Hail to Iloilo, Unesco ‘City of Gastronomy’!
Huge win for Iloilo City as it joins the list of Creative Cities for Gastronomy of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco)!
This is under the initiative of Unesco called the Creative Cities Network launched back in 2004, wherein they promote cooperation among cities that have recognized culture and creativity as a strategic driver of sustainable urban development.
There are actually seven fields under the Creative Cities Network: crafts and folk art, design, film, media arts, literature, music and gastronomy. Baguio was named Creative City for craft and folk art in 2017 and Cebu as Creative City for design in 2019.
A “City of Gastronomy” must meet the following criteria set by Unesco:
1. A well-developed gastronomy that is characteristic of the urban center and/or region;
2. A vibrant gastronomy community;
3. Indigenous ingredients used in traditional cooking;
4. Traditional culinary practices and methods of cooking that have survived industrial and/or technological advancement;
5. Traditional food markets and a traditional food industry;
6. A tradition of hosting gastronomic festivals, awards, contests and other broadly targeted means of recognition;
7. Respect for the environment and promotion of sustainable local products; and,
8. Promotion of nutrition in educational institutions and inclusion of biodiversity conservation programs in cooking schools curricula.
Having been recognized by Unesco, it means that Iloilo meets all these criteria! It now joins cities not only known but also respected for gastronomy, such as Phuket in Thailand and Alba (the land of truffles) in Italy. To date, there are 54 Cities of Gastronomy around the world.
Iloilo certainly meets the first criterion as it is well known for dishes such as pancit molo, batchoy and its own version of lechon manok using native chicken, among other delicacies.
As to the second category, a vibrant gastronomy community, just ask the Ilonggos about their food and they will talk to you not only informatively but passionately!
For the third criterion, having indigenous ingredients used in traditional cooking, we know of batwan, a souring agent that is native to Iloilo.
For the fourth, traditional culinary practices and methods, we can make mention again of batwan, among other culinary practices, specifically its use in Ilonggo dishes like kansi.
For the fifth category, traditional food industry, I remember Tatoy’s, where I had the pleasure of eating just a couple of weeks ago. I devoured Tatoy’s native chicken, still one of my favorite chicken recipes in the world! I think I ate a whole chicken in one go! My excuse is that this is native chicken or what they locally call darag, so it is way skinnier than commercial chicken but also way more flavorful! From its crispy golden brown skin to the savory meat with its citrusy marinade, it’s really something to look forward to.
As for tradition, it is the same recipe that has been used since the early ’70s when this 45-year-old resto opened: marinating the chicken in local vinegar and calamansi, then stuffing it with tamarind leaves and lemongrass before it is cooked over a charcoal pit. It’s a real classic!
As for the seventh category, which ensures sustainability, I hope Iloilo now takes the lead in promoting a culture of respecting the environment in the culinary industry.
For the final category, I also had the pleasure of visiting the University of the Philippines Visayas and I was pleasantly surprised to find that they have a whole art gallery devoted to the art of making rice the traditional way. They are promoting this as intangible cultural heritage!
With this recognition from Unesco, I hope that this does not only bring in more tourists but also inspires culinary communities all over the Philippines to preserve traditional recipes, promote local ingredients and share the joy of cooking and eating Filipino food. I also hope the objective of the initiative—to recognize culture and creativity as a strategic driver of sustainable urban development—is also truly met by this win.
Congratulations, Iloilo! Well deserved! INQ