Don’t miss these Filipino Foods in Puerto Princesa
A single Cashew ripens bizarrely poised above an ‘apple’ and yet in a shadowy market corridor in Puerto Princesa, tables were strewn with bags full of the local harvest. The work it takes to harvest them is boggling! But there they were – roasted, fried, raw or broken into chunks of sugary brittle. Seeing my interest, suddenly small bags were ripped open and samples offered. These cashews or ‘Kasoy’ had a milky taste due to how they are cooked that’s worlds apart from what my stateside big box store offers. They were fully ripened and harvested in the south of Palawan Island and dangerously inexpensive. Somehow I managed to restrain my snacking and carry several bags back to California. It was my introduction to the tasty treats of Filipino foods in Puerto Princesa.
Bags of cashews in the Puerto Princesa marketplace
There are so many things to see and do in the area and dozens of tours ready to guide visitors. We didn’t find a food tour and there should be! Put your own together with these suggestions of our favorite places and plates in Puerto Princesa. Most were recommended by friends, hotel staff and a few Yelp and Trip Advisor reviews. Thanks to all the help, we discovered a world of exciting eats beyond the expected Adobo (the Filipino national dish) and ubiquitous steamed fish.
A friend had taken us to the old Puerto Princesa marketplace to see the local fish, the seaweed and fruit. Seafood tumbled into baskets, fish, eel, and crustaceans were arranged on cement stands raised to allow juices to flow into gutters. It demanded vigilant side-stepping for the uninitiated. Red leafy seaweed and small clutches of sea grapes were sorted into baskets. Cleavers bore down on Tuna torsos, shook through red crab and pressed fat bellies into fillets. I didn’t know where to look first, everything was happening at once and the show goes on almost daily.
Don’t miss the bananas
After all the snacks en route and airplane meals, I wasn’t going to eat until noon on our first day in Puerto Princesa but came to the breakfast table with a few small bananas that we’d picked up from a sidewalk stand. The petite bananas were mottled with mushy tips but sweet and firm inside. Perfectly ripe and sliced onto my banana pancake they made syrup redundant.
Kalui Garden statues
Shrimp with sea grapes in Kalui
We found our way into the Kalui Restaurant for lunch. My senses were reeling from the moment we stepped in from the heat and traffic along Rizal Road. Local artwork covered walls, courtyards and the rear gallery but more than that, the owners have a flair for design. Inlaid stones formed arches and flowed over walls. Dancing ladies, shell chimes, puka shell lanterns adorned other areas. Collections of dishes, globes and even a pattern of Aunt Jemima magnets adorned other surfaces.
Inside Kalui, Puerto Princesa
Before entering we were asked to remove our shoes and placed them in one of several baskets by the door. At our table we had a garden on one side and watched a huge family feast on the other. The menu was in Filipino and English. Quickly we ordered the local craft beer, Palaweno Brewery Honey Nut Ale, which was perfect to cool a tropical afternoon. The set meal of the day was inexpensive but included several courses. Starting with a clear broth our appetites were kindled with ginger, lemongrass and light fish flavors. Each course was full of color and flavor. We loved the space and food so much that on our last day in town we returned for more fruit and sashimi.
You might think that we were finished eating for the day but after working in an internet cafe for hours and wandering downtown we caught a tricycle to the highly recommended, La Terrasse. I’d spotted the entrance on our way in from the airport but after dark it was a bit harder to find. Along the busy road one lane morphed into two or three and back again, but finally we spotted the sign and pulled up in front. The menu is French inspired but light, featuring fresh, organic and sustainably sourced ingredients. Significantly absent were prawns and lobster – the owners claim that they’re impossible to trace to responsible harvest practices.
La Terrasse cocktails underway
The space was open to the elements, a theme throughout the area, but with stark Euro flair. Walls were washed in deep red. The long, bright bar sat beneath a huge TV monitor and we watched a nature documentary unwind while waiting for our dinner. Our appetizer, housemade breads sticks and a small bowl of fresh pesto, was served with a pitcher of Mojito’s before the soup arrived. It was a pale squash, light and missing the thick cream so often found in French cooking. A small tureen of Spinach Gratinee came next. Dave’s pork and chicken adobo, the national dish, was a pyramid of tasty rice topped with spicy, crispy pork and succulent chicken. Chilled, filtered water came in a bottle. No plastic bottles here! It was a light, satisfying dinner. A lovely conclusion to our first day in the Philippines.
