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KUGITA: Moalboal's Best Sushi, Seafood, and Grill

It's a gastronomic haven for travelers, food enthusiasts, and locals seeking unforgettable authentic flavors that one will surely crave again and again.

Moalboal, a picturesque coastal town in the province of Cebu, is renowned for its pristine beaches and underwater wonders. Amidst this tropical paradise lies a culinary gem that has attracted people from all over the world. Welcome to Moalboal's Kugita Seafood and Charcoal Grill, a gastronomic haven for travelers, food enthusiasts, and locals seeking unforgettable authentic flavors that one will surely crave again and again.

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Easy, Breezy, Simple

Tucked away along a small street in Moalboal, this Filipino-owned restaurant seamlessly blends into its environment. The structure is open and simple, made with bamboo and concrete, reminiscent of a local beach shack. It’s got lush greenery all around its wide spaces, and the interior showcases native accents with wooden tables and steel chairs, creating a casual yet relaxed and inviting atmosphere.

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The Man Behind Kugita

Owned by Chef Jay Garife who originally hailed from Iligan City, this rockstar of a restaurateur is truly hands-on with his food and cocktails. “I only found out that this is my passion two years ago when [supertyphoon] Odette hit us badly. I really wanted to quit,” he vulnerably shared as we waited for the dishes he pre-selected for us. “Pero napa-isip rin ako, saan ako pupunta? That’s when I knew, laban ulit. I know this life is for me because I wake up and go to the market at 5AM, prepare the food, manage my staff, and do the operations, only to repeat it all over again—and I don’t get tired,” he boldly said. 

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Chef Jay started his career in the restaurant industry as a working student back when he was 17 years old. When his superiors later on assigned him from cleaning dishes to food preparations, his skills shone through. “Dishwasher ako! Pero sa restaurants, ‘pag nakita nilang may potential ka, ililipat ka nila.” That’s when he started cooking professionally. After two years of grit and pure hard work, he ended up becoming the Private and Corporate Chef for Roberto S. Sebastian, former Secretary of Agriculture under the Ramos’ administration in Davao. When the term ended, his then boss decided to connect him with a friend in Costa Rica to further his talents and expand his potential. He soon worked as a Sushi Chef for Tsunami Sushi at Jaco Beach. With their flagship restaurant located at Huntington Beach, California, Chef Jay would fly in and out to help there from time to time, too. Later, he came back to the Philippines to study in the Culinary Institute of Cagayan de Oro, with a Culinary Diploma in Holistic Nutrition. 


A Master of Authenticity

What makes Chef Jay a delight to be with is his solid authenticity and easygoing energy. Talking about life, he quipped, “I always consult myself first in everything that I do. I have to be aligned internally first—I don’t let opportunities, the rat race, or other people’s opinions interfere with my plans.” He is headstrong, honest, and quite a character, and these traits are also reflected on his food. I asked him how he approached his menu, and he shared some practical insights; “You must consider your kitchen size, equipment, and the community you’re in. Moalboal is a booming island with a lot of foreign tourists coming in, and I wanted dishes to represent the place, while making it relatable to everyone.” 


Deliciously relatable, indeed. With his sushi background from the US, his take on the Japanese classics are quite an explosive treat on the palate, as he has a knack of creating a medley of flavors that have texture, variety, and harmony. We tried three of his best rolls, together with some of his highest rating mains on Tripadvisor. And although sushi rolls are pretty much mainstream, he makes sure his versions are unique and memorable. 

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L-R: Cebuano Roll, Tempura Roll, and Crunch Roll

The Cebuano Roll (P350) - rolled with tuna, cream cheese, smoked salmon, masago, eel sauce; one of the best rolls I’ve ever tried (10/10)

The Tempura Roll (P350) - hot sushi roll made with fish of the day, cream cheese, eel sauce, with a touch of Sriracha on top; very delicious, plus the Sriracha was a tasty touch (11/10)

The Crunch Roll (P320) - made with shrimp, crunchy bits, and eel sauce (8/10)


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Clockwise: The Mains—Tadyang, Tomahawk Chops, Steamed Sea Bass

Tadyang (P550) - crispy local organic beef ribs in peanut sauce with a side salad. This dish will make carnivores use their hands and lick their fingers with that highly umami peanut sauce. (9/10)


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Tomahawk Chops (starts at P390) - tender-juicy pork ribs in fermented local coconut wine sauce. The fall-off-the-bone softness of the meat with the tangy tuba sauce is simply a match made in food heaven. I’d easily give this one 11/10. This is the star of the menu for me.


Steamed Sea Bass (P550) - whole fish, flambeed in white wine, with tausi. The sweet and salty Asian flavors of the sauce compliment the fresh, flakey meat of the succulent fish. (9/10)


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Bevvy bestsellers: The Frozen Mojito (P180) and Pure Mirabeau Rosė

Chef Jay chose the Pure Mirabeau Rosė to pair with our mains, as its delicate floral notes with pink grapefruit aromas complemented both the meats and fish perfectly. For a post-meal extended hang out, their Frozen Mojito was so easy to down with its smooth and icy mixture, plus the right balance of citrus and mint that gave it a sweet and refreshing finish. It’s so addictive!


A Chef’s Love For Community

One thing that stood out as we spent the whole afternoon was Chef Jay’s love for his community. Everything he does stems from there. “I just want to help the community to thrive and benefit from all that I do. Tourism means more jobs for the people of Moalboal.”


His dedication and commitment may come off as feisty and tough in the kitchen, but underneath it all is his desire to uplift the lives of the locals in Moalboal. Kugita may simply mean octopus in Bisaya, but another deeper meaning of the word is “hard working,” one that fits the restaurant aptly. After all, it’s withstood the test of a natural calamity, and a global pandemic, and yet, here it is, still making people fly to Cebu City, and drive four hours to have a taste of all that they offer.


Follow Kugita Seafood and Charcoal Grill on Instagram at @kugitamoalboal2018.


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