You’ve been to Cebu but have you visited Argao?
Located in the southern part of Cebu, around two hours away from the city center, Argao is a charming town that still exudes an aura of its glorious past evident from its architectural treasures to its culinary heritage.
On a quiet Friday morning, we packed our bags and escaped the busy city life to spend a day in Argao where we were treated with the pleasures of its homemade products.
Read on to learn how a trip to Argao is more than just a discovery; it’s a journey to experience.
The Torta sa Argao is a source of pride in this southern Cebu municipality. This is a sweet and tangy pastry that is considerably larger than a typical cupcake. Sprinkles of white sugar give us a glimpse of the sweet tooth of the hospitable residents of this southern Cebu heritage town.
Taking centerstage in the torta-making enterprise is Jessie Magallones. She runs her business in her modest home where all ingredients are locally sourced and prepared by hand. While there are several recipes in making the torta, Magallones shares that tuba or coconut wine is used in place of yeast as leavening agent. Her tortas are baked using a hudno, the Visayan term for clay furnace.
According to Magallones, torta can be likened to ensaymada but the addition of its key ingredient, tuba, gives the treat its distinctive flavor.
The gastronomic experience in Argao will never be complete without devouring slices of torta with a cup of sikwate. The sikwate is the product when tablea, the famous chocolate discs that are formed from cacao seeds, is dissolved in water.
At the forefront of Argao’s tableya-making industry is a 92-year-old matriarch named Miguela “Guilang” Lanutan.
Maymay Bacalan, the store’s managing supervisor, is proud to share that they only use pure cacao in making the tableya, which makes their process different from others.
Bacalan said that tableya-making follows a process of cleaning the cacao seeds with flowing water, drying, roasting using traditional charcoal and wood chips before they proceed to grinding.
While Guilang’s tableya is already available in several groceries and supermarkets, taking a trip down south to buy it from the source is an enjoyable experience to every visitor. Ask around town where the homegrown factory is and almost everyone would point you to the exact location.
Agricultural products still abound in Argao. All around town, coconut trees are still aplenty giving the locals one of their favorite beverages, bahalina, the quintessential drink enjoyed by Visayans.
Bahalina is basically coconut wine that has been sitting in the jar or jug for a month or so. Bahalina lovers will tell you that there is no the day-after hangover when consuming bahalina unlike most alcoholic drinks manufactured in plants and factories.
Locals of Argao say that the drink was already their traditional wine even before the Spanish invaders arrived. Bahalina was a drink for datus and ancient tribal leaders.
While Argao is known for its culinary heritage, it is also a center for learning and innovation in the traditional method of weaving cloth called hablon.
Hablon is a process of weaving using a handloom. Weaving is one of the traditional industries in this town. While the correct term used to call the product of the process is hinablon, the term hablon is now widely used to refer to the hand-woven fabric.
The last few years saw efforts to revive Argao’s hablon industry. There is a shared service facility inside the Cebu Technological University- Argao Campus that was put together by the Department of Trade and Industry and the local government unit.
There is a cozy display area where finish products of blankets, shawls, dresses and gowns are on full display.
If you’re planning to head down south to swim with the whalesharks in Oslob, stopped by Argao at least for two hours to check out these products. You won’t be disappointed. Buy these local products and have a glimpse of how the past continues to live on in the present. See how this unique mix of flavors and cultures is helping shape the future.
While in Argao, a lunch stopover at the Maayo Argao is the breather you need after a two-hour drive from the city.
Maayo Argao is a Morrocan-inspired destination that has since been a venue for weddings and other special celebrations. Its located in Suba, Poblacion and just beside the sought after villas of Argao Royal Palms, a proud development of Primary Homes. The resort is truly an ideal place for resort living anytime of the year!
On our way back to Cebu City, both our stomachs and memory banks were filled with enriching food and inspiring stories.
What a lovely visit to Argao that was!