By Tito Mike
The Segundo Distrito de Misamis was the largest of the five politico-military districts in Mindanao that was created in 1818, composed of what is now Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, Camiguin, Bukidnon, Lanao, Zamboange del Norte. and the northern part of Cotabato.
Kumbira 1st Mindanao Coffee Festival
From its humble beginnings as the capital town of the Segundo Distrito de Misamis in 1872, Cagayan de Oro has gradually progressed as a chartered city in 1950, and is expected to come full circle when it becomes the Philippines fourth metropolitan area by 2025.
Although not quite as large as the original Segundo Distrito in terms of land area, Metro Cagayan de Oro will have a larger population and of course, much greater productivity since it covers the chartered cities of Cagayan de Oro and El Salvador; fourteen municipalities of Misamis Oriental (Alubijid, Balingasag, Claveria, Gitagum, Initao, Jasaan, Laguindingan, Libertad, Lugait, Manticao, Naawan, Opol, Tagoloan, and Villanueva); and six municipalities of Bukidnon (Manolo Fortich, Baungon, Libona, Malitbog, Sumilao and Talakag).
The growing population of this booming metropolitan area already has a massive appetite that’s been further whetted by the proliferation of food and beverage establishments, exemplified by the ever increasing number of coffee shops in Cagayan de Oro alone, which already stood at 250 in the last count and continues to grow by the day.
The response of the industry to the challenge has been nothing short of magnificent, and following is just a sampling of those which this writer had the honor and privilege to cover.
Foremost among this is the KUMBIRA, a culinary show and live inter-school competition organized by the Cagayan de Oro Hotel and Restaurant Association (COHARA) which celebrated its 27th year in 2023. Rising from the ruins of the global pandemic, this year’s festival had two parts, Hala Kumbira! on August 19 which featured the 1st Inter-Barangay Culinary Competition and the main festival and competitions on October 11–13 which featured the 1st Mindanao Coffee Festival.
1st Inter-Barangay Culinary Competition
Barangay Bonbon emerged as the champion and People’s Choice Awardee for the 2023 1st Inter-Barangay Culinary Competition which sought to establish Chicken Humba as one of Cagayan de Oro’s signature dishes.
SM North Wing (right)
The SM North Wing perhaps best exemplifies the ongoing boom in new restaurants with its eclectic mix of upscale bistros and restaurants (Niku-yata Ramen, Fat Chef, Vamoose a Comer, Out of Nowhere, Mindanao Basket, L’Buono by Resto Freeno) and luxury leisure (Virtue Luxury Lounge, 80 Degrees KTV, La Ilumina, Adventureland, HUGO Restaurant + Lounge), among others.
Another of Cagayan de Oro’s venerable establishments celebrated their 25th year when they re-opened their expanded third branch at SM CDO City Uptown on September 8th. This originally opened in 2003, just a year after the SM Uptown itself opened to the public.
The baby of couple Henrik Kelly and Joanna Cris Lim-Yu, and their BFF Catherine Genabe-Gudito, Bigby’s Café and Restaurant (better known as plain Bigby’s) now has 20 branches in the Mindanao-Visayas area including Cebu, Bacolod, Davao, Iloilo, Zamboanga, General Santos, Butuan, Ormoc, Bohol, and will soon be opening their 21st branch in Tacloban.
The original Big Four of Bigby’s celebrate the reopening of the 3rd of what is now 20 branches at SM City Uptown in Cagayan de Oro
With their travel concept and slogan More Flavors to Your World, Bigby’s expanded the local restaurant market to families, young urban professionals and businessmen with its “fun dining” ambience with wittingly named dishes and trademark “global” mementos and introduced the first truly intercontinental menu to Cagayan de Oro along Archbishop Hayes street, in an area known as Havelano Square.
Ricardo’s by Cucina Higala
Another of CDO’s venerables expanded outside the city but still within the Metro CDO area when it opened Ricardo’s at Mampayag, Manolo Fortich, Bukidnon.
Cucina Higala, rated 5 of 5 on Tripadvisor (where it has been cited as Traveler’s Choice for the past 10 years) and ranked #1 of 252 restaurants in Cagayan de Oro with 1,284 reviews, has consistently been voted by satisfied diners as the Travelers’ Choice for the last several years, it was recently recognized as Maxim Clients’ Choice 2023, a prestige they aspire to carry over to Ricardo’s with its tagline, “A Food Destination, like no other.”