The entrance to Badjao
The fish platter served in Badjao
Badjao Seafood Restaurant
A British Duke once ate at Badjao, which made the restaurant famous, but the seaside setting with the large, open dining room is enough to set it apart from other places in town. It’s a special occasion spot with exceptional service. In the tall, peaked dining room, small birds flitted into chandeliers hung with wafting strands of flowers. Set on stilts between bay and Mangrove forest it was the perfect place to watch the day fade. The bar menu offered wines, tropical cocktails and local beers. Seafood entrees and platters filled the dinner listings. We enjoyed our meal but, while the portions were large, they felt tame and uninspired. I’d recommend Badjao for the drinks, the experience of walking the covered bamboo entryway and the ambiance. Make sure your tricycle driver waits for you. The location is far from town.
A floating restaurant and fireflies
The chance to see fireflies set us off on an evening tour to the Puerto Princesa boardwalk. A van picked us up at our hotel and within twenty minutes we were stepping onto a pontoon boat with about a dozen other visitors. It was getting dark and across the wide bay lightning flashed along mountaintops. Out into the darkening night we set, passing silent ships but pulled up to a bright platform where dinner waited, buffet style. A trio of musicians stirred the darkness with drums and digeridoo rhythms. The meal was a bit rushed, but full of traditional and fresh dishes. We could eat as much as we wanted but paid extra if we wanted to drink anything but water. Soon we were invited to return to the boat to continue onto the river where fireflies make nightly appearances. It was a sweet excursion, pretty touristy, but worth the effort.
The bar in Kinabuch’s
Crocodile Sisig in Kinabuch
Everyone mentioned Kinabuch as a must-do restaurant in Puerto Princesa. The beer garden restaurant is set back from the road beyond a small parking lot. In fact we’d walked by several times before stopping in. Kinabuch is laid out like a sports bar with big TV screens scattered through several dining areas and bars. There was one draft pull at the largest bar and I imagine it pours San Miguel, the ubiquitous Philippine ale. As our dinner came, the Blue Marlin steak looked and tasted more like Swordfish. The fresh spring roll came as a thick crepe wrapped around vegetables. It was decent but heavy and not as expected. The beer came late and we had finished our other dishes before asking when our Crocodile Sisig was coming. When it was finally served, the Crocodile Sisig was hot but a bland, ground meat dish. All the portions were huge and if you ask for a platter of rice, you’re served a shovelful. I can see why the place is popular. The music is loud, the prices are good, portions large and they have big screens showing sports games. It would be fun for a night on the town with family and friends.
The traditional way to eat wood worms!
We’d been looking for a spot to try woodworms, the mollusk harvested from within mangrove roots. Finally we ventured into Haim Chicken which is close to the airport and a short ride from our hotel. Tables were arranged in raised bamboo huts We were happy to hear that Tamilok, wood worms, were available and soon Christian, one of the waitstaff was standing next to our table to make sure we knew how to eat them. He showed us how to lift the long mollusks and dip them into vinegar and garlic sauce before opening wide to swallow the wet creatures. It wasn’t as creepy as you might imagine! They had been thoroughly cleaned and tasted like oysters. If we chewed too much a darker flavor emerged, probably due to their diet of mangrove wood. It was a once in a lifetime taste-test that I’m glad I tried but probably won’t repeat.
The Wood Worm dish
Another special dish at Haim Inatu – Chicken Butts!
The adventure didn’t stop there as Dave ordered Chicken Butts. I don’t care for chicken skin or fried foods that much but these were crunchy, moist inside and well seasoned. Everything else that we ate at Haim was flavorful, well cooked and served with care. The beer was cold, service attentive and prices moderate. I’d stop by again to try more of the menu.
iToys Specialty Coffee Haus
For anyone looking for decent WiFi and espresso drinks, I think iToys would be hard to beat. The small dining room is set with tables perfect for laptops and the patio, shaded by large trees, is a gracious spot to while away a few hours. Their mango smoothies are reputed to be best in the area.
Bakers Hill viewing platform
Hopia Ube traditional sweet from Banker’s Hill in Puerto Princesa
It’s a tourist stop full of photo opportunities and selfie spots but the bakery is what made the hill a destination. The most popular items in the small shop are boxes of purple, bean-stuffed pastries called Hopia Ube.They’re made with ‘pork oil’ (lard) or a newer version with vegetable oil. The hill is covered with statues dotting the lush gardens including giant snakes and tigers, Snow White and entourage, and other variations on Disney characters. A winding viewing platform near the back of the property is worth climbing for views of the city. We bought a box of the Ube because everyone else was and broke it open in the van. So glad we did and yes, it was the ‘pork oil’ version.
