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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