Here’s a Glimpse of Bohol’s Emerging Culinary SceneJuly 27, 2015
- Serna EstrellaWords
Back in primary school, I always thought of Bohol as the land of the Chocolate Hills and of the odd-looking tarsier primate. It wasn’t until I met my Boholano significant other (much later, of course) did I get the opportunity to discover the province’s historical, cultural, and culinary delights. Unlike the neighboring province of Cebu, which is known for its lechon, Bohol is much more renowned for its pristine shoreline and beautiful churches that date all the way back to the 1500s than for any particular dish. However, the sheer number of expats who now call this province home, along with the presence of quite a few enterprising locals, has led to the rise of uniquely varied eateries that are well worth hopping a plane for. On my last trip to Bohol, I was fortunate enough to have tried about five of them, and each one had me craving for a specific dish or two (or three, or four) long after I got back to Manila.
1. Hola! Mexi-Asian Fusion Café
I’m usually wary about Mexican fusion cuisine since I had a bad experience at such a restaurant in an upscale mall a few years back, but Hola’s Crunch Wrap made me throw such reservations out the window. It’s basically a tostada that’s stuffed and bursting with cheese, salsa, pico de gallo, shredded lettuce, and your protein of choice (they have chicken strips, ground beef, and diced pork on offer). The whole lot is also wrapped in a humongous flavored tortilla, also of your choosing (plain, basil, tomato, or corn), and then toasted up again until it’s all nice and crunchy. I chose one with a basil wrap and a ground beef filling and immediately felt like ordering another serving after digging in. This delightful tostada had just the right amount of filling, with none of the ingredients dominating the others, and it remained crunchy until every bit made its way into my tummy. There wasn’t much of a basil flavor in the outer tortilla wrap, but I absolutely loved how the Crunch Wrap was like a toasty grilled cheese sandwich, but with much more bite.
If you want to try something a little more traditional, Hola also makes a pretty good burrito. Our order was comprised of chicken strips, beans, rice, and salsa all rolled up into a big, soft corn tortilla. Drizzled with a bit of Hola’s house sauce, each burrito mouthful is meaty, piquant, and more-ish, for the lack of a better term. As with some of the best burritos, eating it is quite a messy affair, with the salsa juices running down your fingers and perhaps dripping onto your jeans, but hey, that’s what hand wash and detergents are for, right?
Address: Unit 2, Emerald Square, P. Del Rosario St., Tagbilaran City, Bohol
2. Mosia Cupcakes and Cookie Shop
Owned by Russian expats, this quaint little bakery is situated along a winding road hugged by the coastline. Its interiors seem to have a shabby chic sort of vibe, with miniature plots of leafy plants encased under the glass tops of wooden tables, and menus handwritten in an elegant, looping cursive. The bakery churns out steady batches of cupcakes every day, but I was more interested in their other dessert offerings.
On the day of my visit, there was a gorgeous French Lavender Chocolate Tart on display, and I wasted no time in ordering a slice. Lavender can be a tricky herb to work with, as too much of it can make a dish all soapy-tasting and bitter, but the dab hand that made this dessert found a way around that by working some chopped-up dried lavender flowers into the shortcrust pastry base of the tart. As a result, the earthy lavender fragrance was subtle, lingering slightly in one’s mouth and nostrils moments after the smooth and silky chocolate ganache filling slides down your throat. While this tart is undeniably rich, a sprinkling of pink Himalayan salt into the chocolate filling kept it from being too cloying and made it all too tempting to lick the tines of the dessert fork clean. The flaky and buttery shortcrust base was a little too crumbly since it fell apart easily, but the filling-to-crust ratio was on point. On that score alone, I would even dare to say that this tart is even better than the one I had in Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant a year ago.
A scoop of Mosia’s Homemade Salted Caramel Ice Cream went surprisingly well with the tart. Their take on the frozen treat wasn’t as creamy as the ones I’ve had elsewhere, but it had a gentle and refined saltiness, something that leads me to suspect that they may have used sea salt rather than table salt in whipping up the batch. The absence of those pesky ice crystals in each bite also confirmed that the ice cream was freshly-made, as homemade versions tend to crystallize faster than their commercially-produced counterparts.
