In Part 2 of our Eats More Fun In The Philippines? feature, we venture to Bohol and the nearby island of Panglao.
Bohol is located in the central Visayas region of the Philippines (approx. 90min. flight south from Manila or 2hrs by ferry from Cebu City to Bohol’s capital, Tagbilaran) and is home to the Chocolate Hills, which is approximately 50 sq/km of more than 1,200 stunning dome and cone-shaped limestone hills that turn chocolate brown during the dry season.
Bohol is also famous for tarsiers which are the smallest primates found in Southeast Asia.
The mamag as they are known in the local language, grow between 8cm to 16cm and have become an endangered species but remain an important tourist drawcard to the area.
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But perhaps most of all, tourists come here for the diving and beautiful beaches. I went in search of great beaches and great food on Panglao before the tourist-rush begins.
A new international airport has been built on Panglao and is already in operation, so expect tourist numbers to grow and the sleepy beachside village vibes to fade fast.
So get here quick!
In the meantime, here are five things for foodies to try on Panglao.
Sisig & Squid
Squid needs no introduction and can be found just about anywhere and is done in many ways.
However, sisig, a quintessential Philippine dish, has an interesting backstory that deserves expanding on.
Modern sisig is made from parts of a pig’s head – face, ears, snout – and is typically seasoned with calamansi, onions and chili peppers and prepared in three ways by boiling, broiling and grilling.
The ingredients are all finely diced up, cooked and then served (sometimes sizzling) on a hotplate.
But sisig hasn’t always been a meat dish.
It’s said that it started as a salad that included fruits like papaya and guava dressed with salt, pepper, garlic and vinegar.
It’s likely that when excess meat like pig heads became more accessible near Clark Airbase in Angeles City, Pampanga (Luzon) during the US occupation, that pork made its way into sisig.
Where: Try sisig on Panglao at Trudi’s Place on Alona Beach.
The Philippines would be one of the last places on the planet you’d expect to find a vegan cafe or restaurant – the Filipino love for pork and BBQ is almost unrivalled.
So you can imagine my surprise when I learnt that there was a vegan cafe on Panglao.
Shaka Cafe has multiple locations with one at Alona Beach and others at Siargao, El Nido and Cebu – locations that attract thousands of tourists from around the world.
If you’re a dyed-in-the-wool carnivore like me, don’t let the vegan part stop you from having a good feed.
There’s plenty here to keep you satisfied, like the Vegan Chili Cheese (P180) made of rice paper wrapped chilis with a vegan cheese dip and the tasty Sawadee Khap “burger” (P350) which is two chickpea patties infused with garlic, ginger and lemongrass, some sweet “Thai-style” cucumber and carrots on a papaya chutney and coconut butter slathered baguette.
For breakfast, give their Super Bowl (P270) with quinoa, homemade yoghurt, fruit and granola a try.
Where: Shaka Cafe Panglao is HERE
Whaaat? Again? you might be saying.
Well, as mentioned in the intro, I predict Panglao to undergo a massive transformation in the next five years or so.
But at the moment, it’s still quite a sleepy enclave of public beaches, sari sari stores, carinderias and small beachtown vibes.
That means there isn’t a wide selection of “non-local” drinking and dining options yet.
If that’s what you’re looking for, however, hit Ken’s Place.
Swede Ken Wallbom traded in the long cold dark winters of Sweden over a decade ago for long tropical beachy summers on Panglao where he set up his bar inside Alona Pawikan Resort.
Ken serves some of the best craft beers in the Philippines, including one of my all-time favourites the Crazy Carabao Exit Wounds IPA (6.5 ABV | 65 IBU), Crows Craft Brewing Co.’s De Puta Madre (7% ABV | 100 IBU) and Engkanto’s citrusy Pale Ale with a nicely manageable ABV of 6%.
There are plenty more craft beers available by the bottle and on tap served up with that laid-back island-style friendly hospitality that we love.
Where: Ken’s Place is at Alona Pawikan Resort
Words & photos by Matthew Cowan. Follow Matt on Instagram at @mattcowansaigon