PANCIT Molo, KBL (Kadyos-Baboy-Langka), Laswa…and more. These are among the most popular dishes in Iloilo that have made it a haven for foodies and tourists in general.
For these, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) has recognized Iloilo a City of Gastronomy under its Creative Cities Network (UCCN), the first city in the Philippines to be designated such. Also named as cities of gastronomy this year were Chaozhou, China; Fribourg, Switzerland; Gangneung, South Korea; Heraklion, Greece; and Nkongsamba, Cameroon.
In a post on his Facebook page, Iloilo City Mayor Jerry Treñas said: “I share this award with the Ilonggos like me, who love to cook our Ilonggo Food. Now, we can be proud to say Ilonggo cuisine is taking the stage in the international gastronomy scene.” He also expressed gratitude to Rep. Christopher de Venecia (4th District, Pangasinan/Lakas-CMD), who had helped boost the city government’s efforts for Iloilo to be recognized by Unesco.
Data from the Department of Tourism showed Iloilo City received 752,301 tourists in 2022, largely domestic travelers, although this was still 36 percent less than the 1.17 million, who visited in pre-pandemic 2019.
Aside from its food, Iloilo City and the province itself are popular for heritage sites, museums, and beaches. (See, “Discovering the delights of Iloilo,” in the BusinessMirror, May 30, 2019.)
Chef Pauline Gorriceta-Banusing, who has been promoting Ilonggo cuisine since 2006, told the BusinessMirror, “Ilonggo people are very hospitable and our language of love is food. This citation just defines who we really are as Ilonggos. Honestly, when a person visits Iloilo, they do not really say that they remember the sites, but they remember the food.”
A ‘global platform’ to showcase its food
Banusing had regularly helmed Mandarin Oriental Manila’s popular Flavors of Iloilo/Diwal-icious food festivals, which attracted not just Manila-based Ilonggos like Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, but other non-Ilonggos as well, making the cuisine accessible to more people. She is regularly tapped by the local government and other large groups in Iloilo to serve beloved Ilonggo dishes especially to foreign diplomats and tourists.
Prior to the gastronomy designation, other Philippine cities also joined the UCCN: Baguio was recognized as a Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art, while Cebu was recognized as Creative City for Design. The UCCN was created in 2004 with the goal of “fostering international cooperation across cities of the world that invest in culture and creativity as accelerators of sustainable development.” Other UCCN categories include film, literature, media arts, and music.
Iloilo joins 55 other cities in the world, which have been recognized as cities of gastronomy, including Popayan, Colombia, the first to be designated so in 2005; Chengdu in China; Macau, SAR; Bergamo, Italy; Kuching, Malaysia; Saint Petersburg, Russia; Tsurukoka, Japan; Burgos, Spain; and Tucson, Arizona, to name a few.
For his part, Rep. De Venecia described the Unesco designation as an “incredible recognition of Iloilo’s rich cultural heritage, innovative gastronomic scene, enabling ecosystem, and unwavering passion for food….[Now,] as a member of the UCCN, it has a global platform to showcase its culinary process.”
According to the Unesco, among the criteria for designation as a city of gastronomy are: Vibrant gastronomy community with numerous traditional restaurants and/or chefs; Indigenous ingredients used in traditional cooking; Local know-how, traditional culinary practices and methods of cooking that have survived industrial/technological advancement; Traditional food markets and traditional food industry; Tradition of hosting gastronomic festivals, awards, contests and other broadly-targeted means of recognition; and Respect for the environment and promotion of sustainable local products.