Beach Setup, Tinap-an Beach, Carabao Island

When a visitor to Boracay asks a resident where the best place is to have a seaside lunch, the common answer would likely be ‘Take your pick along White Beach’ (although I doubt that’s where he’d go himself). Don’t misunderstand me. White Beach still is quite the stunner… just a tad too choked with tourists grabbing every opportunity to immerse themselves in the famed Boracay experience of seafood buffets on the sand, sun hat-protected strolls with fresh fruit shakes on hand and selfie stick-enabled photo ops for their Instagram galleries. Can you really blame them? Unlike a few of those who are fortunate to call this island home, visitors will indeed try to cram as many activities on this world-renowned beach as they can in their 3-5 night stay.

However, if you happen to come round with a bit more days to spare (and if perchance you ask me the same question being a resident now for almost two years), perhaps I’d steer you more towards arranging a picnic at Puka, a quieter version of White Beach on the northern tip of the island or the less-explored Ilig-iligan around the northeastern corner from Puka, where a strip of paradise is still virtually untouched (as of this writing) by commercialism.

Or even better still, why don’t you have someone pack your lunch, take you on a day trip to the neighboring Carabao Island and leave you to soak in the raw beauty of rural Philippines?

Approaching Tinap-an Beach, Carabao Island

Carabao Island was so named because legend has it, there used to be plenty of these water buffaloes roaming freely on the island. It is relatively undeveloped, with limited power and fresh water supply. It is home to about 12,000 people, who are simple folk relying solely on the fruits of their land and the bounty of the sea.

Located only 45 minutes away by boat from Boracay, Hambil (as it’s locally called) is part of Romblon province and is slowly attracting the attention of adventurous travelers. You can approach several tour companies who organize trips to this island. Usually, the rates include boat rental, your BBQ lunch, unlimited drinks and snorkel equipment. One such company is Boracay Explorer. At Php 2,000 per head, you might think it’s pretty steep for a meal at a secluded beach but to be honest, it’s not a bad deal at all, bearing in mind you can easily spend that much on just a half-hour jet ski ride.

Maruja Dive Boat

But there’s more. The crew makes you feel you can resign yourself to their care the minute you board their 26-meter dive boat, Maruja, which is equipped with a kitchen, a dining table and an outdoor grill plus a roof deck and massive outriggers where you can sun yourself to your heart’s content.

Once aboard, they offer you a choice of drinks — from chilled juices and sodas to local beers and classic cocktails. Tom and Florian, the two partners who run this group, make sure that every guest is looked after. It’s impressive that they even thought of the little things a guest might need during the trip, like anti-vertigo pills for those who suffer from motion sickness, especially for when Maruja mightily knifes through the channel that separates Boracay from Romblon.

Anchoring about three hundred meters from the shores of Tinap-an Beach, the guests are ferried to the island, six at a time, on a small dinghy. What greets you when your foot touches the sand will make your heart skip with excitement.

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Duck Press | Photo Credit: D'Artagnan

The minute that the Halloween decors were stowed away, Christmas ornaments came free from their hiding places and quickly transformed hotel lobbies and shop fronts here from creepy to festive. Even the Amihan winds have started blowing more powerfully, giving us cooler nights and a feeling that it’s slowly ushering in the holiday season.

Tonight, fake pine trees, luminous baubles and shiny tinsels put on an impressive display, especially with all the tiny fairy lights amplifying their colours and intricate designs. This is the time of the year when I start thinking about Christmas prezzies.

As a personal tradition, I like giving food-related gifts: a box of cookies, a recipe book, bags of dark-roast coffee beans or an interesting kitchen tool.

Contemplating about it as I walked past a massive Christmas tree surrounded by gold foil-wrapped gift boxes, I began to wonder. What if sourcing is not difficult and price is no object, what sort of presents would I get my family and friends? Given that I like to dole out gifts that I myself would appreciate receiving, I’ll probably pick out items that are not only functional and of quality but also unique enough to become conversation pieces. How great is it to have something you can actually use while preparing meals or entertaining friends and when you’re not in the mood, can stand on its own as a beautiful tabletop accessory worthy of being included in civilised chitchattery?

Take for example a cool kitchen tool I discovered through Anthony Bourdain’s Paris Layover episode (pictured above). He featured one of his favourite shopping destinations in the French capital and introduced his viewers to the duck press, which he described as something that looks like a medieval torture device. It’s used by French chefs to crush a duck’s carcass and internal organs for the sole purpose of extracting all the flavoursome juices from the bird to be later blended with a bit of red wine and reduced to a delicious, bloody sauce. That sounds to me a great topic you can pluck out of the air when you run out of things to talk about at dinner! (By the way, this costs close to $2700 a pop from Sur La Table so if you get one, you must be loved!)

Below is a list of other things which I think would fit nicely in the great-but-not-necessarily-practical holiday presents:

Girolle or Cheese Curler | Photo Credit: Bon Appetit

Girolle or Cheese Curler

If you want to make a statement at your house party, get a whole wheel of cheese and display it on a girolle like this. It’s a fancy way of serving cheese curls to your guests, although indeed a bit on the extravagant side as you can’t obviously buy only a wedge of fromage for this tool to function properly. However, if you rarely skimp on party-spending and have a general appetite for showing off, by all means tell me to get you another girolle so you can plunk a wheel of chocolat right beside the cheese for a sweet alternative. Your guests won’t be forgetting your party that easily, I tell you. Boska | $50.00

Boska Cheese and Chocolate Curler | Photo Credit: Boska

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This is certainly not the first time I’d be celebrating Hallow’s Eve on Boracay Island. I’ve done so with flourish 13 years ago but back then, I was more focused on getting the perfect bat wings and perfect hair & make-up for the glamorous manananggal look I was going for.

