“Where to, next?”
I looked to my new acquaintance Emerson for actual literal guidance after placing my order for a Tom Yum (“As spicy as you can make it!”) at Dee Soi 40, which had opened recently.
It was a dreary October day and Emerson was my dream guy for that afternoon because of his ability to make decisions regarding something that has always rendered many a girl (and yes, guys too) indecisive when dining out: “What do I want to eat?” This is especially happenstance in Sugbo Mercado where there are currently 42 tenants—not only are there too many choices, but there are too many good choices.
We made the circuit through the food market labyrinth as Emerson introduced me to business owners, as well as new normal precautions now practiced by Sugbo Mercado. Being an outdoor dining establishment already gives them a major advantage compared to enclosed restaurants, but that doesn’t give them an excuse to be complacent. Their protocols are strictly and consistently enforced for the safety of diners.
For one, there are now dedicated entrances and exits when before, people can just filter through freely. This allows them to conduct temperature checks and contact tracing for everyone coming in, as well as making sure everyone is wearing face masks and face shields. The process was very systematic and hassle-free.
Tenants are individually enacting their own safety measures. Stalls now have safety barriers—mostly plastic—while vendors now sport face shields and masks themselves. Admittedly, it’s saddening to see all these: a helpless but necessary reminder of the times we are in now. Before, tenants would usually greet guests with big smiles and enthusiastic pitches to buy from them; now these are muffled and covered.
Meanwhile, Sugbo Mercado has optimized table arrangement so social distancing can be practiced. Personally, I felt this was a welcome change from before, when it can get too crowded and weaving in and out between tables was a workout in itself. There’s a policy of strictly two people in a table, and they won’t allow you to put two or more tables together if you’re a bigger group. The best you can do is find a cluster of free tables close together, which is what my friends and I did that afternoon.
One thing that has, thankfully, stayed the same is that pets are still allowed in Sugbo Mercado. Gryffin, who has since gotten over the novelty of having his hoomans home all the time, has been raring to spend some time outdoors.
He had a little too much fun at his favorite food market barking at cats and fellow dogs, being the center of attention, eating bones and some of my food, and meeting his Uncle Michael Karlo and Auntie Kat, and Aunties Chris and Alynna for the first time.
And yes, despite the new normal, it can still be a struggle to figure out what to eat at Sugbo Mercado. Since there’s only one Emerson in Sugbo Mercado and he’s presumably busy running the place and making sure all protocols are followed, here’s a cheat sheet on dishes you should check out at Sugbo Mercado.
Sugbo Mercado Classics
Special Pad Thai at Banana Pancake Trail
First, we start with some of my usual stops whenever I’m at Sugbo Mercado. You can’t go wrong with Banana Pancake Trail. I always make sure to get some of their Special Pad Thai, and when I can’t finish a serving (because I always order a lot of food), I love taking this home and enjoying it for breakfast the next day.
Mee Goreng at Cribs
Never too far from a BPT stall is Cribs, and it has since become a habit to drift over there and get some Mee Goreng. The carbo overload is very, very real, but I can’t resist because this dish is just bursting with flavor. I usually end up finishing this on site—no regrets.
Cheesy Curry Nikumaki at Nikumaki Cebu
My best friend Fiona introduced Nikumaki to me when she was massively craving them one weekend, and no trip to Sugbo Mercado is complete without an order. I definitely deviate towards the Cheesy Curry one, though in a recent visit I discovered they had an order that includes a few pieces of nikumaki and takoyaki.
Cheesy Scallops at Seabu
My ultimate favorite at Seabu is their butterfly squid, but the cheesy scallops were a total revelation the first time I had them. They’re super tasty, cheesy, and well worth the price, especially with the number of pieces you get in a serving. It’s one of the dishes that first gets wiped out at any of my Sugbo Mercado feasts, and with good reason for sure.
AllyMango Original at AllyMango
A recent addition to my Sugbo Mercado haunts, I first discovered AllyMango when they opened at Street Food, the Sugbo Mercado in Ayala Center Cebu. I tend to watch what I drink and shy away from rich-looking concoctions, but I’m so glad I made an exception for this—it’s totally worth it. I love the original, but I recently tried the Mango Graham and that’s also amazing, like a mango float in a cup!
Tom Yum at Dee Soi 40
From here, we go to some of my new finds from my most recent visit. First up, the aforementioned Tom Yum at Dee Soi 40. I love a good Tom Yum and will find myself craving it out of the blue every now and then. Satisfying it means eating out at restaurants and spending more than I’d like, so I’m glad to discover a quick and affordable fix that doesn’t scrimp on quality.
Red Tonkatsu at Epi Zen Ramen-Ya
I have absolutely zero resistance against ramen. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot and humid out—there is no right or wrong weather, just good ramen. The Red Tonkatsu Ramen from Epi Zen is right up my alley. Again, I asked for it to be as spicy as they can make it, and I was not disappointed. The broth was very peppery and addicting, complemented by noodles al dente. The chashu it came with was tasty, and the egg had a runny yolk—such a great find at Sugbo Mercado!
