan).

KAON TA. Delectable Ilonggo cuisines that people enjoy in Iloilo City include KBL (Kadyos, Baboy, Langka), Native Chicken Inasal, and Ginat-an nga Bagungon. Ilonggo cuisine is characterized by its use of fresh seafood, local vegetables, poultry, and pork, as well as a unique blend of tastes that often incorporates a balance of savory, sour, and sometimes sweet flavors. (Photo from Iloilo City Government)
Iloilo City's famous La Paz Batchoy. A noodle soup made with a rich, savory broth, pork organs, crushed pork cracklings, chicken or pork stock, noodles, and topped with green onions and sometimes a raw egg. (Photo from Iloilo City Government)

Meanwhile, several lawmakers and government officials have lauded the feat achieved by Iloilo City, saying that the recognition will spur cultural and economic development, draw global food enthusiasts, and foster culinary innovations.

“We express our deepest gratitude to UNESCO for including Iloilo as one of the 55 new cities included in the UCCN in commemoration of World Cities Day. It brings the Philippines great pride and honor […] I am confident our Ilonggo countrymen are committed to keeping the city’s spirit alive through their appreciation of history, culture, heritage, and commitment to serving the best dishes” said Senator Loren Legarda, Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Culture and the Arts.

Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary Benhur Abalos also congratulated Mayor Treñas and the Iloilo City government on securing the prestigious title, noting that the UNESCO-CCN recognizes Creative Cities for their commitment to leveraging and promoting their cultural and creative assets to fuel economic, social, and cultural development.

"This recognition also pays tribute to the ancestors of Iloilo City, who entrusted to the current generation their customs, traditions, and, notably, their unique and highly sought-after recipes,” Abalos said.

Department of Tourism secretary Christina Garcia Frasco, on the other hand, said that the designation reflects Iloilo’s rich culinary heritage and reinforces its role in preserving and promoting Philippine food culture.

“The DOT commits to continue its support for our creative cities under the Marcos administration's thrust to further develop, promote, and expand our tourism product portfolio towards multidimensional tourism. This includes strong focus on the food and creative industries, which will undoubtedly bolster the Philippines' attractiveness as a preferred destination for travelers," Frasco added. 

For Iloilo Gov. Arthur Defensor Jr., the city’s journey as a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy is an inspiration to cities worldwide, saying that the recognition highlights the deep-rooted cultural traditions and culinary innovations that have already shaped the city’s identity.


The said milestone was not just achieved by the city easily, noting that this is already its second time to bid for recognition after its failed attempt in 2021.

However, this isn’t just pure charm that made Iloilo City succeed this time, because just like its delectable cuisine, it required the ingredients of patience, collaboration, innovation, and hard work to taste the flavor of success–thanks to the efforts of the city government of Iloilo, together with the public and private sectors, and the entire Ilonggo community for initiating projects that evolved the city’s identity to be not just a “City of Love”, but a “gastronomic hotspot” in the country.

One of the notable initiatives of the city government is the launch of the book Flavors of Iloilo in 2022, which is authored by Ilonggo culture and cuisine advocate Chef Rafael “Tibong” Jardeleza. The 208-page cookbook showcases more than 70 Ilonggo dishes that depict the rich culture and tradition of the city.

FLAVORS OF ILOILO. This 208-page Ilonggo cookbook titled Flavors of Iloilo and authored by Chef Rafael “Tibong” Jardeleza features more than 70 Ilonggo dishes that depict the rich culture and tradition of Iloilo City. The book is also a finalist for the Best Book on Food category in the 41st National Book Award this year. (Photo from Iloilo City Government)

and tradition of the city.

In an interview with ANC 24/7, Eric Divinagracia, one of the consultants for the city’s bid, also said that the city continues to advance its gastronomy and economic development in line with the Sustainable Development Goals, striving to create a sustainable future for all.

He added that the successful rebid of the city was supported by the DOT through a three-pronged gastronomic event in Ilonggo heirloom dishes called “Timpla: The Art of Ilonggo Cuisine; and the recent DOT-6's event dubbed Slow Food in Western Visayas.

PJ Aranador, also one of the consultants, admitted that UNESCO’s criteria is a “tough one”, saying that they had to look into the gaps of the first bid and “aligned what we have now towards achieving the sustainable development goals, like, for example, better consumption, protection of the environment as we prepare our gastronomy here in this city.”

Aranador explained that they needed to put extra effort into the presentation of recipes submitted to UNESCO as the officials during that time could only experience the mouth-watering local cuisine through its documentation, giving them a visual treat; and highlighting the dishes' unique preparation methods, and techniques, and homegrown ingredients, which carry historical and cultural significance.

“The living traditions are not necessarily only in cooking, but in tools, how we prepare. Ilonggo cuisine has a long history because we had indigenous people who were untouched by the Spanish and the Americans, and the secret then is putting in a lot of our beliefs and traditions. These are heirlooms that we were passed on among our ancestors,” he explained.

Now, aside from its traditional cooking method and techniques, what probably set Iloilo City’s cuisine ahead from other food in the world is its not-so-secret ingredient that lies within the heart of all Ilonggos -- the "pagplangga" or love.

And this exact ingredient has complimented the different flavors of Iloilo City, making the place a City of Love... and Gastronomy -- a culinary gem found at the center of the Philippines where people can truly enjoy delectable cuisine and say, "namit gid!" (AAL/JNH/PIA 6)

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John Noel Herrera

Information Officer

Region 6

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