30 June 2008

The Dogs of Palawan

Bearded dog at Snake Island.

Hungry twins at Snake Island.

The demon staring puppy of the El Nido playa.

Wood-eating dog in El Nido town.

Dog in town. Not attracted to our stone.

Obese small dog in Puerto Princesa.

26 June 2008

It's Nice To Be Back

OFW siguro.

Good Flowers and Weird Food

The rose has achieved global domination through centuries of symbolism and dripping poetry. There is an amazing irrationality to its ubiquity (along with the truckloads of chemicals needed to grow it in tropical countries).

That's why spontaneous little arrangements with who-would've-thought flowers like these are so encouraging:

Caballero, lantana, and other common flowers in a centerpiece at Daluyon Resort, Puerto Princesa.

Seeing these things pushes us to create small celebrations everyday! So set out a bowl of boganvilla or calachuchi on your table now, and all the time.

However, the same restaurant doesn't carry this practice over onto its food, as it served me a horrible dish, which was hilarious on several levels.

It was made with corn and mushrooms and carefully placed on a bed of lettuce. Nothing was grown locally, nothing spoke of the location. The funny part comes when you realize that you are about to eat actual pieces of white bread that have been cut into squares and made to look fancy. Couldn't they have made it a baked or deep-fried very thinly sliced kamote or something? It was also drizzled with some kind of really thick dressing.

The food was insanely expensive, maybe 200 to 300 pesos per dish, for pretty substandard ingredients. I was very much aghast. Just one tip for the owners: just because something is arranged on a bed of something, in a small serving, piled one layer atop another, and drizzled with something, doesn't mean it will taste good.


Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort
Sabang Beach, Puerto Princesa
(+63927) 316 5513

25 June 2008

Typical Tools for Cleanliness

A typical Filipino back door.

Once, in Paris, a friend's Basque mom excitedly showed me a broom she had bought in the Philippines. After criticizing all other incarnations of escobas and praising the beauty of the soft walis tambo (and stroking it quite lovingly), she set it back up for display. At that moment I decided I was probably taking these things for granted.

While the fanned out tambo, made of dried native tiger grass, sweeps dirt up better than any plastic implement, over time it sheds its long stalks (though "first class" walis will tend to hold this off for sometime) and you end up sweeping parts of it up as well. A balding one is left with short hairs, but is then superb for dusting out the corners of your ceilings or cabinets.

Walis tambo hanging, and a walis tingting by the dustpan.

The walis tingting is made by gathering the thin sticks at the center of coconut leaves and tying them together. I remember our household helper teaching me how to make one when I was little, brandishing a knife and expertly separating the leaf part and discarding it. The tingting (which literally means something like "thin stick") makes a nice whipping sound when you wave it around in the air.

Our walis is ingenious and beautiful. They are made of quickly renewable, widely available material and goes back into the earth after its useful life. Being a tropical country that is exploding with life and quick decomposition, our tools and housing have always gone through the same relatively short cycles. Nonetheless, relative abundance should make it inexpensive to create replacements. If we want to live effective lives, we need to put importance on biodiversity and encouraging fecundity.

24 June 2008

Ka Lui

Mango-pomelo shake. Score!

When I'm in the province, I usually veer away from restaurants that seat more than twenty people. Such places usually eschew the amazing diversity in Philippine vegetables and go with the ubiquitous and horrible chopsuey that has invaded our islands. Because the vegetables used in them (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.) are more expensive, they are presumed to be more "high class" than the lowland pinakbet sort. It is sad indeed, and I have spent many sad nights sipping sugary mango shake while dreaming of something other than a mediocre cornstarch-laden excuse for a meal.

Life is good, then, when you discover a place like Ka Lui in the heart of a small city like Puerto Princesa.

Ka Lui is named after its owner Lui (Ka is an appellation that Filipinos use when referring to an elder, from the word kapatid or sibling). Everyone who's been there will, without fail, mention something like "I love the ambiance". It's all bamboo and wood, with native and natural decor. It's all tastefully thrown together, and the end-result is different from all the other places informed by their island-ness.

