Tuslob Buwa: The legend comes to life

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Friday, August 8, 2014

TUSLOB BUWA SET. Here’s what you get for a hundred bucks: The stock already mixed with pork fat trimmings and pork brain, garlic, liver, chili flakes, soy sauce, and shrimp paste to taste. Also, 12 pieces of puso. Oh, you get the skillet and the burner too. (Photo by Ruel Rosello)


IN SOME ways, tuslob buwa—the latest food craze to hit the metro—can be comparable to that of a sasquatch. This tabletop treat (not the sasquatch), best served really hot and fast, is some sort of “legend” in its own right.

Like many legends, a lot of people would readily say that they’ve heard of this so-called tuslob buwa. Some, would even go to great lengths as swearing that it is by far the most satisfying-street food ever to spawn out of this city’s streets. But when one actually asks the same individuals whether they’ve tried one or at least seen one being prepared, most just shrug and shake their heads, atrributing their testimonies based on hearsay.

This was the case before Feb. 14 this year. Six months after, oh how much things have changed.

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Times were going tough for Azul, a convenience store along Gorordo Ave., Cebu City, set up by local entrepreneur and musician Ian Sekong. Income wasn’t exactly how much he would have wanted it to be. So one day, this self-confessed foodie found himself racking his brains for a menu messiah; the man’s convenience store did need some saving. On Hearts’ Day, the man for the very first time served up brains—pork brains that is—for both suspecting and unsuspecting patrons of the hangout.

“We were making money off drinks before, but it wasn’t enough,” Ian shares how business was before he officially ventured into serving tuslob buwa. “One day I thought about serving tuslob buwa and I told some of our customers and friends about it. So on Valentine’s Day, I served it here at Azul.”

Ever since, Azul’s “Tuslob buwa Experience” has ignited a new and street-style food trend faster than you could Google what tuslob buwa is made up of. The concept, several months after, have inspired a lot of other brands in the city to start their own ventures as well.

Ian easily admits that the recipe and idea is far from original. As it has always been known that tuslob buwa is a meal “invented” in the urban poor areas of the city more for the function to save on costs, rather than tease and delight palates. “With respect to the locals in Pasil (a barangay in Cebu where the recipe has been said to originate from),” Ian confesses, “I just see myself as a person who applied some innovation for the recipe.” Ian also says that the recipe and ingredients being sold at Azul is already a product of his personal taste to ensure better flavor.

FOOD FOLKLORE NO MORE. The ingredients used in tuslob buwa are far from healthy but there's just something about it that make patrons keep coming back for more. (Sun.Star Video/Ruel Rosello)

The dish’s name is loosely based on the process of eating it. Tuslob is vernacular for “dip” while buwa is vernacular for “bubble.” The “bubbles” actually pertain to how the surface of the hot stock (that is made up of all sorts of meats and spices) reacts when it comes to a boil.
Here at Azul, customers line up and pay a hundred pesos to get a set. The set consists of the cooking oil, onions, liver, pork fat, pork brain, the “secret” soup stock, and soy sauce, chili flakes and shrimp paste to taste. Also, 12 pieces of puso (hanging rice) are included.

Another interesting thing to note was how Ian wanted to pattern the concept after another food trend these days; how people get to cook their food on the dining table. “If you have yakiniku for the Japanese, samgyeopsal for Korean and shabu shabu hot pot for Chinese, we have tuslob buwa for us Cebuanos,” Ian playfully suggests.

Now, logic would say that the first process would be, heat the oil in the skillet and throw in the onions when ready. Ian laughs this off, especially when people start “screaming” when the onions starts to crackle really loud by the time it hits the hot pan. “They [customers] never read the rules,” he says jokingly. He adds that he and his staff have gotten used to the occasional screams already and that they hear it on “loop” while they’re in the kitchen or in the office.

Apparently, Ian suggests to throw in the garlic when the oil isn’t that hot yet. Then you add a bit of the liver, and a bit of the soup stock (that already consists of the pork fat trimmings and pork brain), put a bit of soy sauce, add a bit of shrimp paste to taste, sprinkle a few chili flakes, and let it come to a boil.

When the mixture starts to boil and bubble up, one can set the stove to minimum heat and let the stock simmer. Then the eating begins, people gather around the pan (although according to Ian, he has seen a few individuals taking on a single pan solo; true story), pick up a puso, and start dipping it. As soon as one gets a good scoop of the pleasantly hot mixture with his rice, he takes a bite or simply shoves the whole thing in his mouth. This here obviously ranks far from culinary superstars like caviar, but it’s non-arguably local comfort food that packs a good amount of pork brain chunks and—cholesterol. Therefore, dine with great discernment.

Thanks to a simple innovation by Ian, tuslob buwa is no longer part of this city’s food folklore. The dish has hit the mainstream, and Cebu is getting a kick out of some pork brains. Speaking of which, zombies have been a trend lately as well in mainstream pop culture from video games to films. Perhaps its just about time the food scene got inspired by it and followed suit.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 09, 2014.

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