What: Binignit (“bee-nig-nit”) is a sweet, creamy, colorful Cebuano stew of fruit and tubers that’s eaten as a snack or dessert. Vegetables for dessert? Indeed. Ingredients can vary, but at its most basic, it’s a merry mix of cubed saba (cooking bananas), jackfruit, taro root, sweet potatoes, purple yam, milled or whole grains of sticky rice, and landang, which are palm-flour jelly balls (similar to sago or tapioca pearls). All the ingredients are gently stewed in coconut milk with some muscovado sugar, or unrefined brown sugar. Binignit is traditionally eaten as a snack on Good Friday, though nobody seems to know why. What we do know is that households practically flood with binignit on that holiday, producing giant pots of the rich, starchy, filling dish to offer to neighbors and visitors.
Good to know: Landang appears to be the key ingredient that makes Cebuano binignit different from ginataang halu-halo (“gi-na-ta-ang ha-loo-ha-loh”), from Manila. Landang, which is very local to Cebu and its neighboring islands, imparts a vivid pinkish-purplish hue to binignit that its Manila cousin lacks. While most of the landang disappears into the thick stew, chunkier bits provide a sticky-chewy texture that’s often augmented by sago pearls in different colors.
Where: We found binignit at the Family Choice stall in the popular basement food-court of shopping mall Robinson’s Place Cebu (Fuente Osmena Circle on the Osmena Blvd. side, map).
When: Daily, 10am-8pm, but the binignit usually runs out before dinnertime.
Order: Binignit, of course! Don’t be confused when you realize there is no binignit on display among the Chinese-inspired dishes here—they keep it warm in a rice cooker near the cash register. Order a serving (Php 40), find a spot in the seating area, and dig in to comfort in a bowl. There is nothing quite like this creamy, starchy, fragrant stew—you’ll want to savor it by the spoonful. The only thing you’ll need with it is a chilled bottle of water to wash the sugar (and sticky-sweet coconut milk) away.
Alternatively: Binignit is such prized comfort food that we wonder why so few places serve it. Casa Ilonnga (also in Robinson’s Place, map) serves binignit too, but its stash lasts only till about 1pm. Its version is not as aromatic as Family Choice’s, and we detected a slightly stronger taro flavor. If you’re out and about in a local eatery or a Filipino restaurant, try your luck and ask for it: They just might have a rice-cooker pot of it lurking around somewhere.