Davao City is a beguiling place to visit or live in. Situated at the southern island of Mindanao, and about 1 hour and 15 minutes of plane ride from the capital, Manila, the city is a temperate region of moderation, humid but not as it is in Manila. This is probably the reason why a variety of “exotic” fruits grow in abundance this side of paradise. If you love your dose of “Fear Factor” (I do!), then you cannot be unfamiliar with this solid crown of thorns of a fruit that’s intermittently being served as a fear bait in Joe Rogan’s compelling freak show – the Durian!
Break it like you do with a coconut, only harder because of the thorns surrounding the husk. Once “broken” into its compartments, a fleshy, milky meat of what is otherwise described by the unlearned as “olfactorily revolting” comes into being. Once you take a bite and gradually swallow its meaty flesh, you will discover one gastronomic delight that’s nothing less than “heavenly”! Ok! That statement is debatable. Haha. I once remember taking a taxi (in Manila) just an hour after eating durian. When I silently belched, the driver threw a fit… rolled down his window and started gagging!!! That’s when I realized how bad it smells for other people – so I won’t impose! As for me, I am addicted – for life! Other funny comparisons have been made with the civet, sewage, stale vomit, skunk spray and used surgical swabs. It’s unusual smell must have some form of pharmacologic effect. I can personally vouch for 2: “a generalized warm sensation” (thus others refer to it as an aphrodisiac) and, after 6-8 hours, a potent gastrocolic effect, i.e. you can be sure of a satisfying bowel movement. Haha.
Davao is home of the most delectable durian in Asia, although it is said to have originated from Brunei and/or Malaysia. I have tasted their varieties in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, but nothing comes close to Davao’s durians, regardless of the different hybrids that’s been coming out of late (the Puyat almost always never disappoints; lately though, in Davao del Sur, there have been Malaysian breeds which were renamed “Cojuangco” in honor of the millionaire-owner cultivating them). The price differs depending on the day you purchase it. There used to be a season for it, but its popularity has made it an all-year-round delicacy. These days, a regular sized durian would fetch between PhP50-80/kilo, roughly Php 160 per piece. Some fruits can be bought already-extracted and frozen in a plastic box, but then where’s the fun when you won’t see the thorny exterior crack? And it doesn’t taste as fresh as it should!
Other fruits thrive in Davao – the pomelo, mangosteen, lansones (which is already being sold these days), marang, mangoes, watermelon, etc. Another tourist come-on of this city is the relatively inexpensive standard of living. If you live in Manila and you get to visit Davao, you will notice how, except for the plane fare, everything comes cheap in the city. Seafood and local delicacies abound. In fact, you can stay for 2 weeks in the city and try a different “buffet” restaurant every day. I can mention “Kuya Ed’s” which boasts of a PhP99 buffet every meal. It gets too congested though especially during the weekend, but then there are a myriad of buffet places dotting the city!
Davao City is an amalgam of things cosmopolitan and basic, urban and rural, and one of the safest cities in Asia. There are probably about a dozen malls – including SM Shoemart, NCCC, Gaisano, and the new and sophisticated but sedate, Chimes. Though most taxis are rundown Kia cars, the city government has started to plan for its phaseout. The taxi drivers are relatively polite and honest (although this doesn’t mean there are no “monsters” – there’s always one anywhere in the world). There’s no Starbucks yet, but there are several alternatives including Blugre, which even serves durian coffee. These days, with just PhP2,600 ($62), you can fly to Davao from Manila and enjoy the laidback atmosphere that makes this city truly a haven for the weary!
Davao is a smoke-free city, and its stern yet revered mayor has made sure you won't have a pleasant stay if you break this city ordinance - so beware!
Trivia on durian:
It is genetically related to the following: hibiscus (gumamela), cotton and okra!
Chimes has a glam atmosphere and doesn't have the zany crowd of SM. Its front row of restaurants offers cafes and restaurants like Figaro, Red Ribbon, and Banana Leaf (a Thai restaurant).