Pinay Backpack: South Cotabato, from Nature to Culture │ Pinay.com
By Anna Liz Cabrido
This is a place for Pinay backpackers who look for a taste of nature and culture in Southern Philippines.
South Cotabato, the land of the “Dream Weavers” is located in SOCCSKSARGEN region, a barely 45-minute drive from the bustling city of General Santos which is known as the backdoor to the Philippines for other neighboring East-Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Because of its strategic location, South Cotabato offers a bounty of mouthwatering and authentic culinary heritage with rich influence from Spain, Malay, and indigenous Filipino.
Since South Cotabato is a ‘promised land’ for settlers from Luzon and Visayas regions the gastronomic culture in this part of Mindanao is a juncture of food choices from Ilocanos, Kapampangans, Ilonggos, and Tagalogs mixing with Moro, B’laan, T’boli and other local and indigenous ethono-linguistic groups in Mindanao.
South Cotabato is home to the colorful T’boli people. In their native dress, T’boli women and children warmly greet and brighten the day of every weary traveler visiting the upper valley areas of Lake Sebu and T’boli.
T’bolis of South Cotabato are proud of their culture and ancestry and are they are very articulate as local guides for tourists. Every T’boli home reconnects you to the aorta of T’boli culture—arts, food and, and their indigenous fashion.
South Cotabato is blessed with good weather and fertile soil that’s why the sprawling of various species of banana, coconut and other tropical fruits are among the best attractions in this part of Mindanao. True to its name as the “Fruit Basket of the South” Pinay travellers will enjoy the parade of options from local fruits to delicacies.
Here is an array of fab food items you should never miss while visiting South Cotabato.
1. Fruits like durian, rambutan, lanzones, water melon, banana, guava, papaya, coconut and of course pineapple are available year long in fruit stalls in the various provinces of South Cotabato. The province is home to one of the largest pineapple plantations in the country, Dole Philippines, and its Kalsangi Club House, is also a tourism haven of South Cotabato.
- Best month for Pinay travelers to visit South Cotabato is July where all fruits are in season and the famous T’nalak Festival is celebrated.
- Fruit stands at the roadside from General Santos City to Koronadal City have the best finds for pineapple, guava, marang and other tropical fruits in affordable price.
- Apareja Buko Halo-Halo offers the best buko halo @ 60 pesos. It is located at Barangay Saravia, Koronadal City. The restaurant is easy to locate because it is beside the national highway.
- A personal favorite buko pie at Bebs AJ House of Pie (JTCT Building, GenSan Drive) is also making a trend in the province. A slice of buko and egg pie for 25 pesos is all you need for a perfect merienda before proceeding to Lake Sebu.
- From General Santos City, stop at Durian Garden Atbp. for breakfast and tell the waiter you want durian coffee or durian shake. Roam around the garden after eating, they have a mini zoo and as the name of the restaurant suggests, durian trees are everywhere inside the haven.
2. Freshwater fish tilapia in Lake Sebu is one-of-a-kind in the Philippines. There are many tilapia recipes but the most famous here in South Cotabato is the Chicharong Tilapia. An alternative to pork chicharon, this fish recipe is more nutritious because of its low cholesterol content for Pinay health buff. Aside from chicharong tilapia, there are at least (dig this) 101 other tilapia recipes South Cotabato can boast to its visitors.
- Lake Sebu tilapias smell fresh since these are bred in the water cages of Lake Sebu and grow in feeds unlike salt-water bred varieties.
- Recently, Punta Isla Resort (a lake resort in Lake Sebu, the country’s Tilapia Capital) presented its newest dish “Tilapia Palabok”.
3. Waking up to the aroma of T’boli indigenous coffee is a regular scene in this part of the country. Raw coffee beans cultivated in the rich mountains of T’boli and Lake Sebu is painstakingly prepared by T’boli women who are seen dressed in their native bling-bling. Lake resorts around South Cotabato bought their native ground coffees from the T’bolis. The T’boli coffee is perfect for the cold mountain mist of Lake Sebu.