From the peripheries
In contrast, two establishments from outside the city have opened branches in Cagayan de Oro, anticipating the growing need for the metro’s population.
Bud’z Café, originally from Barangay Damilag in Manolo Fortich Bukidnon, opened its first branch at the 5th floor of SM CDO Downtown. It champions the Typica variety generically branded as Bukidnon Coffee that’s grown in the foothills of Mt. Kitanglad and usually processed by hand and sun-dried on raised beds.
Further afield from Tagum City in Davao del Norte, Denise Gregonia, accounting manager and physician Maoi Soriano opened another of their Out of Nowhere Kitchen branches at the third floor of SM CDO Downtown .
Maoi & Denise with OON SM CDO Downtown Crew. (photo courtesy of 33 Food Group)
The partners are gourmands who are wont to travel to different places out of town to savor the local fare, especially the local recipes like those found in small hole-in-the-wall establishments. Their other branches are at OON Tagum (Robinson’s Tagum), and at SM City CDO Uptown’s North Wing. The partners decided to open an OON SM CDO Downtown branch because they wanted to reach out to a different market and break into other niches with their function rooms for social and business functions.
Even as brands from out of the city continue to come in, local brands are flourishing.
Among them are the indefatigable Dynamic Duo of Jeigs Pakino and Ed Tangcay Quimpano Jr. of J2J Co. who continue to spread their wings and will soon have their 3rd branch in Uptown Cagayan de Oro. They already have J2J Street Cafe’ & Restaurant ,EDsy’s Diner andEduardoDiego Ristorante at A. Velez corner Hayes streets, and at The Marketplace, Ayala Centrio Mall. EduardoDiego has been cited as the Most Outstanding Italian Cuisine Specialty Restaurant in Cagayan de Oro by the 2nd Asian Sterling Awards, is a National Awardee for Best Authentic Italian Pizzeria by the Elite Business Excellence Award 2019, and garnered the Seal of Quality Excellence by Q Asia’s Quality Excellence Awards.
Another dynamic duo is the mother-daughter tandem of Chloe Monique Lu who recently opened Chloe Bakery & Café, along Fr. William Masterson SJ Avenue in the Pueblo de Oro Township in Uptown Cagayan de Oro, and her mom Candy Lu (originally from Cotabato City), whose Candy’s Café & Restaurant has been a favorite hang-out of habitués of the posh Ayala Centrio Mall (and Limketkai Center previously) for the past decade and half. Both are holders of Le Grand Diplôme Le Cordon Bleu in both Cuisine and Pâtisserie (Pastry & Confectionery), recognized worldwide by culinary professionals.
Making it in America
Not the least, and to prove home-grown talents can hold their own even abroad, Kagay-anon Nicole “Nikki” Cabrera-Mills of the Pêche Seafood Grill in New Orleans, USA was featured in Sublime Seafood by John T. Edge in The Entertainment Special August/September 2023 issue of Garden and Gun magazine, a national magazine based in Charleston, South Carolina that reports on the South’s culture, food, music, art, literature, and its people and their ideas.
Chef-Nikki Cabrera Mills, Andrew Marin and Lisa Ling on Take-Out with Lisa Ling at HBO-Max.
She was also featured in the 19 April 2023 issue of The New York Times Magazine, where cooking writer and columnist Eric Kim raved how Chef Nikki’s Citrus-Glazed Turnips has elevated the humble singkamas to a sleeper hit in a city renowned worldwide for its Creole cuisine.
Chef Nikki also served as an ambassador of Philippine cuisine when she was featured on the pilot episode of Take Out with Lisa Ling which started streaming on HBO Max on January 27, 2022 as Filipino food blogger Andrew Marin and host Lisa Ling discussed the importance of keeping Asian cuisine and culture alive in America during its first episode Mix Mix .
Chef Nikki Cabrera Mills with the latest issue of Garden & Gun Magazine.
That isn’t all that’s happened in the Metro in 2023, but it sure gives you a fairly good idea we got what it takes to make Cagayan de Oro the Gourmand Capital of the emerging metro.