This year, I leave the costume worries to those who still get the kick out of dressing up during Hallowe’en. After years of spending money on outfits that I never want to be seen in again, figured it’s more fun (and economical) to sit back and watch all the youngsters compete for attention with their pleather cat suits, ubiquitous angel wings and red demon horns. I’ll probably just chill in my usual uniform (which pretty much translates to bright bikinis, denim shorts and island-given healthy tan). Ok maybe, just maybe… I’ll tape a partially opened zipper and throw a rainbow of mermaid powders onto a portion of my face. Darlings, I’m not exactly known for being a party pooper.

My drink, however, will join the merrymaking.

As a nod to the rum-soaked, free-spirited ragamuffin skippers that command Boracay’s red-trimmed paraws, I’m serving this spiced rum cocktail to friends all night as we mull over who among the costumed revelers is trying the hardest and who is pulling it off with ease. It would be nice to see someone putting on something with a more local or island flavour than going for the cliché witch-with-the-pointy-hat or Dracula. Arriving as Chuck Noland with Wilson (Castaway, 2000) would be awesome, not to mention destination-appropriate. I’ll defo also flip out if I spot Grendel’s Mother (Beowulf, 2007), minus the stupid heels of course. Or the voodoo priestess, Calypso (At World’s End, 2007), who I actually contemplated on coming as. But should I catch Jack Sparrow, though I sure hope he comes damn close to looking like Monsieur Depp, he’ll get a complimentary pitcher of this drink.

For extra drama appropriate for the holiday, I’ve taken a page out of Hannibal Lecter’s book on skull-sawing techniques (although mine turned out to be the work of an axe murderer instead of a skilled surgeon!) and transformed coconuts into the perfect cocktail vessels. Bit morbid in theory but nothing should ever be taken seriously anyway when it’s Hallowe’en. Except perhaps choosing your costume.

Because dude, admit it, that knife stuck through your head is a bit dated.

P.S. Got an extra zipper, if you need one.

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Menu at Docklands | PHOTO CREDITS :: LAUREN HOM

Have you done anything just so you can get free chow? Woke up early perhaps and dragged your butt to McDonald’s on National Breakfast Day so you can be one of the first 1,000 to get a free McMuffin? Or checked in like mad on Foursquare so you earn the Mayor badge at a restaurant and get a complimentary glass of house vino?

Mountain Cafe Menu (L) :: ITAL KITCHEN MENU (R) | Photo Credits :: Lauren Hom

Menu at Nourish Kitchen + Table | Photo Credits :: Lauren Hom

Well, one young lady decided to take one step further. She shares her knack for writing beautiful typography by prettifying your shop signboard and seeks payment only in the form of whatever the contents of that same signboard are!

Her name is Lauren Hom and she is a New York-based freelance designer, illustrator and letterer who transforms her doodles into veritable works of art. She has participated in several collabs with magazines, done branding projects with establishments in her locale, even created the hilarious drinkware called Ex Boyfriend Tears.

Ex Boyfriend Tears Products | Photo Credits :: Lauren Hom

She is also the brains behind Daily Dishonesty, a collection of illustrations about the ‘lovely little lies’ that we say to ourselves or one another.

But it’s her Will Letter For Lunch gig that made me a bit jealous, made me want to be in her shoes.

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Whew! Where did time go? October is upon us and we have moved very quickly into the last quarter of the year. A couple of months ago, I’ve marked one year since coming back to this island. I’ve seen roads built where mud tracks used to be; endured several crises brought on by a super typhoon; witnessed establishments open then close. Despite being plagued by erratic power supply and unstable internet connection, there seems to be no stopping its (over)development. Can you believe there’s a second (even bigger!) McDonald’s restaurant that just opened at the heart of the island’s business hub?

Yet it never ceases to amuse me, how some things that I remember growing up with in the 80′s (the 80′s!) are still thriving on this tiny piece of prime real estate. Sure, progress and advancement are screaming their presence on the now paved streets, the electric tricycles that quietly ply the (creatively-named) Main Road or the local police officers proudly riding their Segways like Maximus Meridius on his gladiator chariot!

However, there are these ‘relics’ that have somehow survived the fast-paced urbanisation of the island. For instance, local grocery shops that still sell those corn tube snacks, whose fake cheese powder coating I particularly enjoyed at recess during my years in primary school. Or Coke that are still distributed everywhere here in tiny 8-oz classic Coca-Cola bottles.

Imagine my delight going one day into a store that sells ice cream sandwiches from Korea and discovering items that date back to the 50′s. Heck, someone here has a taste for vintage goods!

I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic, especially when I spotted a shelf of retro ice cream sundae dishes. Those heavy glass bowls brought me straight back to my Sam’s Diner days, where my sister and I spent many college nights studying for final exams and slurping on malt shop treats served by a wait staff on roller skates.

I’m a happier bunny eating ice cream from this dish than scarfing down a handheld frozen carp-shaped treat but not wanting to purchase an item that had a singular purpose, I left the store and spent that afternoon trying to picture other ways I can make use of this transparent receptacle. Here’s a list I came up with:

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