18 Jan2013


Tinula or Tinola or Tinowa or Fish Tinola of the most heartwarming kind… If you are in Cebu this weekend for the Sinulog celebrations, here is one local favorite you should check out… but only if your tolerance for dicey surroundings is HIGH, and you LOVE fish soup. :) It’s a Cebu dining institution that goes back decades, and though this roadside eatery, slash hole-in-the-wall, has tidied up a bit in recent years, it’s still an “adventure” for most tourists, I suspect. But with a fishead like the one above, can you resist its lure?


Located just a stone’s (strong) throw from the Shoemart (SM) mall in the reclamation area, it’s on a (now paved) side street and it has a large muddy parking lot in front of the restaurant. I have often been asked by folks who ask about eating here… what about the flies? The flies? Well for the squeamish amongst you, they now have an airconditioned room nearby, though there were still a couple of flies who made it through the doors the last time we ate there.:) And it costs 10% more or so to dine in there, I think. For the full A-ONE experience eat outside. Just wave your arms and hands like a maniac. Flies seem to be more plentiful at certain times of the year, though I haven’t figured out what the seasons are yet. And if you dine at night (making the adventure even dicier) at least the flies tend to sleep when it’s dark.


And get it right, okay? TINULA. Not TINOLA. In the Visayas, an “o” is a “u”. It’s also known as TINOWA/TINUWA… a totally smple soup of fish, a few veggies and water. The key to the tinula is the freshest fish, the proper intensity of the broth (both deeply flavored yet light on the palate) and a healthy appreciation for the simplest foods in life. My grandmother had a bowl of this every single day of her 90+ years. Hers had the addition of malunggay or moringa leaves, the soup her secret tonic for longevity perhaps.


Whole humongous fish heads (a talakitok or jack or trevally in this case) are the absolute pinnacle of the A-ONE tinula experience. But they do run out. So get there early. We were there at 11am for a recent lunch. We got one fish head, which came with enough broth for six folks…


The broth has some tomatoes, green onions and other ingredients in it. The pot smelled absolutely wonderful!


The heads aren’t weighed. They cost PHP500 per order, PHP550 in the airconditioned room, I think. The price struck my local companions as being a bit steep, up from the PHP400 they remembered not too long ago. I wanted to taste it first before I commented on the prices…


The server must have thought we were special (or suckers for ordering so many other things) and she gave us a bowl of broth with the bihud or fish egg sack of the fish… this is local delicacy and highly sought after by some diners.


The soup was delicious, real soul food. The broth was flavorful but not overcooked (yes, I think you can overcook a fish broth and it tastes foulish if you do). The fish was fresh, and meat plentiful on that ginormous head. Our group sought out their favorite parts, the cheeks, the eyes, the lips… Yum.


Each of us got a sawsawan (dipping sauce) plate with chopped onions, tomatoes and some kalamansi limes. There were red chilies elsewhere on the table, and some soy sauce and vinegar.


For a non-fish soup eater in the group, we ordered some grilled pork belly. It was so-so, and improved by the dipping sauce. I didn’t expect much from the grilled items and they didn’t disappoint.


The pork chopped up…


…some squid that was simply grilled, ink sacs and all included. This was a particularly poor value, at PHP400+ it was pricier than lechon sisig stuffed squid at Zubuchon, so I suggest you steer well clear of their grilled squid.


Instead of rice, real locals order “mais” or coarse cornmeal cooked like rice. I find it is delciious, but sits like a rock in your stomach, so I opted for white rice instead, while others had two plates of mais each!


And in one bowl, a whole floating iba, kamias or belimbi, which provided just a hint of sourness to the broth, perfect. Overall, I thought the soup was absolutely delicious, but the whole experience at PHP280 or $7 per person, was actually a bit pricey for the surroundings, the lack of receipts, service, etc. But never mind all that. Go for the soup, at least once in your visits to Cebu. :)


Vendors just outside the restaurant also had good mangosteen and lanzones for sale, so we had a kilo of each for dessert for a table of six people.

