Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Escape into Silence - Lilom Fish Sanctuary

Greetings from across the world! What a whirlwind summer it has been for me! Between work and sleep, it's been hard finding the time (and more importantly money!) to travel around the beautiful Philippines. 

Of course, I will try my hardest not to transform this into a travel blog and will stay true to the food.

So here is my latest trip! During the first weekend of September I was invited my a coworker to celebrate his birthday at a beautiful resort called Lilom. The resort is located in Batangas - what is considered the best region for snorkeling and scuba diving - in the small town of Anilao. 

I'm told that Lilom is the native word for Shade and it could not have been more mysterious. We arrived around 8pm due to a broken down car and some delays but it definitely added to the mystery arriving at night. 

Some brief history on the resort: originally it was a privately-owned resort that was also a fish sanctuary. As such, there were many restrictions about how many people could snorkel in the water at a time (15 max if you wanted to know) and what gear you could use. There was a sign but I was too relaxed to remember to take pictures. Within the year, the family opened up to the public and charge about 2000 Pesos (around $50) a night with breakfast, lunch, dinner and merienda (snacks remember!) included - what a deal! 

In order to get to the resort, we had to walk along the shore at low tide some distance from the parking lot and loading dock. In the picture above, you can see that it was no white sand beach but a rough kind of beach with coral reefs just 20 ft from the shore. 

We arrived just in time for dinner - buffet style. Oh man, this was some of the most delicious food I have eaten in the Philippines! On a bed of rice, I picked some teriyaki chicken: sweet of course but also just salty enough for my palate - similar to Mom's marinade for BBQ chicken during the summer but I think they shallow simmered the meat as it was quite tender.

I scooped up some delicious mushrooms stewed with pork belly and eggs. I guess this was the Filipino version of Three Layered Pork but the star was really the shitake mushrooms (or at least I think it's shitake - same texture but slightly sour flavour). Hard-boiled eggs were stewed in the sauce as well. And then, some delicious pancit (noodles!). These white, glass rice noodles were stir-fried with deep-fried garlic and some stuff that made it perfectly salty - just enough to linger on your palate and make you crave more.

What you're not seeing is the most delicious mangos I have ever eaten. I think we all consumed a good 10 mangos because they were the sweetest, creamiest, most melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness that has ever blessed my tongue. It tasted so mango-y you'd think it was pumped with mango flavour extract (I hope it wasn't!)

The next morning we woke up to overcast skies that finally gave way to an intense Filipino sun around 10am. Oh yeah, we slept in these amazing bamboo houses called Kubo's that are very traditional. I got a king-sized bed to myself and while the lights were out, the room was absolutely black. It was the soundest sleep ever and for the first time since Ottawa I was able to wake up to natural light (my apartment is facing another building so we don't get natural light ever, plus we live off a major road called EDSA...honk honk all the time...)

Breakfast was AMAZING! We were served the BEST coffee I've had in the Philippines (they don't do coffee well at all) in a French press and banana pancakes which I ate with a heaping spoonful of butter and mango jelly. They also made a (canned) tuna omelette which was alright - I mean I needed an egg with my breakfast somehow...

With the beautiful weather shining down, we decided to go snorkeling for a good two hours. I wish I had an underwater camera or a waterproof phone case because snorkeling is absolutely breathtaking! The reef was literally twenty steps from the wading pool in the picture above and was filled with all sorts of exotic fish. After not too long, it was lunch time!

This soup is the most amazing soup I have had. From what I heard, they boil the crap out of chicken bones to get a deep-flavoured broth. Then they throw in young papaya and wild corn (more starchier than the corn I'm used to in Canada) and add young pepper leaves right before serving. I think I had three servings of the soup as it had that delicious umami that made me crave more.

When I pulled myself away from the soup, I got some eggplant and liempo (pork belly). The eggplant was first grilled (it had that charred flavour) then dipped in egg, topped with sauteed onions and then pan fried. The mellow flavour of the eggplant was nicely complemented by the saltiness of the egg and the sharpness of the slightly undercooked onions. The liempo was also delicious but really tasted like any other liempo I've had in Manila.

As if I wasn't full enough after three eggplants, I created this beautiful looking bowl of dessert. Local bananas (starchier than bananas I'm used to but not as starchy as plantains) were sauteed in caramel and served to us. We took it a step further and asked for some crushed ice and yelo (milk and sugar). I peeled some rambutans and assembled this beast that took me a while to crush. But as you can imagine (like everything I ate) it filled me with such happiness that I needed to nap to process it all.

After we all napped, we packed up and took a boat back to our car and returned to the concrete jungle of Manila. I really miss the fresh air and complete serenity I felt while at Lilom. Honestly, time slowed down to a crawl as you take in the beautiful scenery - I never felt an urge to check my phone. It is definitely the perfect place to escape to for a weekend, no more though because I feel like you'd get bored since all you really do is lounge and snorkel. If you're ever in the region, I highly suggest dropping by for a night or two of pure escape and relaxation!

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