Friday, July 29, 2011

Dear Phil - lunch in the Philippines

Our trip to the Philippines way back in May involved lunch at a tropical island.

Being the Philippines, lunch involved meat, with more meat and meat on the side.  And being an island, most of the meat came from animals that live in the sea.  (What do you mean chicken isn't a sea bird?)

Here's a shot of our conveyance:

The two little huts in the background behind me were our restaurant.  This restaurant is extra special for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, when you step off your boat you are ushered towards another hut opposite which features a live seafood market.

Don't you just love the way the gentleman in this picture is fondling his cods while talking to me?

The idea is that you go to the market and pick out the things you like, and they will barbecue them there on the spot.  We were a large group, and our organisers had arranged a set menu, so this part of the experience was really more for show so far as we were concerned. The big ticket item at the market is clearly the sea mantis.  

It looks kind of like a lobster, and probably tastes like it too - but we didn't buy one.  The sea mantises are only put out on the market table when a boat pulls in. As soon as the potential customers have moved they are put back in the water at the shore.  They're not released, though.  The fishermen use 600ml plastic soft-drink bottles to store their catch. They put a split down the length of the bottle, shove the animal in, and let the slit close around it.  Then they put the bottles in a net in the shore.  The fish can't escape, and stay alive until the next boat comes in.

A bag of bottled sea mantises under the water at the shore.

One guy at the market also had a bowl with three or four stone fish in it, which was surprising.  There are quite a lot of different varieties of stone fish, and some of them are very poisonous. I'm not sure whether these ones were poisonous or not - but I think that they are probably not what you would call a sustainable catch.  They were pretty amazing to look at up close - their skin had a mossy green texture and really resembled seaweed.   The stone fish are stored in the same manner as the sea mantises.

I was pretty glad that our set menu didn't contain any of these more exotic creatures. I'm an adventurous eater but don't really like to eat (or buy!) endangered species. Our food was really delicious.  Definitely one of the freshest most delicious barbecues of my life.

As memorable as the food was - probably the most fun part of this restaurant was the fact that it doesn't have a floor. Instead, the tables and chairs are just plonked directly into the sand - and in the high tide, that means in the water.

The waterlogged beach was like quicksand, so for the first few minutes you gradually sink until a kind of equilibrium is reached. After our meal, we just walked out into the water for a postprandial snoozy kind of swim.

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