AS A FOOD writer, a lot of people have asked me what best exemplifies “Cebuano” cuisine, and what restaurant serves it. After wracking my brains, I came up with an answer. It’s not what most people would expect, but it’s reasonable, in a twisted sort of way. You can’t say that barbecue is authentic Cebuano cuisine. Or even tinowa (tinola), or grilled whatevers, or even balbacua or lansiao. Other provinces have their own versions of these dishes, even using the same ingredients, but calling them something else. But this particular dish I’m talking about can be found only in Cebu.
My answer? Steamed fried rice. Yep. Seriously. Go to Binondo or Escolta, in Manila, where Chinatown is. You won’t find it there. As far as I know, in all of the Philippines, you can find it only in Cebu. While it has “Chinese” origins (the guy who created it is a Chinese-Filipino), I don’t think you can find it in Hong Kong or Singapore, to the best of my knowledge.
There were some restaurants in Manila that offered rice-topped-with-something, like spare ribs or siomai, but certainly nothing like the steamed fried rice popularized by Ding Qua Qua, Dimsum Break and Harbour City.
Simply put, steamed fried rice is day-old cooked rice, fried, then topped with chunks of pork, tiny bits of shrimp, and peas, swimming in a savory, earthy sauce, reminiscent of oyster sauce, but not as salty. I fell in love with it on my first taste, back in 1996 or thereabouts, but according to Mr. Steven Kokseng, who handles the marketing of Harbour City, Ding Qua Qua and Dimsum Break, the dish has been around since the eighties. Talk about staying power.
There’s even a spicy version of steamed fried rice, with a lot of capsicum peppers, but I love the classic version best. People may not agree with me when I say that steamed fried rice is “Cebuano” cuisine, but I’ll stand my ground on that. Although…
Cebuanos in Manila can now rejoice, because the steamed fried rice we all love so much will now be available there, in SM City Annex, starting end of September, or maybe at the start of October. When the restaurant opens, I bet the Cebuanos in Manila will be flocking to the store in Quezon City, for a taste of home. SO there, who says steamed fried rice isn’t Cebuano cuisine?