Stir Fry Noodles at Gong
In a setting like Sugbo Mercado, sometimes I can’t be bothered with complicated food, especially one that requires some wielding with utensils, the disposable ones being rather flimsy. I often go for easy to eat dishes, and it’s great to add stir fry noodles from Gong to my list. Save for some unpeeling with the shrimp, everything else can be eaten in forkfuls, and it’s a very satisfying meal in one serving.
Gambas at Pasta Hut by Kuzina Guadalupe
Another noodle dish with shrimp, because the combination is just irresistible. This one by Kuzina Guadalupe—and I was late to the game knowing Kuzina now has a separate pasta establishment!—is super light yet flavorful, and the serving of gambas is very generous for the price. I love this as a heavy merienda.
Street (Food) Smarts
Chicharon Bulaklak at Berto’s Habhaban
Chicharon bulaklak or ginabot reminds me of noontimes at the Carport gate of my old Alma Mater. I never indulged as much as my friends did nearly every day, but whenever I did would stand out to me. That nostalgia makes Berto’s Habhaban’s chicharon bulaklak an instant favorite, and I love that they keep things very classic. This is local streetfood at its best.
Street Food Favorites at Mini Kekir
Speaking of great street food, you really can’t go wrong with dropping by Mini Kekir for your fix. They have the classics—kwek kwek, tempura, fish ball, squid ball, and one thing I find is very underrated: Squid rolls. Seriously, I can’t be the only one who loves those, right?! I loved street food as a kid and became very picky about my sauces as an adult. Glad to say Mini Kiker offers them the way they should be.
Puto at Dinuguan at Comidas
Is dinuguan street food? Let’s go with it because I’ve always thought puto was one, and in this treat from Comidas, they go together. A recently-opened stall in Sugbo Mercado, Comidas offers a special dinuguan that’s very hearty and filling, perfect as a snack with puto, or if you want something heavier, it also goes really well with rice. It’s also one of the most affordable food options at Sugbo Mercado, and you definitely get your money’s worth.
Nice to Meat You
Ribs at Orange Grill
When I can be bothered to get my hands dirty with eating, it usually means it’s worth it. The effort is usually saved for ribs and the ones from Orange Grill are so gooey and tasty, with a coating of sauce that’s generous without risking a wardrobe accident. It wasn’t fall-off-the-bone, but it was soft and tender, so it’s also easy to eat even with utensils. Gryffin enjoyed the bones.
Pork Belly at Apurado
When it comes to outdoor dining, barbecue often pops to mind. Apurado satisfies those cravings with a generous array of meats and other dishes just waiting to be grilled. The Pork Belly is such a worth-it order because the serving is huge, ideal as a heavy solo meal that’s also great for sharing because there’s a lot to go around.
Chicken Breast Barbecue from Mr. Bones
Speaking of barbecue, anyone else finds it incomplete when there’s no barbecued chicken on the table? Because same. Mr. Bones is another one of Sugbo Mercado’s tenants that offers grilled food, and their chicken breast is a must-try! Nicely smoky and perfectly cooked, you’ll be eating this to the bone.
Pork Steamed Rice at Tita Bebs
Steamed rice is a Chinese-Cebuano staple first popularized by Ding How Dimsum House in the 1960s. While nothing is like the OG, many people have valiantly tried making their own versions to various degrees of success. One of them, from Tita Beb’s Specialty, is especially good. It comes close in that the inspiration is easily recognizable, yet it adds its own homecooked twist to make it more distinct.
Chicken Feast at 4th Yard
While it’s hard to turn down chicken wings, and 4th Yard had several to offer, I was very curious about their Chicken Feast. Chopped-up fried chicken tossed in with fries and lettuce topped off with a drizzling of sauce, and you have a dish that makes for a great snack, or an appetizer if you’re waiting for your other orders. This is one plate you’ll clear up fast!
Creamy Custard Manju at Gu-gu
For desserts, while I’ll enjoy a good cake or cookie, I actually have a preference for pastry-like ones like manjus. I haven’t had a good one in a while, but I really enjoyed the creamy custard one from Gu-Gu. A piece, I think, is already very filling, but I might have popped in a second one right after despite being full—that’s how good they are!
For Pick-Up: Milk Cheese Donuts at Macology 101 by Little Chef
Need I say more? Although the Macology stall is also a pillar in Sugbo Mercado for their amazing Mac and Cheese—definitely worth checking out! You can also order their newest product, the Black Truffle Potato Chips online and pick it up when you’re at the food market.
Strawberry Cloud Tea at Tea Don
I know, I know—milk tea after all that food? Thankfully Tea Don understands what a night at Sugbo Mercado can mean, and instead offers their Cloud Tea series as a lighter option. To my surprise, this did go down easily despite having eaten so much. For milk tea purists, you’ll love that they use loose leaf tea for their drinks and none of that artificial nonsense. While you’re there, pick up a box of Yukrev Bites to take home.
Did your favorites make my list? If not, lemme know what I should check out next time I’m in Sugbo Mercado!
If you’re still staying home as much as possible, you can still enjoy your Sugbo Mercado favorites through @lebmobile.ph, Cebu’s first homegrown full service mobile delivery app. Download now through the App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android. You can also use your other favorite delivery apps, as well as utilize curbside pick-up directly through the vendors.
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