As you enter, you are asked to remove your shoes. Be sure to put them somewhere conspicuous-- as the place gets packed, footwear accumulates at the entrance! Inside are areas where you can eat from the floor, as well as plenty regular tables. The staff is extremely attentive and well-trained.

Ka Lui serves only seafood and vegetables, with no processed sweets and softdrinks. Only recently did they start producing printed menus for their diners. Ah! Seasonal peepz! A good indicator of a good restaurant.

Suka (vinegar) and toyo (soy sauce) at the table.

I first had the lato salad. When I was a child, I thought that these "grapes of the sea" were octopus eggs and regarded them with a sort of awe and fear. They turned out to be Caulerpa racemosa, a seaweed with little sacs that don't taste like grapes at all, but are pretty much filled with seawater. Eating them is all about texture and consistency-- they pop in your mouth like caviar! The usual vinegar or calamansi dressing complements the salty nature of lato.

Nobody should ever miss a chance to eat fresh lato.

Next I had pako or fern tops sauteed in garlic, ginger, and peppers. This was surprisingly flavorful. What a simple dish!

Gingery pako.

The highlight for me, though, was the ridiculously delicious mango-pomelo shake. A good departure from the regular mango version, this is something I'll try at home very soon. A slice of ginger in the blender would render this drink as perfect.

Dessert was fresh fruits served inside a buko or coconut shell, and sprinkled with mascobado sugar. You can scrape the meat out of the coconut and eat it, if you're not full to the point of indigestion yet.

Ka Lui
369 Rizal Avenue, Puerto Princesa, Palawan
(+6348) 433 2580

23 June 2008

Saguijo Turns Four!

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Come out to Saguijo on 27-28 June 2008. They are four years old (already?!) and the lineup is pretty great.

Saguijo Cafe + Bar

7612 Guijo St., San Antonio Village
Makati City
(+632) 8978629

A Culty Meal at D'Christ Canteen

Strange eating.

On the road from El Nido to Puerto Princesa. The scenery is beautiful, but eight hours inside a suspension-less bus (on worn cushion seats) can never be completely fantastic without some food and stretching in between.

D'Christ Canteen (and don't forget the "Food Haus" in parentheses to further clarify the nature of the establishment) looked quite a bit extensively decorated for a roadside food stop.

The entrance to D'Christ has a Chinese folding ornament and a curtain of wooden beads.

Colors drape the ceiling and a flowery "Welcome" looks on you as you order.

Happy dogs in a wheelbarrow thinking "Happy Dogs!!".

Where do I start? As you mull over the fairly typical food selection, you will probably wonder a bit about the carinderia's name. But religious persons are so common in the Philippines, especially in the province, that you don't spend much time on the thought. But the nagging elements persist in the background of your mind (just like the excessively colorful decor calls out from corner of your eye).

(Rob and I shared a plate, my side containing the standard pinakbet and his, some kare-kare. It was good and cheap.)

Sitaw and kalabasa in the pinakbet. I like drinking out of old Nescafe jars.

On your way out you'll spot a laminated piece of plastic finally explaining the unusual vibe in the place. Apparently, the yellow sign outlines a prayer revealed by "Father Lahi, the ultimate teacher of the final salvation and the author of this ultimate round the clock red priority great warrior power password". It is for the use of the church of "Back to Christ Royal Family in the 7th Millenium".

Click on the photo to read the whole prayer.

The prayer goes on to talk about how Jesus saves us from all dangers such as earthquakes, fire, lightning, flood, storms, tidal waves, smoke poison and sudden death. It's a pretty engaging read.

So you'll get back on the bus wondering if there is some weird energy in your food. You wonder if Father Lahi was serving your meals. All sorts of people round here indeed.

D'Christ Canteen (Food Haus)
Barangay Maoyon, Puerto Princesa, Palawan

20 June 2008

More Snacks

Some more snacks from Palawan:

Bandi is a bunch of cashews cooked in sugar, usually raw sugar or panucha. It's like peanut brittle except not peanuts, and without the oil. I can eat loads of these things, especially when they are fresh. You can get them all over El Nido, and in some places in Puerto Princesa.

