Our first night in idyllic Dipolog – Dapitan – Dakak saw us at Dipolog’s boulevard looking for a place to eat just as the sun was about to set.
Fast facts: I’m from Zamboanga city, a relatively large city that is part of the Zamboanga peninsula, at the western tip of Mindanao. Dipolog city is the capital of Zamboanga del Norte, and a 6 – 8 hour drive from Zamboanga City. In order for you to get to Dapitan city, you have to pass through Dipolog. I once assumed that Dapitan is a part of Dipolog, only to be mistaken. Dapitan is famously known as the place where the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal, was exiled. Dakak is the beach resort where we stayed, and you have to pass through Dapitan to get to Dakak (say that really rough: Da-Kak). You seriously need transportation to get you from one place to another – walking won’t cut it.
People flock to Dipolog boulevard to enjoy the really great view of the sunset without any impediments from rowdy crowds, trash dotting the shoreline, and the fishy smell that the sea can sometimes have . The people sure know how to keep it clean and orderly.
When night falls and there’s not much of the sunset left, people also flock to the nearby barbecue ‘plaza’ for dinner. The perfect word to describe it was ‘beautiful chaos’, similar to the vibe you get from hawker stalls in Hong Kong. You know what to expect: it’s nothing fancy, it’s not always clean, but the food is always good.
Barbecue vendors call out to you to choose their stall, each one declaring that their barbecue sauce is better than the rest. It’s probably the only thing that will give them an edge..because observing stall after stall, nothing really sets their barbecues apart – they all have the same items, same tinge on the meat, and you would assume that they’ve been marinated in the same way.
The skewered meat items are still raw, and this is where the ‘turo-turo’ comes in. ‘Turo’ can either mean ‘teach’ or ‘point’. In this case, customers choose or ‘point’ at the meat they want grilled. The fare includes the classic pork (skewered or belly slices) and chicken, innards, hotdogs (yes, hotdogs!), tocino (cured pork), longganisa (ground cured pork in sausage casings), and – wait for it ——- taba ng baboy/pork fat! Yes, you read that right, cubes of pork fat. It’s absolutely delicious when grilled. I’m not ashamed to say I love eating it, though not everyday. (I might be lying)
Each cup or half-cup of rice is individually wrapped in dried woven coconut leaves, and is called pusô. You absolutely can’t eat barbecue without rice!
Once your order has been taken, taking your seat can be a challenge because the place may be packed. Customers can sit wherever they want to, and each stall has a ‘little helper’ that can act like a homing missile that can easily locate you when they serve your order. I call them little helpers because when we were there, they were all children! I assume they were family members of the people manning the stalls, so no harm done (I hope).
The place isn’t really well-lit – just a few incandescent and fluorescent bulbs here and there, but that’s part of the experience of (almost) ‘dining in the dark’.
Now, I assume that their pork and chicken barbecue have been marinated with the usual ingredients: soy sauce, vinegar/calamansi juice, ketchup and sugar. The savory – sweet barbecue arrived and we attacked it with a ferocity that only hungry travelers can have. I don’t like calamansi (native Philippine lemon), but I couldn’t resist dipping the pieces into a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and calamansi juice because they went well together.
They offer the optional eating utensils, because let’s face it, the Filipino habit of eating with your hands just makes food taste so much better. Not every Filipino dish should be eaten with the hand (some may disagree with this!), but grilled food just begs to be eaten ‘kamayan-style’ (kamay=hands).
I might have just died with pleasure.
When you’re hungry, food tastes so much better. That was the case here. But I’d suspect that even if I’m not that hungry, I might wolf down more than one (or five) sticks of barbecue with the same gusto.
Where do you wash your hands? Each vendor has a portable water dispenser that their customers can use to wash their grubby hands after eating. You might be uncomfortable doing this, but suck it up – the food was great after all.
And yes, if you’re wondering…I did order more for takeout: a few sticks of grilled hotdogs and a stick (or two..or three..I’m not telling!) of pork fat. I finished all of it in the car even before we arrived at the nearby grocery to replenish our water supply. That’s how much I love barbecue.
You may or may not know this but I hate (with a passion) road trips..but sinking my teeth into experiences like this one made the trip worth it and probably offset whatever ill-feelings I might have had on the way. Yes, the taba ng baboy saved my day. And I cannot be swayed to believe anything else.
Now..if I would rank the barbecue I had in Dipolog, it would probably take the third spot on my list. Where is #1 and #2? Here in Zamboanga of course! I’m not being biased here because seriously…there’s gold in them hills. Stay tuned, I might feature my favorites one of these days. Trust me, I’m just getting started.