I remember researching my current Southeast Asia trip. I read about how the food in the Philippines is ‘not good’ and ‘the worst cuisine in Southeast Asia.’ Not such a stellar endorsement! Therefore, I wasn’t expecting much when I arrived in Manila for TBEX (Travel Blogger’s Exchange) and subsequently departed for my post-BEX FAM trip – the Southern Luzon Wellness, Heritage, and Culinary Trail.
The Filipino emphasis on meat, rice and, yes, everything sweet, is true. But there are also places you can go to get the ‘real’ Filipino food. The stuff that is so juicy and flavorful it melts in your mouth. Not only do the Filipinos take pride in their traditional dishes, they are keen to explore new ways of making the old standbys. Small farms want to bring healthy food to the Filipino masses. And they are finding organic and sustainable ways to do so.
Where To Eat In The Philippines
A ‘secret garden’ in Tagaytay, Sonya has grown her Garden from her personal residence to a business that employs many. We arrived on a sunny Monday morning to cooling towels and fresh orange juice. Then we were led through the flower garden, full of a variety of blooms and various fountains. The garden led us to the Spa, where we had the opportunity to peek in and see where the treatments are held. A peaceful, airy space, it really had me craving a massage right then and there (unfortunately, we had to wait until afternoon for that. As you can tell this was a very hard trip indeed).
We then were led into the greenhouse, where we got to try all sorts of edible flowers. We tried calendula which was a mustard flavored flower with a serious kick. Then we had an unassuming white flower that was really sour like a sour apple! Finally, we tried a small purple flower that is often used for garnish and food coloring, which had a burst of sweetness. The flowers and plants that grow in the greenhouse are used in the meals that are created for event and B&B guests. In fact, we got a chance to try these flowers in a salad when we sat down for a tasting.
The Food At Sonya’s Garden
We were offered samples of bread that are baked on site. As a serious bread lover, I was over the moon! This bread was simply delectable. As we ate, we were serenaded by a man with a guitar who had a beautiful voice. We learned that in the olden days, it was traditional for a man to court a woman by playing a song for her outside of her window as she listened from above. She could then decide whether to accept or deny his courtship. Now that’s what I’m talking about! No more Tinder dates for me, I’m making potential suitors sing to me. This is still practiced in some parts of the Philippines!
To top it all off, we met Sonya herself! Even the Filipino women who were assisting us on the tour gasped in delight when Sonya arrived. You could tell that it was a real treat to meet the woman who started it all. She carried herself with a regal air, dressed all in white. After we took a photo with her, she spoke to us of her mission. Sonya’s Garden isn’t a business to her, it’s her way of giving back to her country. She wants to empower the people who work for her to make better lives for themselves. To send their children to college and stop the cycle of poverty that is hard to escape for many in the Philippines.
Sonya then told us of her commitment to keeping her Garden sustainable. She wants to leave this world a little better than when she came into it. Listening to her speak, along with seeing her operation at work, I was intensely inspired. So much of the time we want to make a difference but have no idea how. Sonya shows us that if we make the lives of people around us better, we can make a difference with the one life we have to live.
Our tour of Southern Luzon in the Philippines was not lacking in food. After all, one of the words included in the description of this trip was ‘culinary.’ Almost immediately after eating bread and salad at Sonya’s, we were sitting down to a real Filipino feast at Balay Dakao. The restaurant is famous for having some of the best food in the Philippines. Also for its’ view of the Taal Volcano. This volcano is unique as it’s a volcano inside a lake with another, smaller lake, inside.
Unfortunately, the cloud cover was such that we couldn’t get a clear view of the volcano, but it was still an impressive sight. We sat down to lunch and were immediately bombarded with dish after dish of traditional Filipino food. Despite my ballooning stomach, I tried each and every dish. I couldn’t resist!
As the name suggests, Nurture Farmacy is growing plants to use as medicine, and showing Filipinos and foreigners alike the power of plants. Upon arrival, we were greeted by a literal shower of rose petals. Before the rain started coming down (it is rainy season in October in the Philippines), we were shuttled off to the garden for a tour.
The garden at Nurture Farmacy is organized as if you are inside of a human body. Starting with the brain and ending with…well, I think you get where I’m going. It is organized in this way to illustrate how each plant can benefit a specific part of the body. Signs were posted to inform us of the functions of each body part, and the ways in which disease can manifest in them. They illustrated which plants help cure disease in that part of the body.