Bandi, 5 pieces for 20 pesos.

This variation of hopia was bought at the roadside during a bus stop. I asked the lady what the filling was-- munggo or baboy? She looked at me puzzled and said that it was just hopia filling. I discovered this to be more flour with grated coconut and margarine. Needless to say, I didn't finish the thing. It was pretty tasty, but margarine is gross!

Hopia for 3 pesos.

Maja blanca, the rice flour pudding-like snack, came about after the Spanish came, as evidenced by the name. As this kakanin is supposed to be white, it uses white sugar... too bad, but still tasty. In some places, they use water buffalo's milk, but this particular one used coconut milk.

Maja blanca at 5 pesos a piece.

19 June 2008

Going Bananas

We often joke about how bananas in the global north are not really bananas at all. Often grown and picked with long shipping hours in mind, they are large, perfectly yellow, and taste like flavored cotton or clay. Those with soft skin or black spots are rejected, leaving out any possibility for a tasty banana.

The red bananas of Palawan.

I am not such a fan of bananas (even the small local good ones), but I love the saba variety. These are large, fat, thick ones, that are very filling and are a common mid-day snack for us.

Although you can eat them raw, they are usually cooked. Sometimes they are boiled and eaten just like that, or then mixed with some syrup and shaved ice. Sometimes they are coated in sugar and grilled (or barcecued) to make banana-cue. My favorite is turon, which is like a deep-fried banana spring roll. Sometimes they make it with jackfruit slices. In any case, it's pretty superb.

Turon and banana-cue.


Banana-cue for me.

Eating some turon off a papaya leaf.


Kakanin is our general word for the various sweet rice snacks found all over the archipelago (it comes from the word kanin, meaning rice).

All kinds of rice are used: glutinous, non-glutinous, white, black, red, brown. We have them ground into flours or whole. We prepare them by steaming, boiling, deep-frying, and even fermenting! They may be flavored by coconut, anise, pandan, ube (purple yam), among others.

A dizzying assortment of kakanin at a market in Puerto Princesa. Twisted deep-fried pilipit, deep-fried rounds of carioce, regular and ube kalamay, and cuchinta.

Espasol for 2 pesos each.

Espasol is ground glutinous rice cooked with sugar, coconut milk, and little bits of coconut then rolled in toasted rice flour. There are hazards in eating it quickly, as you can end up coughing from inhaling the loose powder. While originally from Laguna, it is now found all over the Philippines. Tagaytay (visit that link, there is a funny message from the mayor on the front page) is specifically associated with those espasol wrapped in paper, being hawked by vendors on every bus and roadside.

I asked them to skewer the espasol on barbecue sticks for easy eating.

Puto in huge slices for 10 pesos each.

I asked them to wrap this up in a banana leaf as well. Remember, you have that option!

is a steamed rice cake made of ground flour. So many towns have so many different variations. Often in Manila you know when the puto-man is coming when he honks his horn that sounds like a goose, but he usually wields only the plain white fluffy bready sort.

I read in one book that it's of Chinese origin, but I don't think so. When I was in Kerala, India, there was this fabulous breakfast dish called puttu, a steamed cylindrical (non-sweet) rice cake with grated coconut (served with garbanzo curry). Malaysia has its putu. We have our puto, or poto. Rice-centric persons probably have South India to thank for this and for its many incarnations.

The puttu at Saj Homestay in Cochin, Kerala, made by Saj's wife.

18 June 2008

Weed Rolls

A semi-foraged meal. Pancakes are separated by langka or jackfruit leaves. These make it easy for you to pick the next one up!

Not that kind of weed, but uray. Considered by many to be a pesky plant, it can be made into wonderful things. I got a whole bagful yesterday from someone else's land. The variety was spiny, so I was a bit slow in collecting. But I was able to listen to someone making up a rap in Filipino about tomatoes, so it was worth it.

Today I made thin pancakes out of ground munggo and sticky rice, and another "found herb" that tasted like green mango. Tossed these all in a blender (whilst dreaming of a bike-powered blender, that would be really cool) and spread like a crepe onto a pan. You can use a leaf to rub oil onto the pan.