D’Original A-ONE Tinula, Cebu (don’t be fooled by wannabees nearby)
Road North 6
Mabolo, Cebu City

Note: This can be a rather questionable part of town, particularly if you aren’t familiar with the place, and would likely stick out like sore thumbs. So if you go, go in a group and know how you will get home, particularly if dining in the evening. This is not a place to look lost, hail gypsy cabs, or ask directions.

Here’s a link to an earlier post on tinowa enjoyed in Malapascua, Cebu a couple of years ago. And another post here on tinowa recipes enjoyed at the office…



  1. Imee Navarra says:


    Jan 18, 2013 | 1:33 pm


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  3. Al says:

    just like a simple sinigang, with tomatoes only as the “pang-asim”. Very healthy indeed.

    Jan 18, 2013 | 1:44 pm

  4. ami says:

    The 1st picture of the fish head is scary! Like an extra in a bad zombie movie.

    Jan 18, 2013 | 2:18 pm

  5. MP says:

    Ah, what I would give to have that tinula now!! Grabe ang ginaw!!!

    Jan 18, 2013 | 2:26 pm

  6. ykmd says:

    My mouth puckered at the sight of that kamias (aka “iba” in cebuano) floating in that broth. Your post brings back memories of meals at my grandparents’ beachside home, where the fish for the tinuwa was purchased from the fishermen-neighbors and the iba and kamunggay were picked from the backyard. My lola never measured the mais, and would pour just the right amount of corn grits into the boiling water every time. She would have been astounded to learn how pricey her comfort food has gotten, MM!

    Jan 18, 2013 | 2:34 pm

  7. cumin says:

    MM, how do you manage to have such an incredibly full life and still find time to blog? Your output this year leaves me speechless, I’m a sloth beside you. And the quality of your pictures — always good before, but brilliant lately — is it really you taking them, or are these by The Teen? :-)

    As a non-meat eater (kuno), I’ve read your recent stories while virtuously eating tofu-mushroom-lettuce, but who was I fooling, I knew which meal I’d rather have. Sometimes reading Marketmanila feels like Pi keeping company with Richard Parker. Salamat for today’s fish head soup.

    Jan 18, 2013 | 2:36 pm

  8. Marketman says:

    cumin, I surprise myself frankly. Photos are mine unless noted that they are the Teen’s, Mrs. MM’s or my Chief of Stuff’s… :) I have material for dozens of entries but there isn’t enough time. And it’s Sinulog madness again, but now I think our branches are more ready for the deluge… we staffed up, extended hours, added temporary crew, redeployed… etc. I had to fly back to Manila to attend a college thing on Saturday, then back to Cebu in the wee-est hours of Sunday to catch the height of Sinulog… The key is to merge work and pleasure wherever possible — this was a working lunch. :)

    Jan 18, 2013 | 2:41 pm

  9. Footloose says:

    Ah this is the only cheek by jowl I can tolerate… with good patis and calamansi.

    It’s very cold here too with slow falling powder snow that coats everything in sight. But it’s the dead of winter and it’s to be expected as long as the wind is not howling. It’s the wind chill factor that kills. This is the time we need lard as Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “in winter a grown man’s fancy turns to thoughts of lard.”

    Jan 18, 2013 | 2:45 pm

  10. alexishyne says:

    you here for sinulog MM?

    Jan 18, 2013 | 4:04 pm

  11. betty q. says:

    Footloose…shouldn’t you be somewhere basking in the sun this time of the year?

    I totally agree with you bout the cheeks!!!

    Jan 18, 2013 | 4:21 pm

  12. rosedmd says:

    ang sarap!!!!!!!!!!!! food and trips like this will make me miss the Phils when i migrate in march!!! i am optimistic i will have lots of food finds in vancouver

    Jan 18, 2013 | 5:00 pm

  13. atbnorge says:

    Dang, I should’ve bought that haddock head! But then again, I have a brown trout to poach, so I look forward to this evening’s meal.

