As daylight fades, the crowd somewhere along Fuente Osmeña in uptown Cebu City thickens like the smoke that gathers in “Larsian” – a place where many people converge, mostly at night, to satisfy cravings for fresh grilled food.
The long smokey strip of barbeque stands that has been a favorite for the budget-smart Cebuano sits on a province-owned lot measuring 39 x 45 meters beside a private hospital near the Fuente Osmeña Rotunda.
Though open twenty-four hours daily, the food strip perks up at night.
Once acclaimed as a Cebu “must-try”, the haven of grilled food has brought in people from all walks of life for almost 50 years and is considered part of Cebuano heritage.
“Kabahin na man gyud ni siya sa Cebu. (Larsian has really become a part of Cebu),” said Ramilo Sinangote, who has been selling barbecue and other grilled food at the strip for close to two decades.
Sinangote always has his hands full with orders from hungry customers but the 55-year-old vendor delights with the thought that he has his business in Larsian to thank for the education of his three children.
“Kabahin na kini sa akong kinabuhi. Daghan kaayo kini og natabang kanamo hilabi na sa pagpaeskwela sa akong mga anak. (This business has been part of my life. It helped my family a lot especially in sending my children to school),” Sinangote said in an interview with Cebu Daily News.
A resident of Barangay Guadalupe in Cebu City, Sinangote is among the vendors at Larsian selling pork cuts; assorted chicken parts that include skin, liver, intestines, heart, and gizzard; and fresh seafood like fish and squid – all served with hanging rice locally known as “puso”.
The food prices range from P6 for a stick of chicken intestine to P150 for a slice of grilled marlin, grilled squid or pork belly (liempo).
Many customers eat with bare hands with some of them using plastic wraps, handed out by the stalls as disposable mittens.
At night, the place runs abuzz with people on the go, just wanting a quick, tasty, and budget-conscious meal.
But what is supposed to be one of Cebu’s pride is slowly turning into an eyesore amid growing sanitary concerns that were finally brought to the attention of the Cebu provincial government.
“We have to do something to address the sanitary concerns at Larsian,” said newly-designated Larsian Administrator Joey Herrera.
Herrera was appointed by Gov. Hilario Davide III last Nov. 14 to take over the operations and management of Cebu’s most popular barbeque strip on top of his current position as Cebu South Bus Terminal (CSBT) operations manager.
Herrera said that feedback gathered through social media, relayed several unpleasant experiences of customers at Larsian regarding the restaurant’s poor sanitation, the lack of water supply, and the absence of a parking space.
There were reports of rats gnawing their way through the place as well as flies hovering on food display areas which are covered only with a thin transparent plastic film.
A report from the Cebu City Health Office also revealed that Larsian vendors operate without business and sanitary permits, while many of their food servers do not have health cards and proper uniforms, and have not undergone a food safety seminar.
It was also noted that the place reeked of foul odor.
According to the report, comfort rooms were unavailable, the drainage was inadequate, and the garbage collection was irregular.
The absence of a wash area for customers and the vendors’ failure to put their food inside a glass display case to keep them from flies were also a cause of concern for health authorities.
For Herrera, it is the lack of water at the food strip that is a primordial concern.
“The problem on water supply at Larsian must be addressed because how can we address sanitation if you don’t have water?,” said Herrera explaining that while Larsian has a water tank, it is not enough for the area’s needs since the water flows only from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.
Without much water, Larsian vendors buy their own supply from private providers at P15 per container.
Herrera plans to purchase two additional water tanks for Larsian; while the Cebu City government, he said, expressed willingness to provide the vendors their regular water supply.
To address the problems, the Cebu provincial government allotted P2 million for the rehabilitation and renovation of Larsian—a project which Herrera said will begin after next year’s Sinulog in January.
The budget will be taken from the development fund of the provincial government.
The work will focus on the improvement of the drainage system, the establishment of a parking lot, and the enhancement of services to help bring back the glory of Larsian.
Herrera lamented that in the past years, Larsian’s reputation among Cebuanos has slowly diminished due to its sanitation problems.
“When we think of things to do while in Cebu, eating lechon is one, and of course a stop at Larsian. Visitors from Manila would really want to visit the place. But for us, Cebuanos, at the back of our mind, we would say ‘Are you sure you really want to dine at Larsian?,” he quipped.
On the part of vendors, Sinangote assured that amid claims that their stalls lacked proper sanitation, the food sold at Larsian remained safe to eat.
“Kan-anan man ni. Og hugaw ni ang among baligya, walay mokaon. (This is an eatery. If what we serve is dirty, then no one will eat here),” Sinangote said.
Sinangote told CDN that in order to keep their stalls clean, each vendor consumes around 20 containers of water a day.
Based on city health records, there are currently 10 registered stall owners at Larsian who pay stall rentals to the Provincial Capitol at a cost of P6,000 to P15,000 per month depending on the stall’s locations.
Herrera had yet to conduct an inventory of the stalls especially since some owners reportedly run at least three food stalls in the area.
Herrera advised the stall owners to comply with the sanitary and business permit requirements so that they will be allowed to continue selling food at Larsian.
Larsian traces its roots to a grilled food stall owned by Ret. Col. Alvino Mondarez in the area near B. Rodriguez Street and Fuente Osmeña Rotunda back in the 1970s.
The name Larsian is a contraction of the names of Mondarez’ mother Pilar and her twin sister, Siana.
Customers flocked to the eatery, the first of its kind in the area, to taste their barbeque.
Not long after, more and more people put up barbeque stalls in the area which has now become the landmark, Larsian of Cebu.
“Nowadays, Larsian has become a place for tourists and a few Cebuanos who accompany their visitors. The challenge is to make Cebuanos patronize Larsian again. If I will be able to convince Cebuanos to dine at Larsian again, then I can say that I am successful,” said Herrera.
While the goal is tough, Herrera is optimistic that he will be able to turn the tide around and revive the lost glory of Larsian.
“Otherwise, I would ask the governor to just let me handle the operations at the South Bus Terminal,” he said.
“Larsian deserves people’s attention. If those who visit Larsian are mere first-timers, it’s really a waste of effort. Let’s do our best to make Larsian the place to go to again,” he added./with Morexette Marie B. Erram