Once we had passed out of the body (he he) we got to see different herbs that are used for healing in the Philippines. I asked Mayette, one of our representatives from the Tourism Promotions Board, and she assured me that her mother used these herbs to heal ailments. she herself still uses them as well.
The ancient ways of growing and producing food are still used in rural areas. We watched a demonstration on how to separate rice and get the meat out of coconuts. Then we got to try ourselves!
After our massages (yes, I told you, terribly difficult trip) we were treated to sticky rice and mango with hot chocolate. This dessert is my new favorite. Then we had a demonstration on how to make juices for health using fruits and vegetables from the Nurture Farmacy garden.
Oh, but our day of eating wasn’t over yet! Even after ALL of this delicious food, we were about to have another stellar meal. We arrived at our hotel for the night, Taal Vista, and sat down for a five-course meal at Taza, the hotel’s restaurant. The chef at Taza, Jayme Natividad, worked previously at many famous restaurants in New York City, under the tutelage of chefs like Mario Batali and Wolfgang Puck.
The care taken on each and every course was apparent, and the presentation was beautiful. Even though I was so full I felt I would burst, I still made room for a bite (or, realistically, many bites) of each course. The standouts for me were the fresh handmade pasta and beef stroganoff.
The next day, we visited Taal Batangas, a town known for being the home of Asia’s largest Catholic church, The Basilica de San Martin de Tours. It is also the home to many heritage houses, remnants from the Spanish Colonial days of the 19th century. These houses are now being repurposed for everything from museums to restaurants.
Feliza’s Cafe is one such restaurant, held in the former home of Felisa Diokno, the secretary to the first President of the Philippines, Emilio Aguinaldo. We sat down to eat a delicious meal of purple yam soup and other Filipino delicacies. The chef, Giney Villar, who is quite well known in the Philippines, came out to greet us at the end of the meal and showed us around the house.
A boodle fight is a traditional military way of eating a meal. You stand around a table on which is laid banana leaves and an assortment of foods for eating. The main component is rice, with various meats and vegetables (and even fruits!) on offer to mix and match. During a boodle fight, you use your hands to combine rice and the accouterment of your choice and stuff hastily into your mouth.
We were offered a traditional boodle fight set up at our second hotel, Aquatico Beach Resort, for lunch on our last day. The flavors of the meat and vegetables were unparalleled, and we were soon extremely full. That’s the point of a boodle fight, a quick filling meal (that apparently prepares you for war?) In our case, all it prepared us for was our second massage of the trip (very strenuous, indeed).
Famous in El Nido (on the famous island of Palawan) for having the freshest, most delicious food, I ate here nearly every day of my time in El Nido. It was hard to resist this place, with its’ open, airy layout (and “semi-decent” wifi). Opened in its’ current location in 2008, Artcafe is committed to being as eco-friendly as possible. Just this year they installed solar energy! Artcafe has its’ own organic farm, where they grow most of the produce that you see on your plate. Biodegradables from the restaurant are sent to the farm for composting, feed, and fertilizer. You will notice that when you are served a drink at Artcafe, you won’t receive a straw. This is a commitment on the part of the restaurant to reduce plastic waste.
This coffee lover is impressed with the fact that REAL coffee is served here (a luxury in the Philippines, land of instant coffee). The beans are even local Batangas-grown beans. I tried a lot of their food, from breakfast to pizza to pasta to sandwiches. My top recommendations would be the pesto pasta, iced coffee, and fresh fruit smoothies!
So, is the Food in The Philippines Really That Bad?
Have I convinced you that the food in the Philippines is good? I know you can’t taste it through this blog post (when will someone come up with the technology for THAT?) but rest assured that I am a total food snob, and wouldn’t steer you wrong. Sure, the Philippines is still widely known for Jollibee’s and adding a cup of sugar to everything. But I think before long it will also be known for special restaurants and food experiences like the ones I’ve listed here. Filipinos have great pride for their country, and many of them are working hard to show the world that food in the Philippines is yet another reason to visit the Philippines again..and again..and again.
What do you think? Have you visited the Philippines and had a good food experience? Tell me about it in the comments!
Happy Exploring, Wherever You Are!
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All restaurants, except for Artcafe, provided meals for me as part of my Post-TBEX sponsored trip with The Tourism Promotions Board of the Philippines. All opinions are entirely my own, and I was under no obligation to write a favorable review. I just really enjoyed the food that we ate! I paid for every meal I ate at Artcafe and would do it again.