Boracay Food Tour
This wasn’t realty a food tour. By that I mean, there weren’t specific restaurants I’d planned on going to. Instead, this is a report on what I did eat during my brief but utterly enjoyable visit to the Filipino resort island. This was my third time going there and I knew, after the last two visits, that reporting on the food available was a must. So, here goes. And, if you go there, report back on your own experiences.
We caught the first flight out of Manila to Caticlan and were at the hotel, Discovery Shores – Boracay, and in our room by about 7:30am. That, in and of itself, was a surprising treat since check-in is usually at 2:00pm. Upon arriving at the hotel–we took a plane from Manila to Caticlan, shuttle from Caticlan airport to the boat dock, boat to another part of the island, shuttle to the hotel–we were presented with fresh Ginger-Dalandan juice. It was the summer in The Philippines (March, April and May are the summer months there) when we went and the country was experiencing a heat wave to boot. My last two visits to Boracay were in July 2007 and 2003 and it wasn’t as hot.
After settling in, which included changing into beachwear, we decided to have breakfast at the hotel’s daily breakfast buffet. It comes with the hotel reservation but, being that we weren’t officially checked-in, we had to pay for this meal. But it was completely worth it. At approximately 1,700 Philippine Pesos (PHP) for three people (US$1 = PHP 45.80), we were able to sample fresh tropical fruits and fresh tropical fruit juices, continental fare, Filipino breakfast and other dishes. The special juice of the day was Lychee-Watermelon. In urns at the centre table were fresh guava juice, fresh mango juice, fresh pineapple juice and chilled-pressed apple juice. Among the fresh fruit offerings were Filipino mango, papaya, watermelon, pineapple and cantaloupe.
Of the hot items, there were plain rice, vegetable fried rice, tocino (Filipino cured pork), German cheese sausage, fried Bangus, yellow Adobo made with turmeric, pancit bihon (a kind of pork and veggies lo mein but made with vermicelli noodles), an egg station, a station with French toast, pancakes and waffles, and a station that had hash browns, which were perfectly browned on the outside and tender on the inside. They looked more like larger and flatter tater tots that the hash browns I get at my local diner or the oval-shaped variety served at McDonald’s. Regardless, they were good. On either side of the dish of hash browns were plates of bacon. One side was crispy and the other was soft. This offer of different varieties of bacon is something I’ve never seen before. Bacon is usually cooked somewhere in the middle, leaning more towards crispy than soft. Unless you specify with the waiter or waitress how you like it, the chef or cook will prepare bacon according to his or her tastes which, like I said, tends to lean on the crispier side; at least in from my experiences. This option of being able to choose from soft or crispy was a nice surprise since my son and I like soft bacon and my wife likes crispy.
In addition to the juice bar, there was a milk bar. Carafes of whole milk and chocolate milk were available which, again, I found unusual but thoughtful. From breakfast buffets I’ve had in the US, there might be bottles or cartons of whole milk, skim milk, 2% fat milk and, nowadays, some kind of soy, rice or almond milk available for both drinking and using with cereal. Here, these carafes were purely for drinking. There was another cereal station with pitchers of milk for pouring over whatever cereal you might choose. While we’re on the subject of milk, when we got our coffee–nice, full-bodied Filipino Barako coffee–we were given a small pitcher of warm milk. That’s another thing that doesn’t happen often, if ever. Warm milk. I don’t mind it when it’s cold or cool. My wife, however, she was overjoyed since the milk didn’t cool her coffee down too quickly.
After breakfast, we walked along the beach to d’Mall, Boracay’s shopping centre and kick around spot. There are vendors galore selling local crafts, tourist tank tops and t-shirts, double-locking plastic pouches for your smart phones, selfie sticks, postcards, etc. What we came across, however, and took full advantage of was a licensed outdoor massage parlour. In previous trips to Boracay, we stayed at a hotel that didn’t have its own spa services so the massage therapists were allowed to come onto the hotel’s beach front and give you a massage (half hour, full hour, longer, foot spa, head massage) while you sat or laid down on the lounge chair. Discovery Shores, however, has its own spa services so to enjoy Boracay’s signature beach massage, we had to go to look for them. And we found them.
