Zamboanga Hermosa (part 2)

Here is part 2 of my highlights from our awesome adventure in Zamboanga (if you haven’t read part one click here):

Lunch at Vista del Mar
Vista del Mar is the seaside resort where C popped the question two years ago. This year, our group arranged for a lunch there. This was one of my favorite meals this trip! We had grilled lapu-lapu (a kind of grouper), steamed lapu-lapu with a soy-garlic oil (this was amazingly good! Moist, tender, and oh-so-flavorful), prawns, batter-fried squid, and a trio of delicious salads – pako salad (fiddlehead fern) with tomatoes and a roasted garlic infused olive oil; green mango salad with tomatoes, onions, and crushed peanuts; and my absolute favorite, lato salad (lato is a delicious seaweed that is abundant in Zamboanga – it only grows in clean waters) with tomatoes and onions. We feasted right by the water, the sea breezes mussing our hair as we ate. For dessert we had leche flan and lanzones…the perfect ending to this meal. To work off our lunch we took a leisurely walk to the Maria Clara Art Gallery, which is also on the grounds of the resort. It’s a small, charming gallery with some nice paintings on display, along with local crafts for sale. La Vista del Mar: Calarian, Zamboanga City. Telephone - +63 62 9830099.

Yakan Village
The Yakan Village in Upper Calarian (very near Vista del Mar) is another place I like to visit. The Yakans originally settled in Basilan (and island near Zamboanga City) but some moved to Zamboanga City. They are famous for their beautiful weavings. The colorful designs are made into bags, placemats, table runners, jackets, and many other things to tempt the tourist…a temptation to which I happily yielded. I came away with two table runners and a cute traditional cap for my dad :)

Balikbayan Night - Sitti in Concert
One of the important events during the fiesta is Balikbayan Night – this is when all the Zamboangeños from all corners of the world (balikbayan literally translates to “return to homeland” and is a term used to describe Filipinos who live abroad when they come over to visit) get together for one big party, usually involving dinner and entertainment. One of the main performers that night was Sitti, our very own princess of bossa nova, who apparently has roots in Zamboanga (by way of her grandmother)! This girl is a natural charmer on stage and, by the end of her performance; she had us on our feet and dancing! The dancing did not stop there, and as the next band came on we were all shaking and shimmying in earnest! I love to dance! Thank goodness C can keep up (usually) ;) By the end of the night, after much shouting from our friends, the band called C and I up on stage to sing...In the glare of the spotlight, my emotions struggled between acute embarrassment and that uncontrollable desire to grab the microphone that karaoke-addicts like me tend to suffer. Guess which won out?

Midnight bibingka at Master’s Bakery
After a night of revelry we look for something hearty to settle our stomachs. Although some of us clamor for spit-roasted chicken, while others shout of sisig (um, see here), our uncle directs us to Master’s Bakery, a little hole-in-the-wall bakeshop in Giwan, where we have freshly cooked bibingka (rice-flour cakes topped with local white fresh cheese and salted eggs, baked in a clay oven, then slathered with butter and served with freshly grated coconut) still steaming hot. The bibingka here is bite-sized and topped with cheese, maybe a little butter, and that’s it. None of the red (salted) egg, sugar, and coconut. Perhaps it’s because I don’t really enjoy salted egg on my bibingka that I find this to be one of the best I have ever tried…it could also be because it is fresh out of the oven and thus at its peak. Of course, we can’t discount the fact that it could also be because we had been wining away all night. In any case, nibbling at these incredibly soft warm cakes, while packed in a van filled with your friends, after a night of fun and laughter, was definitely a highlight for me.

Garden Dinner at Palmeras
Another gastronomic highlight on my trip was the splendid dinner C’s mom had prepared for us at the garden of Palmeras (our hotel). This dinner showcased the Spanish influences on Zamboanga’s palate. There was callos (a tripe stew – it’s good!) and lengua (tongue – I know, I know…but I really like it!), prawns in a creamy-spicy sauce, and baked fish. We also had a lechon (roast pig) which was tender and very flavorful (the lechon in Zamboanga rocks!). My favorite though was the famous curacha with Alavar sauce (which I have actually made at home!), or rather Palmera’s sauce as this was our hotel’s own version of that famous Zamboanga condiment. It was so good I put it on more than just my curacha! For dessert we had saguing rebosao (bananas cooked with brown sugar) and the most amazing date bundt cake with caramel sauce (I wouldn’t say this was indigenous in any way, but it was made by special request of my mum-in-law and, indigenous or not, it was spectacular). After the food was gone we toasted the night away with many a “Viva Zamboanga!” :)

Sta. Cruz Island
Visiting Sta. Cruz Island (there are two islands actually, and a sand bar) will always be a highlight for me, and no matter how many times I see it, I don’t think I will ever tire of its untouched white (pink actually…the pink of decades worth of naturally crushed coral) beaches…its sense of isolation despite being so close to the mainland…the irony of the peaceful languor you feel as you lie on its shores, knowing that you can’t visit it unless you have some sort of escort. Sigh…not very zen to have navy guys following you on your meditative beach-walks (no matter how cute they are!). They were really nice though and we badgered them with questions about their missions. We brought a picnic lunch with us…more grilled fish, adobong pusit (squid adobo), and a pile of lato that we had some of the fishermen living on the island fetch for us straight out of the sea (which is the best way to have it)! After lunch we walked to the end of the sand bar...what a magical moment…standing on a thin strip of sand in the middle of the sea with nothing but a bunch of sea birds as company! Check out another traveler’s account of Sta. Cruz islands here.

I hope you enjoyed these highlights as much as I enjoyed reliving them. I can’t wait for next year’s fiesta…already our group is getting bigger as more friends want to see what all the fuss is about :) Have a good weekend everyone!