Carabao Feast in Davao City: Dutertes Favorite Eatery

Carabao is the national animal of the Philippines. Specifically, it is a water buffalo that is native to the country. There is a carinderia, or food stall, in Davao City that cooks a variety of dishes with carabao. Sana’s Original Kabawan, a humble carinderia is a longtime favorite eatery of former mayor and current President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. He is the first president to represent the Mindanao region and second from Visayas (his birthplace), the two lesser-represented regions of the Philippines. No matter what you may think of the man, he knows how to eat! Our latest vlog takes you through our amazing experience at this establishment.
The owner, Sana, is one of the friendliest and most generous people we have met on our travels. She has been through a lot in her life, including evictions and being a widowed single mother. To make ends meet, she sold snacks out of a push cart in nearby Magsaysay Park. Thankfully, she has managed to keep this special place open for over 40 years, despite many threats to demolish the building. On the walls, there are many photos of the President and his family throughout the years at the restaurant. Several of these photos include Sana and her son and she was eager to explain more behind them.  As a result, Duterte’s election has attracted foreigners who are curious to see one of his favorite eateries. For example, CNN Philippines visited shortly after he was elected.
As for the food,  Sana presented three different dishes without  us asking. First, bulalo, a soup made with carabao bones. Usually, this well-known soup is made with beef bones, but it is swapped out for carabao here. With the cut of the bone, there is ample marrow tucked inside. Excitedly, we scooped as much as we could. Another benefit to the bones was the ample cartilage on the outside. Eagerly, we gnawed it off and slurped the broth.
Next, there was tapa, dried carabao meat that’s been shredded and fried. Often, tapa is made with sliced meats, such as marinated beef. For Greg, this was his first time trying it in this fashion. Initially, the texture was reminiscent of Colombian carne en polvo, a dried powder-like beef often found in bandeja paisa.  However, it is a bit more dense yet remains fluffy. We enjoyed the flavor here, as it was a bit salty, garlicky and citrusy.  Generously, Sana kept refilling our plate with tapa and we continued to devour it with gusto.
Finally, there was hinalang, which is known as a “spicy” broth. Despite the lack of heat, there was a wonderful lemongrass flavor in the soup. Here, the flavor brought to mind the broth from bun cha we ate in Hanoi, Vietnam. Supremely tender chunks of carabao floated in the fragrant broth. Interestingly, the texture of the carabao meat was similar to beef rib. This was tremendous feat given how lean carabao meat is.
We couldn’t get enough of Sana’s hospitality, conversation and food. It is truly one of those special places that sticks with us for a long time.
Address: Juan Luna Extension, Barangay 26-C, Davao City, 8000 Davao del Sur, Philippines
Have you been to Sana’s before? What are some of your favorite eateries in Davao City? We look forward to returning and would like to hear you choices. Let us know in the comments below!
Thanks for watching and reading!
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