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Will Travel for Food: 3 People Share Vivid Food Memories from All Over the PH

by Marla Miniano-Umali
December 6, 2019

There are those who eat while traveling, and those who travel to eat. For the latter, it’s the prospect of discovering different cuisines and the potential of finding a new favorite dish that fuels their wanderlust, shaping their itineraries and peppering their Google Maps with perky red pins tacked onto restaurants, coffee shops, and hole-in-the-wall diners. They plan their days around whatever it is they’re craving, and consider it personal victories when they finally sink their teeth into that delicacy they’d only read about in guide books. For this kind of traveler, the definition of happiness is simple: it’s roaming a new city with tired feet and a constantly full stomach, or finding a nostalgic taste of home in a cafe thousands of miles away, or tucking into a clumsily but earnestly cooked meal with their bare hands as their toes sink into the sand.

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ILLUSTRATION: Carla Francisco

In 2012, my family and I went on a trip to Puerto Princesa. My siblings were very young, both still moody teenagers, and I was the cranky big sister who was annoyed at everything. We spent a lot of time snapping at each other, bickering over who got to use the bathroom first and whose turn it was to stay in the middle of the car’s backseat, wedged uncomfortably between two butts. In our photos, one of us was always scowling.

But that trip will always be special to me. Looking back, I realize it was our last family trip before I got a boyfriend, and although it seems trivial, things really do change when you stop being single. I remember the sights we saw and the tours we went on, but mostly I remember the food. Puerto Princesa may be incomparable to Coron and El Nido, but what it lacks in secret lagoons and a bounty of unspoiled beaches, it more than makes up for with restaurants. Whether you’re craving fresh seafood, authentic Vietnamese cuisine, a tall glass of halo-halo, or warm hopia straight from the oven, the coastal city’s array of options won’t disappoint.

One of the most famous eateries in Puerto Princess is called Kalui, and if you ever find yourself there, I strongly suggest ordering the Tubbataha Salad. Grounded by a bed of juicy lato (seaweed) and chunks of fruit, and topped with fresh tuna sashimi and crisp cashew nuts, it’s a perfect party of flavors and textures that no other salad has achieved for me since. The best part? My siblings and I happily, harmoniously shared the bowl. We didn’t roll our eyes at our mom’s reminders. We laughed at our dad’s jokes. Because when faced with a good meal, there’s no time to argue. It almost felt like peace. —Marla


ILLUSTRATION: Carla Francisco

When I think about the day our barkada was born, I think about the Korean barbecue my friends and I cooked in a hut in Calatagan on the last day of November a year ago.

Earlier that morning, we had all climbed into a van, geared for the long drive with playlists and snacks. A cooler packed with ice and marinated beef sat in the trunk. There were nine of us in total—I knew four, and had never met the others. We were essentially a motley crew of people who had all been invited to the trip because somebody knew somebody.

All day it felt like we were testing the waters, taking tentative bites of our newfound friendship. But by the time dinner rolled around, we laid out our feast: mounds of white rice, a big bowl of Cheetos, kimchi and the beef bulgogi from the cooler, plus some leftover truffle mushroom pasta I had brought from home. While my friend cooked the beef bulgogi on his portable Korean grill, I scrambled eggs over a large wok. Sun-drunk and delirious with hunger, my new friends cried, “Niki’s eggs! Niki’s eggs!” over and over, pealing into bursts of laughter. We had it all with gin bulag on the side. For dessert, there were vegan brownies made with black beans, which I had baked the night before. There was no more water left, so we washed down our dinner with alcohol and Pocari Sweat. The meal was as mismatched as we were, but somehow it all worked.

Post-dinner, we went around the table and each shared our personal worst and best parts of the year, then played “never have I ever” until the gin ran out. When we realized it would be December the next day, we counted down to midnight to welcome Christmas month and blasted Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas is You,” singing along obnoxiously at the top of our lungs. I can’t remember what we talked about, the way you forget exactly how a conversation goes after a really good date. Just that we polished the beef bulgogi, and there were more than enough vegan bean brownies to go around for breakfast the next day. —Niki C.


ILLUSTRATION: Carla Francisco

The idea of a food tasting was always alien to me before I had to attend one in the province of Bicol. Planning a wedding, contrary to popular belief, can actually be quite fun. And deciding to go on a mini vacation for a free meal felt like a no-brainer.

My then-fiancée (now wife, of course) and I were scheduled to try out a plethora of dishes for our wedding, which was going to take place at Siama Hotel in Sorsogon—a property highlighted by an expanse of palm trees and a naturalistic architectural design that complemented the retro-tropical theme we had planned in our heads. Naturally, the food needed to follow suit. We were avoiding the typical roast beef carving station and bland pasta with slime-like panna cotta for dessert. The menu needed to feel refreshing, one marked by dishes that put you in a vacay state of mind, plates that evoked long, sunny weekends at the beach.

Siama served us a classic Chicken Pandan, the poultry wrapped in charred leaves, each bite revealing an arousing, familiar smokiness. The second dish, an ultra-delicious Crispy Pork Ribs, was lean and crunchy and just the right amount of salty—an entrée that worked well with a steaming hot bowl of white rice. But my favorite of the lot was the Fish Fillet with Mango Salsa, a golden-fried dory topped with a medley of mangoes and chili, a sauce that made my taste buds sings.

All these dishes and more eventually found their way into our final wedding buffet. Afterwards, our guests gushed and couldn’t stop talking about how good the food was. We were happy. It was the perfect marriage of flavors. —Anton U.


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This article was last edited on December 27, 2019 by the DG Traveler team.

About Marla
Marla Miniano-Umali is the former editor in chief of Cosmopolitan Philippines, Candy Magazine, and Summit Books. She has written four YA novels and two short story collections, and co-authored two poetry anthologies—including the travel-inspired The Maps that Contain Us. She likes long drives, snack pit stops, and adventures on and off the page.

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