FOOD nooks are usually hard to find, but the hassle of looking for a special place somewhere in the nooks and corners of a large city like Davao could be worth more than the dinner you paid for. That’s how we look at Nanay Bebeng’s Restaurant, the pioneer in buffet dining, hidden among the heavy foliage of mango and camachili trees beside Mabini street just a few meters near the corner of Florentino Torres street that brings you to one of this city’s “food belt”.
If you have the patience of surfing all the Pinoy food blogs, you won’t miss Nanay Bebeng as bloggers write about the restaurant they all describe as the “buffet pioneer” which started the “eat-all-you-can” tradition in Davao. To Bebeng’s son Don Ramon”Sonny” Garcia, it’s a most rewarding career all these years since he started the restaurant business in 1996, about 15 years ago, adopting all his mother’s own Filipino recipes that had made her famous as a caterer in Davao from 1958 to 1972.
Perhaps it’s Nanay Bebeng’s home-cooking that makes all the difference, specially when her recipes remind Filipinos of their own home cooking by their parents back home where they come from. To many, it’s very refreshing to know that one restaurant has stood fast amidst the onslaught of fast-foods and exotic foreign food, to keep the tradition of Filipino cooking alive.
OBOZA HOME. If you’ve seen the corner of Rizal and Ponciano (“crooked road”) street , we’re sure you’ve seen that old Oboza ancestral home— an old two-storey residence building that have stood the early 1930’s period when Americians and Japanese were still running the early Davao abaca plantations.
How most Davao ancestral homes, including Oboza’s, survived the last war could probably be linked to the fact that the Japanese, whether you believe it or not, has a soft heart for Davao, considering they even called this city as “Little Tokyo” when it was sprawling with Japanese hotels, bars, department stores, restaurants, etc during those few years before the war.
That’s why we find it rather fascinating to see how the well-known French restaurant Claude’s de Ville at Rizal street has taken over this old ancestral home as its new restaurant site, together with the couple Vincent and Beatrice from Bacolod who are putting up their new place called Cellar de Oboza which will serve some exotic combinations of Spanish-Filipino cuisine. Tessa, who runs Claude’s told us they got a yearly lease on the Oboza old building which hasn’t lost its pre-colonial tropical ambience, appealing to old timers and veterans who’d love to re-live the good old days.
The atmosphere, we like to admit, seems perfect for Claude’s and its French cuisine so we expect its regular diners to find it even more fascinating to travel back in time to the old days in just one moment of dining at the Oboza ancestral home. That moment is to be surrounded by capiz shells and old mother of pearls, antique chairs and tables and looking out from the patio to the gardens below, while dining at the Oboza ancestral home……
STEAK ZONE. A Canadian who was doing business in Dubai and Iran half of his life couldn’t start talking business in Davao unless he sink his teeth into a medium-rare beef steak but doubted whether he could find a really good steak in this southern city. A taxi driver who seemed to know his way around brought him to one of the steak houses at Florentino Torres street and found one steak house which nearly knock his socks off. Even his Indian business partner couldn’t believe they could find “one of the best steaks we ever tasted in Asia” but wouldn’t name the place. But the driver reminded him that Torres happens to be the city’s kind of “steak zone” where a string of cafes and restaurants from end to end offer some of the best steaks in the city. This includes of course, places like Sarung Banggi, Coco’s, Bistro Rosario Bigby’s cafe and others along that same street.
GRILLED TUNA. It’s typical for many visitors who come to Davao to look for the best-grilled tuna “panga” (jaw) or “buntot” (tail) and aren’t disappointed when they’re brought by their guides to a decrepit-looking place along Quezon Boulevard that serves some of the best grilled tuna in the city—- that’s Luz Kinilaw of course. Manilans can’t still figure out why the supposed “rejects” of a fresh tuna processing plant that exports the fish main body to Japan, are the best-tasting parts of this big fish that prowls the deep sea waters of Davao Gulf, Sarangani Bay and the Celebes Sea.
If you have the chance of watching fish workers at the Toril fish processing plant, you’ll be fascinated how they cut off the tuna’s head and tail and ship only the main fish body to waiting Japanese buyers who supply the sashimi kitchens of that land of the rising sun.