All three of us got massages and it was my son’s first time getting a professional full hour massage and he loved it. And he’s only eight. He’s truly a de Leon-Bas and I think we’ve spoilt him. We went back the next day and got another massage and why not? I’m not turning down excellent service at dirt-cheap prices. Since I’m a bigger guy and needed the stronger masseuse, my massage was the most expensive at PhP550 for an hour. That’s about US$13. US$13!!! Beat that. My wife and son were in PhP300 range. Where in the US can you get a quality, professional massage for US$13 or less?
Anyway, back to the food report.
That night, we had an early dinner at the restaurant at Friday’s, the hotel next door to ours. My son enjoyed an order of sliders. Nothing special there except they had that unique Filipino burger taste. The burgers were made of fresh ground meat but there’s something in the seasoning that makes it stand out and, frustratingly, I cannot work it out. It might be that there’s Knorr seasoning massaged into the meat. It might be that there’s some other ingredient added–perhaps pork–or maybe the unique taste comes from the burger’s overall simplicity of just meat with a touch of salt and garlic, made into patties and there you have it. And, the Filipino sweetness isn’t acquired simply by adding sugar. As far as the actual taste goes, a Filipino burger is sweet and salty at the same time, but subtle in both tastes, with every bite and Friday’s did not disappoint. My wife ordered a personal Seafood Pizza, which was absolutely delicious topped with fresh fish and shellfish, including scallops, shrimp, clams, mussels and crab. It was on a thin crust with a sauce that tasted more like a cross between marinara and vodka sauces as opposed to a regular red pizza sauce. This was a difference I liked compared to other seafood pizzas that only use a red sauce.
I ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara, a dish I absolutely love but is hard to find here in New Jersey. PapaRazzi, of The Back Bay group, used to make it but the franchise stopped doing so several years ago. My father used to make it once in a while when he and my mother lived in New Jersey but I can’t have his since they’re back in The Philippines. (Incidentally, I did get to enjoy my mother’s Carbonara when my wife, son and I stayed with them for a few days on this same vacation.) What’s really interesting is that Spaghetti Carbonara appears to be popular and readily available in The Philippines. Friday’s Carbonara was balanced nicely with the sweet-saltiness of the cream and the smokiness of the bacon. It was delicious and a touch oily but not to the point where the dish is ruined. I would order it again but I was glad it was served with some freshly made breadsticks to sop up the sauce.
Later, before turning in, and as we enjoyed the sunset at our hotel’s beach front, my wife and I had a cocktail from our hotel’s bar. I enjoyed a blended Pina Colada, which had enough alcohol to remind me it’s an alcoholic beverage and not to down it like it was a tropical milkshake. It was also ‘coconutty’ sweet, which did a good job of cutting the alcohol without suppressing it. I’ve had Pina Coladas at other places that are too heavy on the rum, and sometimes too light, that they’re not enjoyable. Additionally, neither the pineapple nor coconut overpowered the other. It was blended well and if I hadn’t still been jetlagged from my trip from New Jersey, having only arrived in Manila three days earlier, and dehydrated from the scorching sun and afraid of zoning out, I would have ordered a second one. My wife had a Mojito of which she said it was the best she’s ever had.
Back in the room, with our beds turned down while we were out, a saucer with three two-inch squares of Ube Maja (coconut rice pudding flavoured with purple yam) sat on the little reading/bedside table. The addition of ube gave the maja an interesting taste, tempering the usual overpowering sweetness. The combination of ube and coconut rice pudding was reminiscent of a green tea flavor you get with green tea ice cream or green tea mochi. Discovery Shores’ chef and the hotel management are far classier than I am because, with the closeness in taste to green tea, I might have named this dessert Ube Matcha or Matcha Maja. Whatever you want to call it, it was a nice end to the day.
The second day began much like the first–breakfast buffet with fresh fruits and juices, hot food stations, pancakes and eggs stations and so on. The day’s juice special was a Ginger-Dalandan.
