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

I was three when I started traveling with my mother.

I accompanied her in 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.

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.

fish rice

Fish + rice. Delicious!

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).


Tinola of Surigao del Sur

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.

fish tinola

Fish tinola kept hot on coals.

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.

Yellow fin tuna

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

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.

 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!


  1. says

    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?

  2. says

    @ 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

  3. says

    @ 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

  4. says

    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.


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