More than being the province geographically located at the center of the country, Iloilo has been aptly dubbed as “the Heart of the Philippines” for many reasons.

Even before the Spanish colonial period, Iloilo has been a center of trade, and its city’s vibrant economic activity remains to be unparallelled even up to this day. As a result, it has been hailed as “one of the fastest rising cities” as well as the “second most competitive city” in the country as some media reports stated.

Apart from trade and commerce, the heart and soul of the province is further reflected with its rich history and traditions that Ilonggos continue to uphold.

As a testament on how Ilonggos champion their traditions, they hold various festivities. Thus, Iloilo has been dubbed as the “Province of Festivals.”

These events are being staged almost each month of the year — highlighting the province’s intangible assets: history, religion, cultural heritage, agricultural traditions, and of course, the local food, which almost always left someone saying namit gid! (very delicious!).

Reflecting this namit flavor for the longest time is la paz batchoy — Iloilo’s iconic dish. This noodle dish, composed of noodles, pork innards, and pork cracklings submerged in a savory broth, has long been capturing the hearts and taste buds of both local and foreign tourists alike.

Another dish that put Iloilo in the culinary map of the Philippines is pancit molo, which is a symphony of warm soup with pork and shrimp wonton dumplings.

Iloilo is also known for its sweet delicacies, notably the biscocho, a baked bread lavishly coated with butter and sugar. Other treats including pinasugbo (sweetened fried banana slices) and barquillos (thinly rolled wafers). This liking to sweets perhaps extend to the innate sweet personality of Ilonggos, which they have been known for.

While these dishes and sweet treats are the flavors that has long defined Iloilo, the province has more gustatory experiences to offer as reflected in various festivals dedicated to celebrate the bounty of their land, and how food unites the Ilonggos.

Just last year, Miagao municipality in Iloilo held its first Talong (eggplant) Festival, which celebrates the town’s thriving eggplant production. On the other hand, every May in the town of Pavia, Iloilo’s Carabao-Carroza Festival, is celebrated. Known as the longest existing festival in the province, the event is a parade of carabaos in colorful carrozas showcasing the town’s abundant local produce.

In July, one of the most anticipated festivals throughout the year continue to draw a crowd — the Lechon Festival. The famed festival gathers the townfolk of Balasan to celebrate food and culture while feasting on generous servings of roasted pig. This annual festival is known to have continuously encouraged oneness in the community.

Most would conclude that a trip to Iloilo is a gustatory delight. The vibrant local food scene added to the rich stories behind heritage sites, thriving economic activity, and the charm of Ilonggos, Iloilo is pulsating with life and continues to be a major vein that pumps life to the heart of Philippines. — Romsanne R. Ortiguero