When you’re in or anywhere near Lapu-Lapu City in Mactan Island, you have to try sutukil. Sutukil is a portmanteau of the three ways fish are cooked in eateries near the Mactan Shrine: Su is for sugba or grilled, tu is for tula or prepared into a soup and kil is for kilaw or turned into a raw fish salad.
Sutukil restaurants let you choose whatever you want cooked from stalls of fresh fish, prawns, crabs, seaweeds, shells, clams and even lobsters (click on photos to view larger images). These seafood are as fresh as seafood can be and the crabs and lobsters on display are still alive as you pick which ones you want cooked. Sutukil eateries get their daily supply of fresh seafood from fishers in nearby islets.
Many people love to eat in the place and it’s packed on weekends, especially during mealtimes. When we got there last Thursday, however, we were the only customers in the eatery we chose as it was mid-afternoon on a weekday.
We chose a local fish, molmol, because its white meat is great for kinilaw. The woman who sold us the fish did not bother asking us how we want it prepared. When I asked her how it would be cooked, she simply said sutukil. Everyone who eats fish in the place get this triadic culinary treat: sugba, tula and kilaw.
We also bought half a kilo of prawns and got four of the biggest prawns I’ve seen in my life. Each prawn weighs 1/8 of a kilo and I found, in hindsight, that one piece would have been enough for me since we already ordered fish.
The eateries are open-air and you dine in full view of the Mactan seawaters and rows upon rows of mangroves. What is it with waves, my wife asked me, that you get hypnotized as you stare into the deep? The view is surprisingly calming, for an urban corporate rat like me.
But off to eating.
The dishes were served in less than 15 minutes with fish soup brought first. The molmol’s head, tail and other un-kilawable and unsugba-able parts went into the soup, which is garnished by spices and seaweeds. This is the tula and being in Cebu, you do not pronounce it as it is spelled, you say tuwa or tua. True-blue Cebuanos do not pronounce the letter l in most words. Tula is the Cebuano word for the process of preparing a certain type of soup or sabaw, Bisaya for stock. The dish is called tinuwa, the prefix ti denoting that it is a product of tuwa.
The tinuwa tastes great if you haven’t tasted the dish yet. But for tinowa connoisseurs, which I fancy myself to be, it’s just passable. It wasn’t hot enough for my taste, a few more sword peppers would have done the trick.
After tasting the soup, I was eager to try the product of the kilaw preparation: the kinilaw. I love kinilaw and by the way, you pronounce it as it is spelled. Don’t go asking for a kiniwaw in there, you’d be embarrassing yourself.
When the kinilaw or raw fish salad was served, I was disappointed. The slices of ginger, onions and other spices mixed with the fresh white fish meat were too big. I want the spices with my kinilaw to be minced so that the flavors don’t interfere with the experience of eating diced raw fish meat cooked only by soaking it in vinegar. Note to self: next time I eat there, tell the cook to mince the spices.
My biggest disappointment with the kinilaw is that it did not contain coconut milk. I used to enjoy kinilaw without coconut milk but after I tried preparing the dish with it, I got hooked. The trick in preparing a great kinilaw is to soak the fish in one part vinegar and one part coconut milk for 10 to 15 minutes and then drain it. Dab a tablespoon of mayonnaise into the fish meat, mix it with minced spices and then soak it in one part vinegar and two parts coconut milk.
Now that, is a kinilaw. What was set before me in the sutukil restaurant was a poor imitation of the dish. But I guess those who are new to the dish would still love how they prepare it there. I actually heard a few people say it was good the previous time I ate there.
The sugba part of the sutukil trilogy came in last: grilling fish takes time. The sinugbang isda (grilled fish) was surprisingly tasty. It was probably the best dish to come out of the huge, more-than-a-kilo molmol we bought for cooking.
But the best dish served to me last Thursday was the plate of prawns cooked in garlic sauce. Its taste stays with me as I write this close to Friday dawn and yes I’ve brushed at least twice since that late-lunch-early-supper. It is the kind of dish that makes your mouth water even hours after you’ve eaten it. The half a kilo of fresh prawns were supposed to sate me but it didn’t and I still find myself planning my next meal in the place because of it.
The molomol is sold at 160 pesos per kilo which is really quite cheap. The prawns are 700 pesos per kilo, crabs are at 400 plus pesos per kilo while lobsters are at 1,200 per kilo. These prices are really cheap and are comparable to what you pay when you buy these seafood in public markets in Lapu-Lapu City.
How to get there
The sutukil restaurants are located near the Mactan Shrine. It is a 250-peso taxi ride from central Cebu City. Just tell the cab driver you want to go to Mactan Shrine in Punta Engaño. It’s on the way to Shangri-la Mactan. If you want to take public transport, you can either ride on a jeepney that goes to Punta Engaño (No. 23 jeepneys with Punta Engaño signboards in the windshield) or you can choose one of the hundreds of tricycle in Lapu-Lapu City.
The sutukil eateries are to the left of the stage near the Mactan shrine, on the side of the area’s police precinct (now there’s an added security for you.) After you pass a couple of souvenir shops selling trinkets, shell craft and other native products, you then see several stalls with pails and buckets of fresh seafood-just choose one of the several eateries in the place.