The standouts of the day, however, were our lunch and early (first) dinner. On day one of our Boracay vacation, we went Sea Do-ing. That’s an entire blog post in and of itself so I’ll spare you the details but after getting back to the hotel we arranged with the same guide to go snorkeling the next day–today. So, after breakfast, we met up with our guide, hopped on the banka (mostly motorised now but sometimes still powered by sail, this is a Filipino style mini-ferry boat) and motored out to Crocodile Island.
We went snorkeling in July 2007 and it wasn’t that good of an experience for me. The currents weren’t violent but June, July and August are the stormy months in The Philippines so the current’s pull is faster than in April. As a result of that experience, I was apprehensive about going this time–especially with my son–but I was pleasantly surprised to find the currents were mild and we were able to enjoy a good two hours seeing all sorts of cool marine life. We even saw a Dory and a Nemo! Naturally, swimming around in salt water, we got thirsty and, as industrious as Filipinos are, there were two men on small rowboats carrying fresh young coconut.
Buko! We bought two of them, one for my wife and I and for our son to try and one for our guide and the driver of the boat. (We were on a banka and not a ship. Is he the captain or the helmsman?)
Anyway, there is nothing like fresh anything so having the fresh buko water and being able to get at some of the soft, gelatinous coconut meat inside was the best and most delicious treat and recovery nutrition I could’ve had.
After snorkeling, we ventured to Puka Beach, named for its sand that is made up of naturally crushed and washed up puka shells mixing in with the natural white sand of the island. This was my third time having lunch at Puka Beach. The first two times we went to a no frills spot a little inland of the beach. This time, the eatery was just at the inland end of the beach in a nicely constructed open area with a thatched straw roof, long tables and benches and sand beneath our feet. To round out the ambience, there was the cutest askal (short for asong kalye which means ‘street dog’ although, in this case, it might be more accurate to call it a ‘beach dog’).
What we ate for lunch was, without question, the best meal I had on this trip to Boracay. And, again, the key word is ‘fresh.’ We had garlic-cooked crab, a dish of Inihaw na Baboy (grilled pork), Inihaw na Pusit (grilled squid), Sinangag (white rice either lightly friend with chopped browned garlic or steamed rice with the chopped browned garlic sprinkled on top) and plain rice for my son. The Inihaw na Baboy was good but it’s a Filipino staple so, unless it’s totally charred or the cook doesn’t know what he or she is doing at all, it’s not going to be bad. The crab, however, was something else. It came with a sweetish, yellow glaze and with each bite you could taste the garlic and the butter it was cooked in. Moreover, upon cracking open the shell, there was an abundance of meat for the size of the crab and there was also an abundance of the delicious aligi (crab fat, which is actually the crab eggs).
With each bite, the crab melted in my mouth and I was tempted to order a second one. The pusit came out perfectly as well. It wasn’t rubbery or slimy the way overcooked or undercooked squid, respectively, turns out. The pusit we got gave off its natural flavour with each bite, without being fishy, and combined nicely with the sinangag, crab and pork. In fact, the two inihaw dishes were almost like a Filipino surf-and-turf that, coupled with the rice and, perhaps, the addition of a vegetable would’ve made a perfect meal. To accompany the meal, my wife and I each enjoyed a bottle of San Miguel Light and our son had his first taste of Royal Tru orange soda.
As we were enjoying our meal, another Filipino family arrived. One of the family members was carrying a metal bucket and, as they walked in and secured a table, the matriarch of the group bantered back-and-forth with one of the employees of the eatery in Tagalog. They discussed how to prepare their meal and negotiated a price for doing so since they’d come with their own ingredients. With each sentence, the employee pulled a fish out of the woman’s bucket. Each one looked meatier than the one before it but what really stood out for were the colours. The first one had blue and black and yellow stripes on a silvery grey body. The second fish was, I think, a red snapper but it was the fattest, brightest and most delicious looking snapper I’ve ever seen.