    Jan 18, 2013 | 5:00 pm

  14. odessa says:

    our tinolang isda MM has lots of luya,onions, tomatoes and veggies (kamote tops, alugbati, malunggay, petchay ,okra, sitao,talong, ampalaya etc. ) great with steamed rice esp. during rainy days! i love the fish eyes and cheeks dn, slimy yummy (super love ko din slimy veggies) …! I also missed inununan sa dahon ng mangga or with dahon ng alubihod, and the sour leaves of Labog…

    Jan 18, 2013 | 5:12 pm

  15. Skye says:

    It’s been so long since I’ve eaten mais instead of rice. My officemates here in Manila don’t know that such thing exist.

    Jan 18, 2013 | 6:32 pm

  16. EbbaBlue says:

    Oww… they looked so good. Here in Houston, its not as cold as Footloose or BettyQ’s place, but its wet-cold for me.. enough to plan for arroz caldo, and this – tinolang isda.

    I was just at Ranch 99 market days ago, and they had lot of “salmon heads”, on the freezer counter, swhich I noticed na pamahal-ng-pamahal and presyo. Used to be less than a dollar ang bili ko nito (also heads of red snapper and tilapia), kasi wala halos bumibili nuon. Pero nung nagdatingan talaga ang iba pang Asians sa lugar namin, the demand was high.. so ayun, halos $3.00 per piece and ang bentahan.

    I usually buy 2 or 3 pieces and freeze them para mayron akong stock, but hindi ako bumili this time kasi they had “salmon belly strips”. And that is what I bought instead. With this post of MM, I will have this belly strips tinola for dinner tonight. I will have to add some Korean mini eggplant. Ummm… sana uwian na.. narito pa ako sa work.. and yes.. its still morning and breakfast time, pero dinner na ang nasa utak ko.

    Ayy naku nakakagutom… and ang lamig dito sa work, nasa tuktok ko kasi yung AC vent.

    Jan 18, 2013 | 9:39 pm

  17. betty q. says:

    Lucky, atbnorge! You have speckled trout for supper!

    Rosedmd…welcome to Vancouver! Bring lots of rain gear…gum boots, umbrellas, rain coats! But then again, I would rather have rain than snow!!!

    Jan 18, 2013 | 9:51 pm

  18. Rochelle says:

    Oh my MM you’re making me drool!

    Jan 18, 2013 | 9:53 pm

  19. Getter Dragon 1 says:

    ‘Mais’…who knew? I’m learning more and more as I begin my day with Market Manila. Thanks for going beyond the surface and writing about what’s good in the Philippines.

    Jan 19, 2013 | 12:56 am

  20. EbbaBlue says:

    Mais rice was “pushed” in the market in Sampaloc during the “austerity program” of Marcos. My mom had a hard time with it (spoiled by our own rice harvest from Quezon), but napilitan na rin kasi our farm was devastated by the introduction of the Miracle Rice. Kaya, ayun, we have to buy the mixed mais-rice sa palengke.

    Jan 19, 2013 | 1:53 am

  21. netoy says:

    @rosedmd – go and satiate yourself and your family now with the local foods and most especially fruits. it is not really the same as it is back home. It’s definitely more fun in the Philippines but make the most of the opportunity given to you on the other side of the pond. Welcome to the fold of the ex-pats! :)

    Jan 19, 2013 | 2:12 am

  22. PITS, MANILA says:

    always thought of ‘tinola’ as chicken with almost clear soup … also had a chance to taste ‘tinolang tanigue’. condiment was bagoong alamang with toasted back fat of pork.

    Jan 19, 2013 | 6:21 am

  23. Danney says:

    Napakasarap ng talakitok at pampano and of course my favorite salmon, tilapia and bangus. Ay lahat sila masarap. I grew up enjoying kanduli, biya and ayungin in Sta. Rosa, Laguna. In few more days, time to go on vacation and the first thing I told my family is to cook paksiw na isda with sawsawan na calamansi at patis upon my arrival at the airport. Yummy!!!