Ready to roll!

On these went the garlicky sauteed uray, which had a very distinct taste-- like spinach but more pleasant. Picked some basil and put on the side.

The sauce was made with lemongrass, garlic, ginger, onion and soy sauce with vinegar. (I used my homemade kombucha vinegar, but you can use any sort.) Just pound them all up with a mortar and pestle. Add some sugar or honey.

Extremely cheap and fresh!

16 June 2008

Galleon Breakfast

Guacamole with basil and cumin, and a goofy cup of tsokolate.

While we gave Mexico our coconuts and mangoes, the Galleon Trade between us likewise gifted our land with nomnoms like avocado and cacao.

The small stores in El Nido are full of avocados of different shapes, sizes, and spots. Nothing is better for breakfast by the beach a cup of tsokolate, guacamole served in an avocado shell... and rice! An easy snack for lots of energy.

Mga De Kamay na Karatula sa Baragatan

I can imagine the vendor getting inquiries all night-- "Magkano yan? One? Seven? Two hundred?"-- before he put the little "two" below the numbers. (He took the sign down after I took a photo, they weren't supposed to be selling beverages.)

It's a pity, because on the whole, sharing a cup with your companion to drink water is much more pleasant than buying ten bottled plasticky water the whole night.

At the entrance, they separate you for the security pat-down. They just sort of wave the girls in and then they turn the guys' bags inside out. What's up with that?

(A significant number of restrooms in Puerto Princesa are labeled "girls" and "boys". It's cute.)

And here, perhaps they were trying to salvage an old painted sign:

15 June 2008


One solar battery and no internet at Talikwas, El Nido... A good sort of absence. I hope to always be a happy little dot in the water.

09 June 2008

All Sorts of People

Some offbeats in Puerto Princesa.

A troubled man fidgeting and talking to himself at the pier. Probably hadn't slept for days.

Some loudmouth superabrasive American wearing a shirt at the baywalk to invite discussion. He thinks Obama is a communist.

08 June 2008

Rarong and Sampaloc

A rarong. There is no cover on the front, so you may put loads of different bulk and shape in, with the thicker canes as guides. You can secure or tie as you see fit.

A rarong is a woven backpack that they use to carry heavy things in Palawan. It is made with some kind of thick cane as well as nito or vine.

Seeing simple things like this all over Puerto Princesa makes me happy. It is great that people believe they can still make and mend things, without going through factories. From experience, I've seen that this ability makes people more experimental and more resourceful-- they are of a certain personality type. I've seen people make graters by nailing holes through flattened tin cans, handles from spoons, etc. They don't see the need to always buy products, or throw out broken things.

Side view of the rarong. The straps are made of old sacks.

In my fortunate experience, these people's resourcefulness and small innovations also apply to their cooking, among other areas. They are ultimately one of the ingredients to an interesting world.

These were some ruminations while heading back from the Subterranean River. So we stopped by a sari-sari store , where there was the best sweetened sampaloc I had ever tasted. Balled tamarind pulp. With sugar and salt. Yum.

Sampaloc balls, for only one peso each.

06 June 2008

Puerto Princesa

I'm now in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Often this place is called our country's last frontier.

It is probably the only place in the Philippines that is increasing in forest cover. Every year, thousands of trees are planted during the Pista Y Ang Kagueban or Feast of the Forest, which is happening a couple of weeks from now.

05 June 2008

Barge Life

On the tugboat.

People of the ocean have developed appropriate ways of living. It's always fun poking around their abodes, seeing how they get on with so little belongings. They cook on the deck, they have clotheslines all around, they take care of pigeons and chickens in wooden cages and below the floor. There was a dog roaming around and jumping between boats.

During the hot afternoons, they jump overboard into the filthy Manila Bay ocean, where the metropolis drains its untreated household and industrial waste out. The water is brown and looks like piss, even if it's far from the shore (at least it still smells like the sea).

I guess, if you live on the ocean, you can't not dive in. It just wouldn't make sense.

Some fish soup for lunch.

A shower in the open air.

Popular Posts