You would be hard-pressed to define Davao cuisine. Davao—built on rich agricultural land, and developed by a colorful history of economic immigration and cultural diversity—simply cannot define its food with a singular concept.
Fusion cuisine is the real definition of Davao’s local dining scene. It is simple island fare influenced by the tastes of generations of immigrant families from a varying collection of localities—the Northern Philippine regions, the Visayas islands, China, Spain, and Japan, just to name a few.
Davao food is not defined the way Ilocano, Ilonggo, or Cebuano cuisines are. It can’t be; it’s all those and more.
With more visitors coming to the city and as a renewed interest in food opens up palates around the metro, four up-and-coming chefs share their takes on Davao cuisine and what makes the local scene different.
First up is Karlo Mercado, who runs Street Grub, a one-stop shop for the world’s most beloved street food.
Karlo Mercado, 29, part owner and head chef, Street Grub
Street Grub is located at Unit D, Paseo Uno Bldg., Ruby St., Marfori Heights, Davao City
What made you decide to open a restaurant in Davao?
I thought it was the perfect time to build a business in Davao, lalo na ngayon (with Pres. Rody). Maraming tourists and businesses coming in.
What is the concept of your restaurant? What is the favorite dish that you like to serve customers?
Street Grub is about street food from all over the world inspired by Arab, Mexican, Spanish, and Italian cuisines, among others. I got the inspiration (for the restaurant) from New York food parks and I waited for the right time to open it. Na-enganyo ako. I like to serve our customers pasta and sandwiches, gourmet stuff, ganon.
How long have you been cooking?
I moved to Canada in 2006 to study and learned to be independent and cook for myself so I don’t always eat out and spend money. That’s when I started to practice.
I then moved back to Davao in 2010 and studied culinary arts every Sunday while also working for the family business.
Aside from your own, what is your other favorite Davao restaurant? What do you usually order?
Jack’s Ridge! (laughs) (Author’s note: Karlo’s family also owns Jack’s Ridge). Order the pinakbet and spare ribs.
What do you think makes Davao cuisine special?
Davao is unique because of all the organic products. Malapit lang ang farms. You can get fresh ingredients anywhere. And ‘yung mga prutas. At Street Grub, I don’t use dry ingredients. Naga-tanim ako ng herbs and gumagamit ng fresh ingredients na organic. That’s also what makes us special.