Bora requirements: eyewear and a fruit shake
I hate the beach. There, I said it. It’s quite strange actually, for a tropical girl like me to hate the beach, since the Philippines is renowned for quite a few of them. Everything that people love about the beach is exactly what I hate about it: the sun (it’s too hot), the sand (it gets into my bathing suit), eating al fresco (the wind is also hot, and the sand gets into my food). I could go on and on. I can be quite a sourpuss about it since I am not a fan of roughing it out (aka ”˜getting back to the basics.’)
This trip to Boracay is actually my prize for winning first place in the Hershey’s Happiness photo contest for the media. So the day after I arrive from Chicago, bleary-eyed and mussed up, I have one day to unpack, pack, and then I’m off again, this time with my Bin and Boo, who’ll be taking her first ever airplane ride.
This is actually my first time back to Boracay, since 1993. Boracay boomed in 2000 and since then, it’s the top choice for parties and gimmicks. It’s so popular that the resorts and hotels actually have rates for peak and super peak season. I’m here for the food while my Bin and Boo can’t wait to slather on sunblock and dive into the water.
While I’m no beach lover, it’s easy to see that Boracay is BEAUTIFUL. There’s nothing quite like the often-romanticized white sands and azure waters, especially when the sun glints off of the lolling waves. Time seems to stand still here and everything is peaceful away from the chaos of politics back in the city.
As my Bin and Boo laze in the waters, I set off on foot armed with my sunglasses and a bottle of water. The sun is high in the skies, and I’m determined to see as much of the seven kilometer island as I can. I pass by this ornate sand castle and stop to gawk, like so many other passersby. There are actually a few of these collapsible wonders on the island, all similar, and all made with simple implements like a spade and a San Miguel beer bottle. There’s a small plastic ice cream tub accepting donations in various currencies. I stop for a photo, and the guy who makes the sand castle directs me, “Just a little over here, mum! Smile, ha!” He’s obviously very used to taking photos of tourists. I grin and toss a bill into the plastic tub before going on my way.
Boracay is filled with talipapas (tal-LEE-puh-PAS), or markets selling anything and everything for the beach: sarongs, swimsuits, beach cover-ups, hats, slippers, hand-painted t-shirts, and oodles of shell jewelry. I get swept up in the mania and ponder a puka shell anklet before deciding that I’d never get away with wearing it in Manila. Still, I end up buying a colorful tie-dyed sarong and black drawstring pants.
This is D’Mall, perhaps the most “high-end” talipapa on Boracay. When I say high-end, I mean that quite a few of the shops here are air-conditioned. They sell practically the same merchandise but at higher prices than the other shops on the island. Still, it’s a cool place to be ”“ lots of restaurants, some of which are branches from Manila and some that are unique to Boracay.
There’s so much to see. I’m taking it all in and downing liters of water ”“ I seem to be sweating out all the fluid I’m drinking in. I chance upon this sno-cone hut, marveling at the different candy flavors.
There are plenty of ambulant vendors selling everything from pearl earrings to sunglasses. I see this woman selling green mangoes and rock salt and I feel my mouth start to water. I’m a sucker for anything salty. It’s just P10 for a bag of three small mangoes. She’s also selling fresh turnip (singkamas), peanuts, and chicharon (fried pork cracklings).
As I expect, seafood here in Bora (as it’s commonly referred to) is fresh but expensive. Restaurant employees call out to me as I walk by, trying to entice with today’s specials. Some distance off, I see a man grilling a whole fish. The smell wafts towards me and I inhale deeply. Perhaps there is something different about eating near the water.
Having been away for a few hours already, I head back to the part of the beach where my two water babies are. My Bin and Boo have turned as dark as I am, three chocolate bars on the white sand. By this time, the sun is setting, and I stop and stare:
With the dawn of twilight, my Bin is on the hunt for a choriburger. He leads me and Boo to this vendor with an array of food on sticks, everything from hotdogs to chicken livers and the famed choriburger, which is actually longanisa (native Filipino sausage) eaten in a bun. It’s sweet and spicy all at the same time and Bin’s eyes roll back in sheer pleasure as he munches away.
Back at D’Mall, we stop to have dinner at Cyma, a relatively new Greek restaurant. We have hummus with hot pita bread, some rice, and a lamb wrap. Portions are satisfying and I’m liking it so much that I tell my Bin that I want to eat every meal here at Cyma until we leave. He shoots me a look full of skepticism.
** Read about Cyma in Manila.
I fall in love with Lemon Café as soon as I set eyes on it. Done in shades of yellow, it naturally reminds me of the fruit it’s named after. It has a full-service menu but my eyes are already on dessert which is staring right back at me from the display case.
I lust for the lemon tart but my Bin wants the lemon bar. I decide to give in, not something I normally do where dessert is concerned, and I’m so glad I did. The lemon bar is pucker up-tart, just as good as the Lemon Bars I make at home. I’m particularly enamored with the short crust and how the salt the server thoughtfully provides makes the lemon flavor sing. It’s a revelation.
Several foreigners have made Boracay their home, which accounts for the international variety of food on the island. We decide to go for Korean one day and are impressed with the quality (and quantity!) of what we get.
Of course every Korean meal begins with an army of little dishes which are the starter and accompaniments all throughout.
My favorite Korean dish, bibimbap, a mélange of meat, vegetables, and rice topped with a fried egg.
During one meal, we do Italian. Boo has fallen asleep, so we set up our own little picnic in the hotel room. Our pizza is just as good as that found in the better Italian restaurants back in Manila: the crust is thin with a crunch that reverberates in my ears. While it could do with more cheese, I realize I can’t quibble on an island. For some reason, food tastes better in Bora.
This is our seafood pasta. The noodles are limp and mushy, qualities that would normally irritate me, but on a beach, it strikes me as charming. The seafood is plentiful, its freshness highlighted by the chunkiness of the tomato sauce.
On the day we’re to depart, I’m actually sad to leave Boracay. I haven’t even eaten in half of the restaurants I’d like to try. But then again, for that to happen, I’d probably have to stay here for a week. Not a bad idea, really. I still don’t like the beach, but at least I don’t hate it anymore. And man, the eating’s good! That alone is reason to come back.