I have a theory. The world is a schizophrenic place—there are always several realities in each country, and none are mutually exclusive. From the filth, traffic jams, and decaying urban sprawl of Manila, we finally land in the remote island province Palawan, flying right into the capital of the province, Puerto Princessa. It feels like the Philippines are supposed to feel . . . and look and sound and taste. In fact the vibe here is straight out of Somerset Maugham’s South Pacific short stories . . . ever read "Rain"? After years of searching for the sensation that civilization has really ended, I think I found it. And the best part is that modern life, and some of the comforts we associate with it (like running water), are in Puerto, but you can drive ten minutes and be in the middle of wilderness, real tropical
wilderness. I mean prowling-Monitor-lizards-and-Macaque-monkeys-following-you-around wilderness.
It has rained here for a week straight, the effect of Siaopao, the worst typhoon to come through these parts in fifty years. Palawan, sitting in the South China Sea, got the side swipe. Mainland China took the direct hit, so we feel lucky. It is still raining when we land (after two approaches), pouring, in a way that the rain only falls in the equatorial climes of southeast Asia during the rainy season. We are welcomed into this teeny town by a delegation from the local tourism ministry and driven to our hotel. We wash up, get back in the car, and head up the coast to the Badjao Seafront Restaurant.
I would rather eat a meal in a restaurant at the end of the road than at any other type of eatery I can think of. Whether it’s a Maine lobster shack, like Five Islands Lobster Company, or a beachfront oyster bar in Brittany, or at a Montauk Point fish house, or a seafood restaurant like the BSR, I am in heaven. The BSR is a mahogany and teak raft floating a quarter mile out in the South China Sea on the edge of a mangrove forest, dripping with wild orchids. The owner, Mrs. Mendoza, knows she has the best joint in town, but works doubly hard keeping it that way. We ate sautéed chicken with lemongrass and banana flower, chili crabs, grilled prawns, roasted tangigue (a mackerel local to the seas here), grilled eggplant in coconut milk with onions and lime, grilled tuna, ceviche, steamed clams, and several seaweed salads. We sucked down banana and mango purées made from fruit that was hanging from trees on the property. We grabbed dessert at a local jungle market that caters to the banana pickers and farmers in the town. The ripest fingerling bananas are rolled in coarse, locally made brown sugar and wok fried for about forty-five seconds, taken out, rolled again, and dunked back in the oil for thirty seconds more. The result is bananas Foster without the snooty waiter and tableside flambé gimmickry.
Check out the pix from the meal, the banana snack, and the views from the Baojan Seafront Restaurant. More on Palawan in later posts.