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Best Food on the Road—The Tinola of Surigao del Sur

15 July 2011 6,902 views 12 Comments

I was three when I started traveling with my mother. I accompanied her in the conferences she attended in Davao, the meetings in Butuan, and family vacations in Iligan. What stood out most from those memories were the images and sounds of travel—the rumble of buses, the smell of exhaust mixed with the mustiness of dried sweat, the shouts of conductors calling out the stops, and the shrill calls of vendors with their wares of boiled eggs and peanuts.

Most of all, however, I remember the food.


Tinola of Surigao del Sur

We began our travels at dawn, and breakfast always found us on the road. The best—and for us, the only—food for traveling was tinola, fish stewed in clear broth garnished with vegetables and spices. When ordered at roadside eateries, this hot soup is usually served with one slice of fish, a few leafy vegetables, and a bit of ginger. It can be made spicy with a dash of black pepper or a few pieces of chili.


A freshly-caught seven-foot blue marlin.

While tinola always meant chicken in other places in the Philippines, the people in Surigao del Sur make use of isda sa bato (reef fish) freshly caught from the Pacific Ocean every day. There’s maya-maya (snapper fish), talakitok (cavalla), ahaan, and malapunti (goatfish or red mullets). Other fish that are good for tinola are maliguno, liplipan (blue marlin), bariles (yellow fin tuna), tulingan (white fin tuna), and matambaka (trevally or purse-eyed scad).

When the bus stopped for breakfast, my mother would drag me to the roadside restaurant, half-asleep from the ride. She would buy us each a serving of tinola, one serving of rice, and probably a bottle of soda. I always tried to finish my meals, mindful of the need to eat, knowing that with the bad roads, the bus could break down (as indeed it had done several times before) and we could be stranded for hours. I would wake up more with each sip of the broth, until I became fully awakened when it came to the last drop of the soup.

Yellow fin tuna

A huge yellow fin tuna spotted on the way to Dumaguete. ©Ysrael C. Diloy

Tinola is highly popular with travelers in Surigao. It is the perfect complement to traveling; it nourishes and energizes, and the warm liquid manages to relax a body that had been stressed by hours of hard ride, especially then when the road was still rough and the ride long.

Nowadays, I don’t get to travel with my mother as much anymore, but every time I go home to Surigao del Sur, I make it a point to eat breakfast or lunch by the bus stop, asking for a serving of tinola that has become a part of my memories of being on the road.



This is my entry to the 9th Blog Carnival of the Pinoy Travel Bloggers called  “Awesome Food Experiences in the Philippines” hosted by Anton Diaz.

 Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!

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  • renevic said:

    wow, i thought tinola is for chicken only. anyway, i’ll ask my mother to cook tinolang isda, yown. :)
    renevic recently posted..Mt. Pico de Loro: Almost loosing path

  • bertN said:

    I love tinola but I did not know that it is also prepared with fish instead of chicken. I’ll give this a try. Do you know what kind of fish makes the best tinola?

  • Aleah said:

    @ Renevic: We usually use malunggay and other leafy veg with the tinola. Try it, it’s delicious.
    @ BertN: The reddish fish are very good: there’s maya-maya (snapper fish), talakitok (cavalla), and malapunti (goat fish or red mullets). The tuna and matambaka (trevally or purse-eyed scad) are commonly used because they’re relatively cheaper.
    Aleah recently posted..Best Food on the Road—The Tinola of Surigao del Sur

  • Red Nomad OZ said:

    Your memories are so clear they had my mouth watering! What is it about nostalgia that enhances the flavour of certain dishes??

    Have a great weekend!!
    Red Nomad OZ recently posted..My 7 Links: Red’s Retrospective!

  • tinathefrustratedtraveler said:

    wow! Fish tinola! very interesting! :D Oh, and the fish is huge! D pa ko nk-kita ng ganyan kalaki :D

  • Hashy said:

    Bangse (Flying Fish) is very common in Surigao del Sur especially in Tandag. Tinola, Paksiw, Kinilaw, and Dried Fish is the usual stuff my cousins always prepare every time I visit them. :D
    Hashy recently posted..The Secret to Maintain Husband and Wife Relationship

  • Aleah said:

    @ Red: Sometimes, our memories can play tricks with us and make things better than they actually are in real life :)
    @ tinathefrustratedtraveller: I have seen a lot of those. As deep sea fishes, they can really get as big as possible.
    @ Hashy: Yes, I’ve eaten a lot of bangse. They’re also good as tinola. Thanks for dropping by!
    Aleah recently posted..Best Food on the Road—The Tinola of Surigao del Sur

  • Islandvacations said:

    It’s good that you chose Tinola, our favorite dish in Surigao especially in the islands, as entry to the blog carnival. I cannot dissociate myself with Tinola. Even in travels abroad, I used to peep at food containers in restaurants wishing to find my favorite dish. . . in vain.
    Islandvacations recently posted..Seaside Waterfall – A Visit To Magkahuyog Falls in Bucas Grande Island, Philippines

  • Timothy B. Smith said:

    This fish are so yummy..indeed Philippines boast lots of natural resources and this things are a value to the filipino people. My wife is a filipina and i have been so blessed in meeting her. She showed me the part of Philippines that was not seen by other foreigner.

  • Aleah said:

    @ Kuya Ed: Whenever I go home, it’s the first thing I ask for, aside from pinaksiw. hehe
    @ Timothy B. Smith: Yes, there’s a lot of good things in the Phils. Thanks for dropping by and do keep reading!
    Aleah recently posted..Nighttime in Pattaya, Thailand

  • rdsean said:

    wow ibang klase to.. i like tinola a lot, pero chicken palang natitikman ko.. gusto ko siyang subukan.. ;)

  • Aleah said:

    @ rdsean: Super dali lang lutuin nito. Try mo na! hehe
    Aleah recently posted..Caving in Wawa Dam, Montalban

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