Saturday, June 4, 2011

Palawan food porn and some tidbits from the green room

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There was a story, an isolated case, about a lunatic in Palawan who butchered an enemy and to leave no trace of the murder, sliced the body and mixed it with the food for a banquet. The details as to how the guests at the reception discovered they unknowingly turned into cannibals is sketchy now but the news hugged the headlines many years back.

Then, there was the high-profile kidnapping and murder incident of guests and workers of Dos Palmas Resort by the terror group Abu Sayaff. The resort has long recovered and have beefed up security.  

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Much of Palawan sit on  a jungle. Into the depths of its forest, there are tribal groups. As stories would have it, they are not keen on meeting outsiders. And because its natural growth forest is also thick and its swamp plenty, malaria is not uncommon.

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Palawan's edges are peppered with deserted islands and pristine white sand beaches. In the cliffs, caves and limestone karsts of El Nido is a thriving multimillion industry of balinsasayaw (swiflet bird) saliva which are then exported to become bird's nest soup to feed on the voracious appetite of Hongkong and mainland China. 

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In the island of Calauit, safari animals like giraffes and zebras seem misplaced in the tropical landscape.  In Culion, if the walls could only talk about its painful past as a leper's colony.

All these and more would perfectly fit the bill for a reality show. So, it didn't come as a surprise when I heard that Survivor France and Bulgaria shot many of the reality show's episodes there. Amazing Race also shot one episode somewhere in El Nido (Another production of Survivor is now being filmed at the equally beautiful Caramoan Islands in Camarines Sur).  

Lately, Palawan figured in yet another media mileage-- thru National Geographic and Lonely Planet as they listed Palawan as a must-visit place for 2011! In no time,  people will come in droves to what is considered as The Philippines last frontier. And it holds the title so dearly by protecting its natural treasures from being raped by the greedy capitalists. Its a fierce and tough battle. Early this year, a staunch environmental advocate and mediaman was shot to death! 

Travelers of different persuasions come to Palawan. As for me, it's mainly work-related and the vacation part? It's secondary only. But it's fun just the same. I brought 10 of my students for a one-week holiday.

Years before though, I vaguely sketched a one-month plan to explore Palawan from end-to-end. My untimely visit this year was in a rush and covered only the vastness of Puerto Princesa. But no regrets. Gives me more reasons to come back!

Mactan Channel: The view from my window on flight 5J 227
The plane touched down Puerto Princesa Airport past lunchtime. As soon as we arrived in the pension house, I asked the staff if there's any place cheap for lunch, like a Vietnamese noodle house perhaps. With her bloodshot eyes, the staff answered that it's a few blocks away. A few minutes walk, we found it!

BONA'S CHAO LONG:Viet noodle for P40.00 a bowl + P25.00 baguette



I reckoned food speak much of its location and its people.

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Tuck in the fringes of South China Sea on one side and Sulu Sea on the other (with much of its diverse marine life still intact) means nautical miles after nautical miles of abundant fishing grounds. At Ka Lui, there's a season bestseller called Tubbataha salad (Php165.00).

 tubbattaha reef. source
At the opposite end of the province, across South China Sea is Vietnam.

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In 1975, after the fall of Vietnam, thousands of Vietnamese took wooden boats, paid a hefty thousand dollars for the trip and faced the hard life at sea to seek refuge in foreign shores. The lucky ones reached Zambales and Palawan. The other 100,000 perished at sea trying to escape the communist rule. Those who made it to the Philippines established roots and eventually in 1996 settled in Viet-ville, Santa Lourdes, Palawan--a village for 1,500 Vietnamese refugees. Today, only a few Vietnamese remained. Many have left after ethnic Vietnamese lawyers in the United States and Australia pooled their resources to help the refugees go abroad. Some married the locals and passed on the gastronomic tradition.

local family affair
Bona's Chao Long looks like your typical carenderia. Monobloc chairs, unassuming ambience and menu. What makes it striking from afar are the diners. It's a healthy mix of expats and locals. Probably discovered the place through word of mouth if not through guidebooks.

The noodles here tasted different from the pho noodle variant. I ordered the beef flavor as recommended by the server. At first, with all the gore color and heaps of marrow-oil floating on the bowl, it didn't appeal to me as appetizing. But when I started to dig in for a taste, it sure didn't disappoint. There was a plateful of fresh bean sprouts and basil and some mint herb on the side. I presumed it's for the bowl. So, I added some. The herb added some aroma in my palate and it blended well with the hint of sweetness of the beef broth.

So, is it chao long or not?

"I should qualify here that this is Puerto Princesa's chao long, because according to available literature on the internet, the Vietnamese chao long, as found in the streets of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), is "scrummy" rice porridge (the chao) laden with innards (the long), or lugaw bituka in Filipino.

Puerto Princesa's chao long is flat, thin rice noodles in a sweet-savory broth with your preferred meats (beef, buto-buto or beef bones, pork), served with the requisite plate containing sprigs of mint and basil, raw bean sprouts and a piece of kalamansi"--source

For me, a restaurant's success can be gauged on how packed it is and at it's best, there's a waitlist for a guaranteed seating. For a small city like Puerto Princesa, Bona's Chao Long and Ka Lui undeniably have them!