    Jan 19, 2013 | 7:50 am

  24. Papa Ethan says:

    I’m a head-hunter, too! In whatever form the fish is cooked (but especially in a soup), I’d instantly go for the head. There is so much flavor to be had if one is patient enough to deconstruct the cooked head with surgical precision. Cheap thrill perhaps, but I find it immensely rewarding to have picked the bones clean afterwards that there is hardly anything left for the cat. Best part of the fish head is the little brain hiding deep in its cranium. =)

    Jan 19, 2013 | 9:30 am

  25. joji padillla says:

    mangosteen (freshly harvested from the farm), anyone? and kaffir lime leaves, occasional kaffir lime or biasong fruits from mindanao…

    Jan 19, 2013 | 4:27 pm

  26. Marketman says:

    joji, if they are good farmgate prices, I could use 150-200 kilos of mangosteen to make jam… And I am always happy to buy biasong when it is available.

    Jan 19, 2013 | 4:36 pm

  27. Getter Dragon 1 says:

    @EbbaBlue…that’s interesting too.

    Jan 20, 2013 | 12:58 am

  28. rosedmd says:

    Hi bettyq,

    i am completing my rain gear……..mixed emotions excited and sad. hello BC in march

    i will miss MM EB also….:(

    Jan 20, 2013 | 10:39 am

  29. Shane says:

    Kudos to your Zubuchon Escario staff, my family party of 9 was perfectly taken care of. Too bad I missed this post. I would have taken the family there too. Btw, zubuchon was mentioned on pg 116 of the Cebu Pacific Smile magazine January editionunder the “Trip Journal” section of the magazine.

    Jan 20, 2013 | 7:30 pm

  30. jen888rn says:

    Nag lasa lasa ang sabaw sa tinowa! omg how i miss this simple yet very satisfying food. Nice pics MM, looks very real, i’m drooling right now. Do you mind if I copy it and post it in my FB. thanks. Are you sure thats “bihud” MM or is it the “bagaybay” of the fish as what they call it in Cebu.

    Jan 21, 2013 | 1:06 am

  31. max says:

    i’m hungry…sarap ng sabaw

    Jan 21, 2013 | 10:20 am

  32. joji padilla says:

    our price is P50.00/kilo of mangosteen to be picked up at the port of cebu… a box is 20 kilos of mangosteen… we can deliver 200 kilos or 10 boxes if you place order… pls give us advance notice of at least 4 days because we only harvest if there are orders and we have to coordinate with the ship sked from either butuan or cagayan de oro, but we are nearer butuan port… we are scheduled to ship to cebu abt 8 boxes of mangosteen for my STC batchmates there, and we can include your order with this shipment. pls have your contact person call or text me at 0922 867 5310 for your order and for other inquiries.. we also grow mangoes, rambutan and lanzones …am an follower of your blog… joji f. padilla

    Jan 22, 2013 | 11:22 am

  33. jazzie says:

    am drooling for the bihud…

    Jan 22, 2013 | 11:50 am

  34. Fards says:

    @ Papa Ethan, you remind me of my mother. She loved the fish head and ate it like a blender had gone through it. Bless her heart.

    Jan 22, 2013 | 2:24 pm

  35. Fred says:

    I miss eating these dishes. Last time I was in Cebu was in the 90s. :) We always ate at roadside carinderias and at the wet markets. These dishes were always present. I hope the groceries in Metro Manila start selling ground corn.

    Jan 24, 2013 | 8:57 am

  36. kristin says:

    hello again..sorry for the long silence..was in and out of the hospital this winter…. MM, thanks for making me drool sa fish tinula :) my appetite just perked up…but will have to settle for the other comfort food available..chicken arroz caldo, to ward the food cravings and the freezing,cold weather up here north….off to the kitchen I go!

    Jan 28, 2013 | 1:14 am

  37. udo says:

    gosh i love mangosteen and lanzones… can´t wait to get to the philippines again…

    Jul 12, 2013 | 7:08 pm


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