Much have been said about the grand beauty of Bohol and it's coastal areas. But none have been written more appropriately of its cuisine. While the others on our Bohol familiarization tour rhapsodized over their tarsier encounter or how they marveled over snorkeling at the Coral Garden at Pamilacan Island, my mind was set to lavish over the simplicity of Bohol's comestible. How ironic, right? Nevertheless, after all that have happened almost a year after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that deeply impaired some municipalities, Bohol still stands majestically proving that no calamity can spoil its charm.
Our three day tour around the province brought me back to my childhood. Reminiscing at the time when my father first brought us to his hometown, where I first met my grandparents, and coming back on my puberty years during my father's homecoming from Saudi Arabia. Those times were filled with familiarity of my Lola's and Aunts' cooking. Learning of how to grow your own food, preserving, and preparing a sumptuous dish with just a handful of ingredients. While some boys climbed at my Lolo's coconut trees for our fresh coconut water intake, my Lolo would play the banduria or the ukelele while my Lola would bring over boiled saba bananas or nilupak (pounded boiled cassava or saba banana).
Every visit to my grandparents' place brought indelible experiences, each unique in every ways. Bohol, is a crucial element in my love for culinary, that summer where I first held an old Filipino cookbook. Hmm, I wonder where could have that cookbook gone?
There is nothing quite spectacular, like bursts of different flavors from rich sauces or thick roux on highly seasoned meats or fish, in Bohol's traditional dishes. What you get on every spoonful or fork-bites are clean, fresh flavor of organic or naturally grown veggies, fish and native meats.
On our first day at Bohol for the October 2014 familiarization tour sponsored by the Department of Tourism and organized by cct.168 Travel and Tours, we had lunch over at a floating restaurant on a Loboc River cruise. Sure enough, we all expected an abundant lunch where Bohol's cuisine is highlighted.
Aside from the warm welcome the Boholanos would show us, they would also extend their kindness with cold towels awaiting to freshen up our sun-kissed skin. Our tables were ready with opened up coconuts for the unbeatable freshness of coco water.
It wasn't my first time to join a cruise as such so I was frantic about what they were to serve us. Usually, a Loboc River Cruise comes with a buffet package. For our tour however, we were served with the following.
For appetizer, a sampler platter of Fish Kinilaw, Puso Salad and Summer Rolls.
For the acidic-challenged eater, Kinilaw can be a tough dish to handle. Also known as ceviche, fish meat are soaked in coco vinegar or some citrus juice to remove its fishiness and somehow cook it, addition of chilis can be optional when making this but would give that extra kick.
The Puso Salad is made from the banana blossom that is cooked with coconut cream and shallots then flavored with vinegar.
Summer Rolls are their version of Thai spring rolls with boiled sotanghon noodles, julienned carrots and cucumber rolled on glossy rice paper and topped with orange slice.
It was immediately followed with a hearty bowl of vegetable soup. The kind of soup that will make you better on ailing days. The simplest to prepare at home, you just dump all the veggies up in a pot and flavor with sea salt or "bulad" (dried fish).
You can actually prepare this at home, in a pot, put sliced tomatoes, onions, squash and chayote. Once it boils, you can season with salt then dump in a bunch of camote tops or in this case, "bago" leaves.
After the delightful Law-oi Soup, we got excited as the rhythm of the song being sung changed to a festive mood. We were asked to clear our table as the huge boards topped with banana leaves were paraded towards our table.
It's going to be a boodle fight!
The boodle feast that was prepared for us consisted of grilled sisig stuffed squid, fish and vegetables; Sotanghon Guisado; corn on the cob; Chicken Inasal; Pork Humba and steamed rice.
Got caught a little conscious sharing the boodle feast with Nikky from Manila Bulletin and Julia Wimmerlin (a Ukrainian Photographer) without having even noticing that we have reached the headwaters of the rivers as we have wended upstream.
As our boat navigated back to the docking area, our tables were again cleared, this time for the dessert.
It's a sampling of some Boholano's famed snacks and dessert with added flairs. On our beautiful boat plate are mini-servings of bananacue, puto kutsinta, skewered fruits and topping it off with layers of gingery panna cota and ube halaya on a shot glass.