Later that day, after returning to the hotel and enjoying some time in the pool and on the beach, we took the hotel shuttle to d’Mall and had a late afternoon massage.
From there we made pasyal. This is a Tagalog word for ‘stroll’ but it connotes more than simply going for a walk. It has a cultural meaning to it. Yes, you’re literally going for a walk but it’s also social time during which you talk and catch up with the friends and family you’re with. You may or may not actually be heading for a particular boutique or eatery but you will, invariably, enjoy some window shopping and browsing. You may even try clothes on. On your walk, you may be trying to decide where you’ll have merienda (mid-afternoon snack). At the end of your pasyal, you may not have made it to that boutique and you may have decided to snack at home because, like I said, it’s bot the actually walking or the destination that’s important. Instead, it’s the catching up and the being together with your family and friends that takes precedence.
On our pasyal, renewed from our massages and our considering that our early lunch was super early, we got hungry and stopped into another fresh fish joint for a late merienda/early dinner. The restaurant is called Paradiso Grill and it can be found in Station Two.
My wife ordered Grilled Scallops, which turned out to be a total invasion of my taste buds. Served in a half shell, it was grilled with garlic and served with the scallop roe. This was definitely unusual and something I’d never had before. Add to that, the scallops were rather large (I forget if that means they’re ocean scallops or bay scallops) which made for a hearty mouthful with each bite.
The scallops were perfectly cooked with a little crust to the exterior but completely creamy inside. The roe melted in my mouth and tasted like a cheese fondue made from Port Salut or Brie infused with red pepperor some other sweet colourful inredient. For this dish alone, I will return to Paradiso Grill on my next trip to Boracay.
Even though it’s a Filipino staple and hard to ruin, I decided to order Paradiso Grill’s version of Pork Barbeque.
It was okay–not outstanding or unique–but still tasty. My son was in the mood for something more filling and non-Filipino so he ordered their Spaghetti Bolognese. In true Filipino culinary fashion, it had a unique sweetness to it. It was like the sweet spaghetti of my youth but, again, nothing to go bonkers over. It was more than edible and I would order it again myself if I were in the mood for that taste but it’s not something I would search out at Paradiso Grill. Also, in true Filipino fashion, my wife and I complimented our scallops and pork with sinangag.
Unusual, at least in my experience, is to find New England Clam Chowder on the menu in The Philippines. For the first time ever, I found it on the menu at Paradiso Grill and, as a fan of New England Clam Chowder (check out my review of the NECCs at Montauk; click here) I had to order a bowl. It wasn’t like the NECC one would find in the US. It was less creamy but starchier. It wasn’t starchy to the point of being pasty but it lacked the smoothness that cream or milk offers. The best bites were the ones with a clam in it. Without it, there wasn’t much flavour. The soup included largely chopped carrots and potatoes and diced onions. The clams were served in their shells, which is something I’ve seen before but not something you see all the time. Overall, the soup was good enough but there was no spark. Unfortunately, it’s not something I would order again.
For drinks, my son had an orange Mirinda, which is originally a Spanish brand of soft drink that has lingered in The Philippine. (Paradiso Grill wasn’t serving Royal Tru Orange.)
My wife had a Mango Shake, which was outstanding. It wasn’t as thick as a milkshake so it wasn’t heavy after consuming it and what they put in it (ice, milk, whatever) didn’t make the shake candyish or take away from the freshness of the mango–and if you’ve had a Filipino mango you know how unique and delicious it is. The closest mango I’ve had outside of Asian to the Filipino mango is the yellow Mexican Ataulfo. For me, I had a Frozen Iced Tea. It came out with a frothy head and tasted like it was sweetened with some kind of honey and had the consistency of a thin slushy. To complete the drink, it wasn’t accented with lemon. It was accented with kalamansi! It was truly one of the most unique iced teas than I’ve ever had and, without doubt, one of the most delicious as well.