4. Hito or catfish is another freshwater fish abundant in South Cotabato. Like tilapia, hito has various recipes. But never miss the adobong hito. Hito is a favorite meal of T’bolis, B’laans and of course, the Moros. With the new wave of Muslim residents coming from Cotabato City since its declaration as the regional center of Region 12 in 2001, more carenderias are offering adobong hito to cater the palates of our Muslim brothers and sisters that it becomes a signature dish in the province.
- The best adobong hito and other hito recipes are offered at Fortune Field Resort, Crossing Kipot, Banga—a nearby town of Koronadal City and is a 30-minute drive from the city proper.
5. The Ilonggo food favorite batchoy is also present in South Cotabato, an Ilonggo dominated province in Mindanao (Hiligaynon is the lingua franca of Koronadal City). With a little twist, batchoy here is made of crushed pork cracklings, chicken stock, beef loin and round noodles and instead of topping it with hard-boiled egg, the steaming noodle soup is added with balut. For 45 pesos, you could eat in gusto South Cotabato’s version of special batchoy.
6. Tourists from South Cotabato don’t leave the province without bringing a basketful of Passion Fruit Juice from Kablon Farm (commercial stall located at the front of Protech Center). Passion Fruit is a yellow, oval-shaped, juicy, vine fruit that is commercially cultivated here in South Cotabato. The juice is also best for cocktail drinks.
7. Lechon Lumpia is a dish to look for when you are at the provincial center of Koronadal City. The China town, located at Barrio Uno, is one of the favorite joints that offer spring rolls stuffed with Pinoy favorite crunchy roasted pig (lechon). Sold at 20 pesos, one could enjoy eating this lumpia while watching the sunrise in family-run eateries inside the market filled with busy, noisy vendors and buyers.
8. BBQ at the B-Walk. In the evening, tourists could feast on another food darling—barbeque in all forms and tastes—chicken, pork, innards, and fish—but what is special about the dishes here is the vibrant spirit of the people who eat here, from all walks of life who preferred to have their dinner before heading home. Aside from grilled food, tourists could order a steaming bowl of tinola nga bariles sa sampaloc (tuna fish in tamarind soup) and kinilaw nga guso (seaweed ceviche).
9. Agihis, bean clam, is a crowd choice among locals of South Cotabato. You will most likely spot a wedge-like freshwater clam along the rivers of South Cotabato. Since the clams are tiny, the best dish for this is stew. It is cooked simply—a big can of bean clams is sautéed in a tablespoon of oil, two big red tomatoes, ginger and five leaves of lemon grass. And when it boils, presto you will have a tasty clam soup!
The South Cotabato lifestyle
Unlike the hustle-bustle of city life in General Santos City, South Cotabato is tucked in the middle of the cold, hilly mountains of Mt. Matutum and guarded by the sea of green grasses of the Allah Valley that offers the blend of nature and culture and for Pinays who would like to take a break from the bustle of city life.
The town of Lake Sebu is one of the flagship tourist attractions of the Department of Tourism in Mindanao. Lake Sebu, a natural lake, is a vital watershed and provides water for farmlands in South Cotabato and nearby province of Sultan Kudarat.
The young province has 10 towns and the City of Koronadal, the center of commerce and trade is also the 2013 Most Business Friendly City that makes the “Cotabato del Sur” ( a romantic name penned by a travel writer who visited recently) as one of the emerging economies in Mindanao.
HOW TO GET TO SOUTH COTABATO:
There is a regular flight from Manila to General Santos City by major airlines like Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific (CEB). CEB has added morning flights to GenSan as more tourists are engaged to visit the region—visit Sarangani for sun-sea-sand experience and progress their Mindanao trip to South Cotabato to understand culture and nature. As more Ilonggos in the Visayas region have relatives in South Cotabato, CEB also put its service flight from Iloilo to General Santos City.
From GenSan, the famous Yellow Bus has daily route to Koronadal City and other neighboring towns here with 15-minute interval. The main mode of transportation around the province is tricycle at 8 pesos per ride and an additional 1 peso for every kilometer.
WHAT TO DO IN SOUTH COTABATO
- Visit Lake Sebu and the take the highest zipline ride
- Climb the lake of the gods Lake Holon in T’boli
- Take your pictures at the cultural round ball in Surallah
- Stay at The Farm at Carpenter Hill, rated as class AA by Department Of Tourism
- Enjoy the night out in Koronadal City
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