Address: 121 V.P. Inting St., Tagbilaran City, Bohol
3. Dong Juan
Located in a beautiful pre-war house with some of the original stained-glass windows still intact, Dong Juan elevates comfort food into something a little more special with a few ingenious tweaks here and there. Their All-Meat Pochero (PHP 269), for instance, has meltingly tender beef chunks coated in thick, luscious gravy, for which you will need cups of extra rice to sop up in case the potato crisps topping this dish aren’t enough for your carb fix.
The Chili Wings and the Gambas Al Ajillo Pasta, as I am told, are their bestsellers and one bite of each can easily confirm that. Crunchy and mealy breading coats each wing before it’s fried to golden perfection, and then it’s dipped into a sweet and tangy chili sauce just before serving, ensuring that the wings don’t get soggy. The shrimp pasta, on the other hand, abounds with fresh and succulent shrimps and fishy bonito flakes atop the sautéed linguine noodles. I enjoyed this dish so much that I went back to the restaurant on the morning of my flight back to Manila just to eat another plate of Gambas Al Ajillo Pasta.
Dong Juan’s Fish and Chips was equally noteworthy as the firm white fillets were covered with the traditional beer batter containing liberal sprinkles of paprika for that sweet, smoky zing. The accompanying fries were also doused with a handful of the rust-red spice, and were addictive enough for me to order a plate of the stuff alongside my pre-flight encore Gambas Al Ajillo lunch.
Address: M. Parras cor G. Visarra St., Tagbilaran City, Bohol
4. Bialetti Coffee Shop
Right next to Dong Juan’s first-floor dining room is the Bialetti coffee shop, making it all the more convenient for an after-dinner coffee or frappuccino (as well as a slice of blueberry cheesecake or chocolate cake if you still have stomach space after binging on Dong Juan’s delectable fare).
Being a green tea junkie, I zeroed in on the Matcha Frizzante after an indulgent lunch at the adjacent restaurant. I did feel bloated after draining the tumbler, but the punchy matcha flavor infusing all that sweet, creamy ice cascading over chewy cubes of coffee jelly made it all worth it.
Address: GF, M. Parras cor G. Visarra St., Tagbilaran City, Bohol
5. Old Heidelberg
Peacock Garden is one of Bohol’s most luxurious resorts, with its guest villas looking like they were plucked straight out of the Tuscan countryside. Owned by a wealthy German expat, the resort is also home to antiques like Jose Rizal’s 19th century living room set and a resident peacock named Argus, perhaps as a nod to the hundred-eyed giant whose untimely demise gave rise to the festooned bird in Greek mythology. The resort’s Old Heidelberg Restaurant is just as grandiose as the rest of the property, adorned with chandeliers and carved wooden chairs that were sourced from various 18th century European castles, if our server is to be believed. Thankfully, the food lives up to its plush surroundings. My entrée of Braised Veal Cheeks (PHP 750) rendered my dinner knife superfluous as they practically fell apart with a gentle nudge from my fork. The side of spätzle was also a welcome treat since the egg dumplings were charmingly rustic and springy, perfect sponges for mopping up the robust red wine sauce with. I was supposed to trade plates halfway through dinner with my date, but he graciously let me renege on that deal when he saw how I was enjoying the meal so much. In any case, he was probably satisfied with his plate of Pork Escalope Chasseur (PHP 480), which came with a boat of a particularly fragrant onion and mushroom gravy.
Dessert was equally impressive, with the homemade honeycomb ice cream (PHP 90 per scoop) stealing the show. Texture-wise, Mosia’s ice cream had a creamier mouthfeel but the burnt caramel notes of Old Heidelberg’s version had my date closing his eyes in sheer pleasure after the first spoonful (and eyeing his plate of chocolate mousse with a bit of disdain). The chocolate mousse (PHP 225) did pale in comparison to its honeyed predecessor, but it was a classic combination that was a sure hit in its own right: two velvety globes of dark chocolate mousse smeared with raspberry sauce.
Address: The Peacock Garden, Upper Laya, Baclayon, Bohol
Bohol may not be recognized as a culinary destination like some of its geographical neighbors just yet, but with so many notable edibles emerging within its borders, I reckon that it would only be a matter of time.