Later that night, as I wrote in the hotel room and my wife and son hung out on the beach, I got a little hungry and I decided to order our hotel’s Spaghetti Carbonara. I might have mentioned it earlier in this post but Carbonara is one of my favourite dishes–much like New England Clam Chowder is one of my favourite soups and Monte Cristo is one of my favourite sandwhiches–so I might have to dedicate a separate blog to the Carbonara dishes I come across.
The Spaghetti Carbonara from Discover Shores’ kitchen was tasty, creamy and had a nice touch of smokiness much like Friday’s. It was, as can be expected, a little heavy but not all carbonara dishes I’ve eaten have left me with that ‘brick in your stomach feel.’ This one, while yummy–yes, formal culinary terms are used here)–could easily be shared by two or three people. One thing that made it different and, in a way, better than Friday’s was that it was less oily.
Like the night before, the turn down service left us some sweet samples to enjoy. Instead of Ube Maja, this night we were treated to Chocolate Biko (coconut glutinous rice cake). Regular biko looks like chocolate anyway, since it’s sweetend with brown sugar, so when I bit into my piece I was expecting to taste regular biko. I was surprised when I discovered this was chocolate-infused. It was tasty and I enjoyed my piece but I can’t honestly say if I liked it or not. As a combination, it was good but I think I was expecting and anticipating the regular biko taste, especially since I hadn’t had biko of any kind in years.
On our final day of our Boracay holiday, we had another breakfast buffet at our hotel. The offerings were very much the same as days one and two but this time they had individually wrapped squares of Anchor butter. This is a brand of butter we used to buy when I was growing up in Hong Kong so I definitely got a couple of squares to eat with the freshly baked pandesal (Filipino bread rolls).
Also new this time around, was the inclusion of slices of Yellow Watermelon at the fruit station.
I’d never tasted it before and I was intrigued to see what it was like. Well, for those of you who haven’t tasted yellow watermelon, it tastes exactly the same as red watermelon–sweet, juicy and refreshing.
Our flight back to Manila wasn’t until 4pm, the last flight out of Catilcan, and the hotel let us do a late check out so we were able to enjoy some more beach and pool time before having to pack up. We also had a final lunch at our hotel’s restaurant. We weren’t super hungry so my wife and I shared an order of Lechon Kawali (deep friend pork sliced into cubes), served with suka (vinegar) with chopped bits of red and green silis (Filipino chili), and Bistek (strips of beefsteak marinated in soy sauce and kalamansi juice).
Lechon Kawali is another Filipino standard that’s difficult to do badly and, as expected, the variation at Discovery Shores was delicious. What made this one stand out from others I’ve had were the large cloves of roasted garlic that were served on the plate with it. Oh my! What a treat! Place a piece of garlic on the pork, smear it over the meat and eat it with a spoonful of sinangag. Perfection. The Bistek was tasty as well managing a good balance between the saltiness of the toyo (soy sauce) and the tart of the kalamansi. It also came with large pieces of roasted garlic.
On our way out, one of the waiters who served us on various occasions throughout our stay, gifted us with a box of Discovery Shores’ homemade chocolate chip cookies, handing it to my son. Such is the generosity of the Filipino.
This was a fantastic, albeit short, vacation to Boracay for so many reasons, not least of which was the food. If any of this blog post inspires you to try something when you’re at Boracay, let me know. It might even inspire you to give Filipino food a shot. I hope it does. And, if you discover anything new and tasty, share that as well.
Thanks for stopping by and happy eats!
Discovery Shores restaurant – 2 bites
Puka Beach eatery – 2 bites
Paradiso Grill – 1 and ½ bites
Friday’s restaurant – 1 and ½ bites
0 bites = Don’t bother. I suffered for you.
1/2 bite = I enjoyed it enough – I had to eat something, after all – but I wouldn’t recommend it.
1 bite = Good. I’d have it again but I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to get it.
1 1/2 bites = Very good/super tasty. I’m definitely going back and I’m bringing friends. If I weren’t married, it’s somewhere I’d take a first date to. That’s how good it is.
2 bites = Unique, I’ve never had (and probably won’t ever have) better than this, this is what I want if I were going to be executed and I could have whatever I wanted for my last meal, Epicurean Orgasm!