Bona's Chao Long opens from 6am and closes the business day at 2am the following day. In between, there's a healthy dose of customers grabbing a quick slurp of the Vietnamese noodle and of course, the baguette to go with it.


Several blocks from Bona's Chao Long is Ka Lui. It's the hottest place to dine in Palawan these days. When I say hot, I mean every tourist has it on their tick list. Getting a table means reserve ahead. I called up after lunch time but was told they were full for dinner. So, I reserved for next day's dinner and luckily, they had tables available for 6:15pm.


Since I read from somewhere that one doesn't need reservation at Kinabuch's Grill and Bar, we just showed up and true enough found a nice spot before more diners would spill out into the open area.

crocodile meat dish at Kinabuch's
I let everyone choose their orders while I ordered the most exotic dishes on the menu: crocodile dish (php300.00/plate) and tamilok (worm! Php115.00/serving). Oddly that day, tamilok was not available.

It took 30-minutes before the order was served! But the waiter took note of the orders and so the food was served swiftly.

Everyone waited for the highlight of that night's meal: crocodile meat! a plate for 3 people. No budget eh.


crocodile meat cooked Bicol-express style

The crocodile meat was cooked Bicol-express style--crocodile meat and finger chillies cooked in coconut milk! It was served piping hot. The meat was tender, much like chicken (its always the chicken. snake meat, monitor lizard meat taste like chicken, eh!). The coconut milk added a distinct creamy sweetness to the overpowering spice of chilli and pepper. But yes, it was good! I was suppose to order another plate but with the hefty price tag, not anymore.

When the bill arrived, yes, we exceeded our budget for dinner!

Next day's dinner would be at Ka Lui. We were the first to arrive. As soon as we reached the ante-room, we were given baskets to store our footwear. It's barefoot eating here. I've been reading a lot of good reviews about this resto and at the same time formed some questions as to why this resto simply is the go-to foodie's destination in Puerto Princesa.

Ka Lui


So, what gives? First, it's the ambience--it's unlike anywhere else in the Philippines. The Balinese concept is a novelty. The design is organically carried out all throughout--the masks, the paintings. The visual feast is as orgasmic as the resto's food to the palate. The resto is spread out in a chunk of a property. The cleanliness? it even reaches to as far the loo. One can literally sleep in the toilet!


Next, because of the limited seating capacity (probably can seat around a hundred at a time) and it makes sure the service won't come lagging, they installed reservation. Schedule is spread out during its operating hours. If you plan to eat there, it is best to book ahead and pay the non-refundable (but consummable) reservation fee of Php1,000.00. 

I was in a group of 13 people. Ordering and tracking the budget would be hell if I let them choose from the menu. Good thing, the resto has Ka Lui Special of the Day set (Php395.00 for 2 people). The set includes fish steak, prawns, veggie, fish roll in coco cream, rice and starters.

I stopped taking photos as soon as the food arrived. The prawn's natural aroma titillated my taste buds. There was a little hint of salt and garlic. It was the simplicity of the dish that I like. No fuss. No oil. Just well-steamed fresh prawns!

The fish roll came. At first, it tasted a bit bland. But digging in for the stuffing, there was pechay. I cut the serving and dipped a forkful into the coco cream. Yum!

The service was brisk and the orders arrived one after the other. I had a clean plate. As soon as I got the bill, a pleasant surprise was delivered for us--a bowl of fresh fruits for two people served in fresh coconut! That was cool! Only that the fruit serving was a tad too simple for our taste. Just fruits and a heap of muscovado sugar on top.


After waiting for a day, during lunch at Sabang (after the underground river tour), I finally caught sight of a tamilok vendor. Without skipping a beat, I had for the first time my serving of the grey, slimy, marsh critter--tamilok! For a hundred pesos per serving, I had no choice but buy it. Tamilok commands a cheaper price if bought in the public market. This could be my last chance to try it anyway since there was lack of supply in the city the previous day and pretty much, we'd be leaving Palawan soon.

slurrping the tamilok!
Tamilok appears to be strange and nasty with its gray-off white color. For a fear factor game, it surely looks the part! Much like ascaris or young earthworm! Without a blink, I forked one unlucky fella, dipped in vinegar with chilli and there, sluuuuurrp! It was slimy as expected and tasted like fresh oyster! hahahaha. Nothing spectacular or anything.

I missed out one and then some on this trip!

I wanted to try the bird's nest soup! But its beyond my budget. Next time when I win the lotto! Plus I forgot to check out Baker's Hill. Now, I still have more reasons to visit Palawan and stay for a month or so.





2 comments:

  1. wow!! the vietnamese noodles look delicious!

    is there a vietnamese refugee camp in palawan? because i have a vietnamese classmate who came from palawan and lived there for most of his childhood.. hehe

    ReplyDelete
  2. there's a lot of food talk, now my tummy's rumbling.

    ReplyDelete

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