We wandered the city for four days and loved exploring the Filipino foods of Palawan. I hope that you’ll stop in Puerto Princesa to explore as we did and not simply pass through on the way to other adventures on the island.
Disclosure: The Firefly tour dinner and the stop at Baker’s Hill were provided through the Philippines Tourism office in Los Angeles and coordinated with the Puerto Princesa Tourism team. Our final itinerary and van tours were provided by ITravel Tours, Events and Consultancy.
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Elaine J. Masters
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No thank you on the wood worms but everything else…. Yummy. I love chicken asses, and have had them served on a skewer in Tokyo. I’m going to use this list when I head to Puerto Pricessa in October and will check out all of your posts toot suite!!!
Thanks, Miss Vicki! I won’t be in the Philippines for TBEX but it should be a great time. Puerto Princesa has it’s own cuisine, as I imagine most of the many islands do. I hope this helps you with your trip.
This is getting me pumped for my visit to Palawan this winter … should be good times!
Lucky you! I’d love to return to explore the north and El Nido. So much to see and do on the island.
Mouth is watering. . .fantastic photos – you’ve made me hungry; very hungry!
Thanks, Jackie. Glad you enjoyed the pictures. I wish they were better!
Wow, that’s a lot of stuff! Love cashews so I would be in trouble there, and the fish platter looks amazing, but the worms… think I would have to let those go by.
Sorry for the overload. It’s amazing what can be eaten in less than a week!
Gorgeous photos! Not sure I would try the wood worms, but I definitely like chicken butt, haha. Once at a family dinner I picked out this piece of chicken (we were eating a whole chicken) that looked nice and juicy and my grandmother laughed and said that’s the butt! Much more tasty than chicken breast, in my opinion. I love dried mangoes from the Philippines – thankfully, they’re quite readily available here in Singapore!
Funny about the chicken butt. It was delicious! Wish I could find Manila Mangoes here in the States. I’ll bet there’s amazing food adventures in Singapore. One day….
uhhh, you are brave to eat the wood worms. You are surely traveling the world with your taste buds.
I’m loving traveling the world with whatever it takes!
It all looks so good! Especially the fish platter at Badjao. You’ve put together quite the collection of food here! I’m not sure I’d be able to try the worms though. :/
It was all good! This trip I finally admitted I’m a foodie.
I had no idea what Filipino food was like, so this was very interesting! I am not sure if I could eat the woodworms. I finally tried a raw oyster for the first time recently and actually enjoyed it, but just the look of the woodworms is little unsettling.
That is interesting that the one restaurant didn’t serve prawns or lobsters. I hadn’t considered how they all might be irresponsibly harvested.
The visuals of the Wood Worms don’t exactly kindle the appetite. As I love shell fish though I had to try them. La Terrasse tries to source only organic and responsibly harvested food. It’s admirable. If I hadn’t plowed into our pitcher of Mojito’s (!!) I’d have more to share about the delicious meal we had. Live and learn.
Nice, thanks for sharing!
One famous and common fruit in the Philippines are Mangoes and Purple yams.
Dried Mangoes could be found everywhere, and there are mango flavor icecream chilled and ready to be shipped home @ the airport ~ @ knycx.journeying
I was sorry to omit the Manila Mangoes but the post was getting close to 2k words and something had to go. They wouldn’t let us bring any mangoes home! I like your idea of shipping ice cream home!
What’s not to like about this. It certainly looks better than the Indonesian foods I had to try recently, although I would have to pass at the chicken butts 🙂 My Dad used to hide them on my plate so they terrify me now. Loving the thought of the beer garden and would certainly love to knock back that pale ale. Great photos, great experience.
Your kindness means a lot, Kerri. You’d definitely enjoy the brews on Palawan. That’s crazy that your dad hid the chicken butts on your plate!! If ours hadn’t been well grilled and marinated, not sure I could’ve eaten them either.
I get so much travel envy whenever I read one of these posts! The food is the best part of going on holiday 🙂
I’ve been longing to visit the Philippines for years so this was a very special trip. Travel envy is my way of life all the same!