On every course of the meal, my co-travelers would always mention the distinctive notes of ginger, especially on the kinilaw, the Puso ng Saging Salad, Law-oi Soup and yes, even on the Panna Cota.
The meal was ended with more sips from the coconut and a cup of hot salabat (ginger tea) sweetened with honey, and oh, it was ethereal.
The kitchen usage of ginger is primordial to Central Visayas region, including Bohol. According to my father, since time immemorial, they have been using it in all their dishes, especially in clear soups and those with coconut milk. However, they know how to make it work with the dishes, not overwhelming it with its sharp spiciness, and I can somehow tell, the variety of their gingers are milder than the ones I normally buy here in Manila.
I remember my Lola boiling a number of thumb-sized peeled ginger with lots of water, specially when we would have stomach aches and fevers. She said that the infusion would be a good medicine for relieving gas from the tummy. Also, since we love singing, it would help make our voice more nicer in hitting those notes. I have taken folk medicine seriously after hearing all those stuff from my Lola Vita. In all honesty, that was the best decision I made up early, after being a witness to all it's goodness and health benefits. Though my voice didn't make it to the championships, I know that we can count on the ginger not only for it's medicinal uses but for the peppery pizzazz it gives to the dishes.
Our trip did not end on that floating restaurant, I will be posting the whole tour on a different post, so do stay attuned.
The adventure-packed first day came to a close as we were billeted off to Bluewater, Panglao.
The staff of the hotel were waiting for us with a warm Boholano welcome, a ready cold towelette and one of the best refreshing drink I had, since we landed Bohol. I initially guessed it was an iced ginger tea that I sensed but I was rectified by Mr. Leo Go, as they were offering lemongrass tea with lemon.
We were hurried off to our rooms to make a quick freshening up for the beach dinner set up by the resort.
It was such a dreamy and romantic night, too bad my hubby is not with me.
This tomato-based vegetable soup is just a comforting nosh for a chilly night at the beach.
Another salad dish that I grew up with is the Eggplant Salad, of course it has to have ginger slices and vinegar, something that's to be a partner in salads. You can either boil, steam or grill the eggplants first before you mix the other vegetables and seasoned vinegar.
Though frying is not a regular on the household menu, Lechon Kawali have a spot on their heart, so for tonight the Aplaya Restaurant have us try their fried rice topped with Lechon Kawali.
The fish dishes in Bohol is a commanding culinary grace, most of the time considered as a break from the cholesterole-laded dishes such as chicharon or the Lechon Paksiw.
On this plate is again, Chicken Inasal on the left and Pork Humba on the left.
Sinugba, another epicurean commodity, can be in all forms. On this plate are gorgeous squids stuffed with vegetables and served with soy sauce-vinegar dip.
Sauteed vegetables also is every households' menu. What I like about Bohol's cooking and my father's cooking is how they can manage to get the savoriness right without being too salty. However, if you do want it salty, an abundance of salted and dried fish and even preserved sea urchin meats.
Dessert was a glam. The cassava cake by the way was laden with micro slices of ginger. I was such a happy camper as I was dipping my fork at the ube halaya, it was years since I had Bohol's version, though I don't doubt that I'm also in love with Good Shepherd's Ube Halaya.
It was such a great dinner at Bluewater and I can't wait for the buffet breakfast at Aplaya Restaurant.
Back at the room I shared with Julia, a foreign freelance Photographer covering an article for Travellife Magazine, I still ponder on how folks here are so fund of using the bulb plant in most of their dishes and that goes the same with lemongrass.
On the top most photo is a glass of invigorating lemongrass juice sweetened with Bohol Bee Farm's honey.
I love how green it was but not having the grassy or leafy scent I normally get when I juice leafy veggies. Every sip is a savoring of the aroma from the lemongrass. Contrary to the previous preparations of ginger tea or ginger ale, the lemongrass is ran through the juicing machine. A boiled lemongrass will have a golden yellow to brownish coloration, so I had to ask the server confirm whether this is a glass of tea or juice.
I had a few more glasses of this at Bohol Bee Farm. We had lunch here on our last day at Bohol, so I am on my way to finishing this post and writing a new one for a blog about Bohol Bee Farm.