But what our local culinary experts do with the tuna head and tail is something that makes our Nipon friends salivate with envy. To many Pinoys, those hard-to-reach fish meat inside the tuna head and tail tastes much better than the body itself. Grilled over hot charcoal and brushed with a secret concoction of native vinegar, sauce, lemon, hot spices, pepper, salt, garlic, and other “trade secrets” they’d rather not name,
TUNA SECRETS. It’s not only grilled tuna that separates Davao from the rest, it’s also the many other exotic recipes that the city’s best cooks can do with “bariles”— the Pinoy word for tuna. That is, if you don’t mind going over to Pampanga district near Lanang along the national highway going north. You won’t miss the huge billboard of “Marina Tuna” in Lanang that points the way for you. Just be sure you look for Domeng who runs the place and happens to be the pioneer in fresh tuna exports to Japan when he was still in his early 20’s. What his squad of cooks does to make tuna dishes taste better and different from what you’ve tried before is a secret they won’t reveal to you. Just enjoy those tuna dishes listed in their menu—- eye soup, sinigang, grilled, adobo, vegetable mix, seafood galore, etc, etc. Domeng’s passion for tuna is such that he’ll talk of nothing else over a sumptuous lunch of tuna surrounded by big tarpaulin banners that tell you their family’s history of pioneering in fresh tuna exports from General Santos South Cotabato in the late 70’s.
Despite its distance from the city proper, sometimes you’ll wonder why the place is always jampacked with hordes of diners at lunchtime or dinner. And you could tell it’s not the ambience that brings them there— it’s the food.
CAT’S COFFEE. Deep inside, I love cats no matter what they do around the house, even if they crap all over the place. But that’s precisely why many people, specially women, hates cats around the house. The smell and the crap they leave behind are just too much, that most often, domestic cats are not allowed to stay inside the house.
That’s why many people find it so funny that “Asia’s most expensive coffee”— costing almost P300 in a small cup—- comes from a cat’s crap. (If you still don’t know what “crap” means, it’s what comes out from their behind after eating a lot) The smell from an ordinary house cat’s crap could be so foul and over-powering —- but what if that cat ate a lot of coffee beans ?
Most of us still don’t know that right here at the forested slopes of Mt. Apo, there are wild cats called “civet cats” who loves to eat ripe coffee beans. These coffee beans turn yellow, orange and red when very ripe, easily attracting black civet cats from Mt. Apo to gobble them up in the deep of the night when the coffee farmer is fast asleep.
Naturally, these civet cats, after a hearty feast of coffee beans, are energized by the caffeine found in the beans. Weighed down by a churning stomach, mixed with their own musky fluids, these cats go to their mountain “toilets” to defecate their odorous crap—- a musky odor that penetrates deep inside the coffee beans.
Coffee farmers, besides harvesting their usual ripe coffee beans for processing and drying under the sun, also “clean up” the farm area, looking around for that smelly cat’s crap among the fallen leaves and farm wastes, knowing that this crap can also earn them a lot of money.
These beans are then roasted and processed and turned into the most expensive coffee in Asia. From a small bottle I found at Chicco de Café here in Davao, it looks like it’s made right here at the Crocodile Park, Maa right beside the Davao River. I don’t know how authentic this coffee is, but this exotic coffee is available to coffee lovers at Chico,—- which means it’s authentic enough to be offered to the public
It might be safe to assume that beside Chicco, this wild, exotic and expensive coffee could also be found at Blu Gre, Basti’s Brew, Figaro’s, Firenzo’s, Bo’s, etc, etc —.otherwise other coffee shops could feel left behind if they can’t serve an exotic coffee like this “civet’s cat” coffee.
Real coffee lovers wouldn’t dare compare this exotic coffee with cheap instant coffee like Nescafe, Great Taste, Kopiko, etc— and even other types of new coffee mixes concocted by many coffee shops in Davao.
Because it’s so expensive, it rightly belongs to a special category as “exotic coffee”, perhaps locked safely in a steel vault that can be opened only by a password or number combination.
Someone who feels like a billionaire one day with some 1000 peso bills to burn, can order three cups, sit back and relax with his friends, breath deeply and smell that odorous civet cat’s crap wafting by his nose….
— Jay / FOOD GUIDE