Puerto Princessa is so much fun. I have been to the same market like you did. I must say, that PP is nice gave to Palawan, but actually I liked the north a bit more! Was it the case for you, too?
We weren’t able to get to the north other than to visit the Underground River area briefly. I’d like to see El Nido and some of that area’s islands too.
Can I just say that reading a blog post on food at 4 a.m. is never a good idea, haha! I was salivating over the photos until I got to the wood worms. Not sure I’d give it a shot, even with your assurance that it isn’t as creepy as one might imagine 🙂 Would love to try Hopia Ube though! Anyways, a great list on food to try out whilst in Palawan!
I hope you get a chance to check out some of these dishes. Sorry to have kept you up with a hungry tummy at 4am!
A food fest for sure! Puerto Princesa looks perfect for a food tour. I’d definitely have preferred to sample the harvested fruits and nuts. When they are eaten right from the source, the taste is that much more intense.
So many wonderful fruits, nuts and vegetables to try. I’m sure you’d love exploring in Puerto Princesa.
We loved Puerto Princesa, but I wish we’d had this article to tell us what and where to eat. I’m sure we did not get the full experience. Great article.
There’s so much to see and taste in the area. Luckily we choose not to stay in a big resort and were on our own for the most part for meals. Necessity led us to some wild bites!
Wow! Everything looks amazing! I would love to visit here one day.
Thanks for sharing
Thanks for stopping by, Julie.
What a wonderful adventure. My Filo friend spent a month here in Canberra with me recently, we cooked a bunch of his traditional foods (no woodworms or chicken butts thankfully) in exchange for me showing him around the city. Good deal if you ask me! It really does look like a foodies paradise tho, especially the firefly tour and all you can eat buffet.
Thanks, Anna, you were lucky to have a Filipino pal in the house for guidance. We have a big community in San Diego and I’m looking forward to exploring more of their markets and dishes.
I always like to think that I am quite adventurous (or starting to get there at least!) with food – but you had me stumped at woodworms and chicken butts! I might leave those to my partner to taste..
But I do love attending markets in Asia – the range of products and the freshness can be both enticing and confronting!
It was weird for certain and I didn’t really expect to be hunting those dishes but I love trying, at least a bite, of local foods. Asia is a wonderland and I share your passion for markets there.
Yum! I love Adobo. Such simple flavours and so delicious. Leche Flan is my other favourite.
Flan and Adobo – definitely delicious. I share your enthusiasam, Nadia.
What a great post. Heading out to the Philippines for the first time later this year. I’m looking forward to it and this post gives a great overview of what to expect. The wood worms sounds interesting. What did they taste like? A great read. Thank you.
Thanks, Rosemary, glad you enjoyed this. I have to say that these are Palwa’an dishes and that’s the only island we visited, so depending on where you go in the vast Philippine archipelago, you’ll have many other choices as well.
I am glad I have read your post. I would love to taste a lot of the dishes you have highlighted in here. I will leave the woodworms to my husband. He will surely eat them.
Thanks, Ruth, funny thing for us is that I ate more of them than my boyfriend did! We have similar but not exactly mirrored tastes.
The bananas look like my dish… the wood worm dish, not going there! I think it would take me a couple days to find my foods in this country.
There are lots of western dishes available, I just go native when I’m traveling. You’d find what you like and is familiar for sure.
That is one giant sumptuous seafood place! Is that pampano fish? They tastes great when grilled. Thanks for sharing this post
That platter was truly huge but I’m not sure what kind of fish. You’d have loved it.
Oh, Elaine, you are so brave when it comes to tasting new foods. Woodworms? Are you kidding me? I had some Phillipino food before, but nothing so ‘strange’ as Chicken Butts and woodworms. I love Cashew nuts instead, but didn’t realize it takes so much work to harvest them.
I’m not kidding, Anda! Funny how there are some things I won’t go near (Tripe!!) but this was a match. A mild flavor mostly and yes, I loved the Cashews.
I love the description of the market and the abundance of cashews. It took me back to my time in the Philippines! I didn’t try woodworm or chicken butt, so I’ll have to add those to my next trip. 🙂
Those two tastes weren’t on my itinerary but I do love trying local foods (well, most of the time.)
Thanks for featuring our cuisine! Kinabuch was my favorite place when we were in Puerto Princesa. Baker’s Hill was memorable, too! But you are definitely more adventurous than me!
Thanks, Carol. Wish we could’ve traveled through the Philippines for weeks.