Filipino Foodie: The Best Meal of Our Trip to El Nido, Palawan

Sometimes, the best meals are the most unexpected. I recently returned from a four-day trip to El Nido, Palawan with some of my best buds who so awesomely visited me and Nate in the Philippines (more on that later). Our first full day there we went on an island-hopping tour, during which we visited five gorgeous islands. At one stop, the boatmen cooked one of the most delicious meals I’ve had yet here in the Philippines. The cucumber salad was bomb, the pineapple and yellow pakwan (watermelon) were ridiculously refreshing, and those mussels and shrimp were so incredibly flavorful I could hardly stand it. And can you believe that presentation? 

My Happy Place

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I have yet to be blessed with a green thumb. My parents, they’re pros. They know what’s up. And my best friend, who worked at a garden shop during high school, is my personal floral encyclopedia. The best I can do is point to a flower and say, “I think that’s a tulip. Or a rose. No, that’s definitely a tulip.” 

True story: In college, I killed one of those bamboo plants that you barely have to water. They’re basically supposed to be indestructible. Yeah, I murdered that poor thing without even trying.

But that’s not to say I don’t love me a beautiful garden. And my aunt’s is no exception. It makes me forget that I’m living in one of the fastest growing cities in the world and keeps me centered in the mornings, while I sit out there with a cup of coffee and enjoy the breeze.

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It’s unruly in the best way, and filled with gorgeous tropical florals and plants. In fact, only yesterday did I realize that there’s a calamansi tree in the garden. Calamansi is a fruit that is comparative to a lime or lemon, but about the size of a nickel.

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Italian Food, Pebbles, and Hiking at Talipanan Beach

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A friend from the states began his tour of Asia in the Philippines the other week, so we brought him along one of our weekend trips to Talipanan Beach on Mindoro Island. From metro Manila it’s a two-hour bus-ride to Batangas, followed by a two-hour(!) ferry ride to party-friendly White Beach. Finally, a P150 tricycle takes you to Talipanan Beach, which is the very last beach on the stretch of coast.

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We stayed at Luca Cucina Italiania, which is run by an ex-pat Italian family. Reviews say it’s the best Italian food in the Philippines, and a weekend of huge pizzas, bowls of pasta, beer, mango shakes, and Italian bread beachside sounded just about right for us. (Sorry for the lack of food photos!)

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For the beauty that this beach was, we were surprised by the lack of crowds. It was never hard to snag a beach chair, and more often than not we were the only ones taking a dip in the ocean. It’s a popular snorkeling spot, too.

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Saturday morning we had a huge (free) breakfast and then set off to hike Mount Malasimbo. We found a “secret” trail that didn’t go through the native village that ultimately brought us to the main trail. The beginning part of the trail was one of the steepest I’ve hiked. I found myself using my upper body to pull me up much more than my legs. 

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Ultimately, we decided not to hike to the summit, as it would have been a whole-day affair through the jungle. (I was super pleased, as we had previously learned that the second half of the hike tends to be leech-infested. No thanks.) After three hours, we were satisfied by this view and all we wanted was a hearty lunch and to jump into that water down below.

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That Strange, Red Afternoon

"I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was—I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know how I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.  I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the east of my youth and the west of my future, and maybe that’s why it happened right there and then, that strange red afternoon." 

—On the Road by Jack Kerouac, who would have been 92 years old yesterday.

Filipino Foodie: Pancit Malabon

You may be tired of hearing me say that this and that are my favorite Filipino dishes. But this one really is one of my favorites, partially because I only get to eat it a few times a year. 

First, a primer on pancit. Pancit comes in various tastes, noodles, and ingredients depending on the area it comes from in the Philippines. For example, Pancit Malabon originated in the coastal town of Malabon, and is known for its seafood-friendly ingredients. There’s also Pancit Canton, Pancit Palabok, Pancit Bihon, etc., but Pancit Malabon is by far the most unusually delicious.

One of my aunties who lives in the states only whips out Pancit Malabon on special occasions (think Christmas and birthdays), mostly because it’s a difficult dish to make. It’s such a special recipe that she wouldn’t even let my sister’s fiance at the time learn it until they were married. To be fair, I don’t even know how to make it, nor do I know the special ingredients that make it so, well, special. I’ll learn someday, but for now I’m just happy to be treated to it every once in awhile.

I recently met my great aunt, who lives in Malabon and took care of my two aunts and my dad while they were growing up. She’s the one who taught my aunt to cook Pancit Malabon. When I visited, she had two heaping bowls of the pancit ready for me. I was the happiest girl in the world. 

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