“Here in Bohol, when a kid fell off a chair, especially if he’s a rowdy one, he’d surely get spanked. But if it’s an ube that accidentally fell to the ground, we kiss it.”
It’s one of the interesting anecdotes I heard during my recent trip to the Central Visayan island province. I have been to Bohol a few times, and on every visit, it surprises me with something new.
For people who live in the capital region, when we talk about ube, the popular bottled jam from Baguio would easily come to mind. So, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Bohol is one of the top producers of ube, or ubi in the local dialect, in the country. And in Bohol specifically, ube is more than just a root crop or a delicacy. Boholanos consider it sacred and a gift from God.
According to a traditional story, ube saved the Boholanos during famine and war.
“When Boholanos couldn’t plant rice, they planted ubi. That’s why it has become a sustainable food source here in the province and people use it for cooking numerous dishes,” said our amiable tour guide who literally threw random trivia about Bohol during our trip.
Just like the beautifully colored root crop, Bohol as a vibrant province might surprise you with its “beyond the usual tourism itinerary.”
The Department of Tourism in Central Visayas, along with tour operators, and municipal and provincial tourism offices, created a tourism circuit that reintroduces Bohol to visitors. Basically, the province aims to be known not just as the home of the tarsiers, the Loboc River, and the Chocolate Hills.
The new branding is anchored on 4 Fs (Farm, Fork, Fitness, and Faith). And it’s quite self-explanatory. For faith, Bohol has heritage churches that you can visit for a glimpse of the island’s rich history and culture. For fitness, the island province offers trekking, kayaking, and trail biking to more adventurous tourists. For farm and fork, Bohol aims to reintroduce itself as a culinary destination where a sustainable farm-to-table dining experience is promoted.
A culinary trip
From our home in Bohol, the Bluewater Panglao, we went on a culinary trip to nearby towns. Our first stop, the Green Thumb Farms.
Upon arrival at this 2.5-hectare farm in Barangay Sambog in Corella town, we were given a welcome drink. Guess what, an ube shake.
Green Thumb Farms prides itself as a sustainable farm serving food from its own produce. Owned and managed by couple Rona and Jares Denque, Green Thumb Farms promotes the practice of healthy eating. It’s main product, mushrooms, also reaches other restaurants and resorts around the island. In the farm’s Al Fresco restaurant, oyster mushrooms are the main ingredient, picked fresh straight from the backyard and transformed into a variety of dishes like sisig, burger, and pizza.
From Green Thumb, we headed to Fox & The Firefly Cottages, a nature resort located along the banks of the Loboc River. Guests were welcomed with a glass of fresh, homemade ginger and lemon Kombucha – a fermented black or green tea drink popular on the island.
Fox & The Firefly Cottages is owned by Joan Christine Soupart, a yoga instructor. The resort is the home base of SUP Tours Philippines which provides stand-up paddle packages and tours in the Philippines. It has a restaurant that serves traditional, Western, vegetarian, and vegan meals.
One of the dishes that caught my attention was chicken halang-halang soup. It’s the Visayan version of tinola with coconut and moringa (malungay) leaves as the main ingredients. The restaurant also serves monggo soup, avocado salad, somtom (Thai papaya salad), ensaladang talong, maranding manok (dry coconut chicken curry), and their vegan kare-kare which was paired with a bagoong alternative made from locally sourced mushrooms (I failed to ask if it came from Green Thumb Farms).
Next pitstop was Crescencia Cafe in the historical town of Baclayon. The cafe house in an ancestral abode built in the early 1900 boasts distinct delicacies that represent Bohol’s rich culinary sources. It offers traditional merienda with old wooden tables surrounded by antique interiors and accessories
There, we had a glimpse of how Boholanos make their biko. The process of cooking their sweet rice cake was no different compared to how it is cooked around the country, the only difference – ube. And that’s your hint of the color of their biko.
Our last stop was Julio’s Bed and Breakfast in Loay Bay. We were greeted by its owner Pio Araneta upon our arrival. The amiable former physical therapist in the US went back to the country to manage Julio’s.
As soon as we settled, Pio gave us a chance to experience how to make ‘Siakoy.’ The popular snack, a local version of a sugary donut, was paired with ‘Tableya Sikwate’ native hot chocolate made using the traditional ‘batirol’ or wooden whisk.
The highlight of our visit to Julio’s was ‘Kagang’ (land crab) harvesting. After catching the crabs with a traditional bamboo trap, Pio took us to their kitchen and show us how it’s cooked later on, we feasted on the crabs cooked in coconut meat. He said it’s an heirloom recipe.
Bohol’s heritage salt, the dinosaur egg
In our first pitstop, biko was seasoned with a rare artisanal sea salt made from filtering seawater through ashes. Asin Tibuok, which was recently featured in Erwan Heussaff’s food vlog, is slowly getting popular.
Before heading back to Bluewater, we went to Albuquerque to visit the only seller of Asin Tibuok. We were introduced to the traditional process of producing Asin Tibuok which takes months of preparation and requires meticulous care and vigilance.
Coconut husks are soaked in seawater for several months absorbing sea minerals. The husks are then chopped into small pieces and sun-dried. Then, the husks are slowly burnt for several days with local hardwoods, creating a coconut charcoal ash combination. The activated charcoal is then used to filter seawater which is poured and roasted in clay pots slowly until salt forms into a solid dome. The fire and heat must be controlled so the clay pots do not break or get too hot. This process takes all day; both fire and salt cannot be left alone. It takes the entire evening for the salt to cool so that it can be handled.
I have learned that Asin Tibuok is on the brink of extinction. Its labor-intensive process is their biggest challenge. So, I hope, they get more support not just from the local government.
This visit to Bohol is definitely one for the books. And it reinforced my belief that Bohol, or any province and tourist destination in the country for that matter, has more to offer – if it’s not the people and their hospitable behavior, it’s the local food that can do all the talking and perhaps take you to familiar and nostalgic experience.
If going to Bohol, Cebu Pacific Air currently flies seven times daily from Manila and three times weekly from Davao City (every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday) to the island province’s Panglao International Airport. Visit www.cebupacificair.com to learn about its latest offerings, safety protocols, and travel reminders.