December 16, 2012 § 3 Comments
Batanes – a more off the beaten destination that offers a unique combination of natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Credits: Papers and elements taken from ScrapMatters Life’s Little Surprises kit. Papers by Denise Beatty Originals and Designs by Sarah Bennett; Elements by Scrapmuss Designs and Gwenipooh Designs.
Not as easy to get to as many other destinations in the Philippines but the journey is worth it.
The place is undeniably charming with breathtaking landscapes and seascapes, old stone houses and despite the remoteness, an abundance of good food, my kind of food.
My first meals in Batanes go a long way back, at Mama Lily’s in 1997. There were no restaurants to speak off then so she serves meals at her guesthouse. Simple dishes cooked the Ivatan way left an impression to this day. I remember flying fish cooked every way – fried, dried, sinigang, with soy… simple yet memorable. I also remember fish roe sautéed in tomatoes, onions and garlic. It was the first time I had bihod and every bihod dish thereafter reminds me of Mama Lily.
Fast-forward to 2012, Mama Lily has long migrated to the US, her children no longer accepts visitors and a few eating places have emerged. I have likewise found a new Mama Lily in another mother, Nanay Laura. Laura Larez lives in the farthest inhabited island of Batanes called Itbayat.
It’s a 4-hour grueling boat ride from the main island or an easier 12-minute ride on an 8-seater plane. Both only operate if weather permits.
A grandmother to 13 kids, a craftswoman and a hell of a good cook, Nanay Laura runs a carinderia (canteen) beside her house in front of the town plaza.
She makes the best Turmeric Rice in Batanes, in my opinion at least. This yellow rice is a specialty of Batanes and is popularly served all over the islands.
The rice is cooked with garlic, onion and ground turmeric delivering a subtle ginger flavor that is meant to complement rather than clash with any viand. What makes Nanay Laura’s special is the addition of pork, not too much, just to flavor.
She serves her dishes on leaves of the fruit bread tree, which shades and decorates the outside of her canteen.
It is widely used in Batanes in place of the usual banana leaf used in other parts of the Philippines.
The way Nanay Laura uses these leaves however conveys her eye for detail and beauty. A simple root crop made more appetizing by her talent in styling. With a canteen so well maintained in Itbayat, Larez Carinderia is a force to reckon with.
While Nanay Laura reigns in her small little corner (for now at least), the competition in the main island is stiffer. Once Mama Lily’s territory, Batan has since seen a sprouting of places worth trying, some even going out-of-the-way for.
While going around Southern Batan last May, I was pleased to find a nice restaurant in Vatang.
I remember 6 years ago, we hung around a small canteen waiting for our ride (for more than half a day) to nearby island Sabtang, had lunch there as well. Gone were the days of watered down sweet spaghetti (sans the tomato sauce) meals because Vatang Grill and Restaurant serves delightful Ivatan dishes.
Not far from the port of Ivana but a bit out-of-the-way if not touring so it is a good stop when in the area.
Much of the island’s terrains are rolling hills – excelletnt for raising livestock and Batanes has become a major producer of cattle.
So a burger joint is not so far-fetched, is it? No it isn’t. Not so far from where we stayed, in fact just right beside Shanedel’s Inn is where you can find good organic Basco burgers – a pretty good burger that will hold up on its own in any big city.
Juicy and slightly seasoned, this burger with (sweet potato) fries and a soda goes for P100.00 (roughly US$2) at Zantan’s Canteen – not really a burger joint but their burgers are bestsellers.
If good burgers have started to impress, in nearby La Fuerte St., is an unlikely place to find good pizza – dough baked fresh upon order, ingredients consisting of mozzarella cheese, anchovies, pepperoni, fresh homegrown herbs, etc. Yes, excellent pizza in the northernmost island of the Philippines. I first learned of Casa Napoli in 2006, it was a newly opened pizzeria found on the 2nd level of a grocery (if my memory serves me right) in Abad St. Wary (after the sweet spaghetti experience), we entered the place out of curiosity. It was a simple room with a few tables inside and 2 more at the balcony with a view of the town. When the pizza came, we were pleasantly surprised.
Baked on a pizza stone, the crust was crispy with a bit of a bite. Not too thin but not bread-like thick as well. A nice change from the local cuisine.
The new place in La Fuerte St. is not much bigger
but has its own identity in a white Mediterranean inspired establishment. They deliver too.
But if lobsters and other local fares is what you are after, try trekking to Bunker Café in Naidi Hills one evening.
Open only for dinner as the owners have day jobs, this place is the perfect end to the day. They start serving at 5, and the first night we were there,
I had this lovely turon with my coffee.
Naido Hills with the lighthouse in the background is magical at night. The owners couldn’t have chosen a better spot.
An impressive dish of Lataven — Ivatan’s version of kilawin.
Enchanted, we went back the next evening to an enjoyable dinner of lobster and other local fare. It did not disappoint.
Great ambience and wonderful company is a winning combination in my books.
Ivatan Cuisine is characterized by a variety of seafood. During summer, dorado and flying fish are abundant. So are lobsters and cuttlefish.
The threatened coconut crabs can still be found and devoured but only in the island. To protect the species, a regulation prohibits it from being transported out of the island, live or cooked. Coconut crabs (locally known as Tatus)is a priced delicacy and is widely hunted, its population dwindling. The crab is said to climb coconut trees and husk coconuts with their powerful claws hence the name although not a significant part of their diet. When cooked, the claws are hard and needs a good bashing to break. The meat is sweet and firm but in all honesty, Alimango (mud crabs) and Alimasag (blue crabs) are still my front-runners.
We simply didn’t have enough days to sample all the good places, which means that a next time is likely to happen. In a few years perhaps, I have a sneaking suspicion that more interesting restaurants would come to light and I want to be there to try them out myself.
Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.