Zamboanga City has unfortunately been given the reputation of being dangerous to tourists. A result to the exaggeration of media. I admit that I was a bit nervous when I first arrived, but I was happy that I and every news I read about the place was definitely wrong. In the three weeks that I got to stay in the city, I found a few favorites in town.
As expected from a city filled with a beautiful mix of culture, the cuisine is the showcase of different tastes. Zamboanga is filled with little eateries in the downtown area that surprisingly serve really good-tasting food at amazingly low prices. I was happy to be able to delve into the tastes of the locals. I veered away from tourist-preferred restaurants and had a slice of the authentic Zamboanga dishes.
La Vivienda Shawarma
This was my most favorite food destination in the city. They serve grilled shawarma at really low prices, with various scrumptious kinds of sauces that you could put generously onto your food.
I personally recommend a bit of the green (spicy), garlic, barbecue, and kari sauces, in that order, infused in your shawarma.
If you're into spicy food, you should definitely add this to your list. Add the chili sauce (left in picture) and the sesame-garlic oil (right in the picture).
Paseo Del Mar
Strategically located near the sea, numerous restaurants lined up to serve hungry baywatchers. From grilled seafood to your regular street food, you can all find it here. And you'd also get to enjoy the beautiful decorations, honoring the famous landmarks around the world.
Our top favorites:
We paid a total of less than Php 200 (or $4) for all of these.
Their take of the grilled chicken intestine that Filipinos love so much is the Purple Isaw. Since it is normal than your average serving, it only costs Php 18 or less than $1.
Another one to try is the Knicker Bocker. A Zamboanga-original made of fresh fruits (watermelon, mangoes, etc), cream, and homemade strawberry ice cream.
Different from my other recommendations, this restaurant is preferred not just by locals, but tourists as well. An epitome of the delish taste of Filipino food.
Another restaurant frequented by tourists is this hotel. Thanks to the rainy season, we ended up seeking cover in their beautiful restaurant. We got the chance to chill with some beer and a plate of salmon sashimi, completed with a scenic dark view of the ocean.
Other dishes to try:
From the noodle-master themselves, Maggi, Kari is a unique fusion of Malaysian spice that is perfect for those who enjoy a good bowl of hot and spicy soup. Zamboanga luckily sells these babies at a very affordable and accessible price. If you haven't tried this, then this is the perfect city you could get some.
Yes, I understand it looks very unappetizing, trust me, it looks worse in person. But this dish is really, really good. It is a spicy brew of beef stew with bits of charcoal-grilled ripe banana heart.
Zamboanga is famous for their crabs, or better yet for their Alavar Sauce. Unfortunately, I didn't have enough time to try it, but the crabs, I was able to try. And boy, were they good.
If you've been in the Philippines, you would know how Filipinos love eating their mangoes, pineapples, watermelon, etc on the street. Zamboanga is no different, lining the streets on the way to Paseo Del Mar are numerous fruit vendors, who sell green mangoes with spicy shrimp paste and vinegar.
Family Fried Chicken
If you've ever been to Zamboanga, you'll know that this is one of the favorite restaurants for locals. Contrary to the conotation of their name, their best-selling dish is actually their Roasted Chicken with their special sauce. If you want a quick meal, but one that is filling and good, then you should head here.
Places to See:
Sta Cruz Island - Pink Beach
Featured in a lot of travel blogs and magazines, the Pink Beach is one of the most sought-out beaches in the Philippines. Though, a lot of news about the waters going to Sta Cruz Island being dangerous because of terrorism, our trip to this beautiful place was very safe and memorable.
From the city, we had to book a boat trip to Sta Cruz Island. The Tourism Office provided escorts from and to the Pink Beach.
The Pink Beach was born from the sediments of Red Orange Pipe Corals mixed with White Sand. Though, I admit, it was more white than pink when we visited the island. But, if you take a closer look at the sand, you will be able to see the little pink composition. Maybe with the right lighting and saturation, the whole beach would truly look pink.
What sets this church different from the other churches is that it doesn't have a roof or it is open-air. It was actually nice to hear mass and feel the gentle breeze touch your face at the same time.
Just right outside the church, you would see these trees that I like to call "A Season of Change". The different colors of the leaves look like they're telling the story of how things evolved for the city. From enduring the battle scars of war, to emerging with grace and celebration of the innate beauty that it still had despite everything they had to go through.
Shopping at Barter
Unfortunately, I lost all my photos of the place. But this is really one of the meccas for shopping. Numerous stalls of really, really cheap food products like chocolates, coffee, noodles, etc straight from Malaysia and Indonesia. Dry goods like clothes, bags, scarves, blankets, etc beautifully lined up in all the stalls inside. And if you love pearls, then you should find time to visit this place. They have different kinds from freshwater, cultured, south sea, and so many more that you could choose from at very affordable prices, compared to when you buy from other cities.
This is the place you can buy all sorts of pasalubong or gifts for you friends and family after you've visited all the places I've mentioned in this blog.
I wish media would lay low and give this beautiful city a break from bad publicity. I personally enjoyed my stay and it was definitely peaceful, contrary to what most people think. You could go around at night, though I didn't have time to visit their night spots, but a few of my friends did, and it was perfectly safe.
And another thing I could commend about the place is its cleanliness. The canals did not smell at all, unlike other cities I've been to. The streets were very well maintained by the government as well. They also have numerous hotels and good places to stay in if you're going to go there for vacation. I personally met a lot of the business owners, and they make sure that all their guests have an amazing and safe stay in the city.
The food was stupendous. And like all other places in the Philippines, their culture was showcased in their cuisines. If I were given the chance to go back, I would try more, if not all, of the other dishes that were recommended by the locals.