Food and Leisure

Bohol: Ube, old churches and Amun Ini

- Mary Ann Quioc Tayag -

MANILA, Philippines - Amun Ini, meaning “this is ours” in Ilonggo, spells pride of place. A four-month-old resort in Anda, Bohol, it is owned by Freddie and Karin Carmona, with the former hailing from Iloilo.  To a Kapampangan like me, those two words are pronounced (h)amun and (a)anda, or “daring” and “ready” in English. “Two very positive and lucky words,” I told Claude, who always gets annoyed by my lucky-and-unlucky-word stuff but he dares not disagree, because, as Teddy Boy Locsin’s famous line in Teditorial goes, it’s  “just my humble take … always right, seldom wrong.” 

From the Tagbilaran airport, it was an hour-and-a-half ride to Anda, and along the way, we were treated to a banca cruise up the Loboc river. Karin, who met us at the airport, passed us cold wet face towels, offered us some hefty sandwiches and ice-cold soda once we got to the gushing waterfalls. Hmm, not being a sandwich person I wanted to decline, but I politely accepted one to share with Claude.  Each sandwich was neatly wrapped in banana leaves, tied with a leaf strand, and marked B (for pulled beef) and C (chicken).  I like that nice touch.  We had the chicken sandwich, having a whole roasted chicken breast fillet with local cheese by Olive Puentespina (of Malagos Farmhouse Cheeses from Davao City) on toasted wheat bread dribbled with olive oil.  It was surprisingly more than good. It had a tandoori-like flavor brought about by the hummus slathered in it, rather than the usual mayonnaise, which I dislike. In fact, it is one of the best — if not the best — sandwiches I have ever tasted, and I’m not exaggerating.  I wanted to take the last sandwich, but proper decorum reminded me not to.  From Karin’s attention to detail to the quality of my sandwich, my expectations of Amun Ini immediately shot up to high levels. 

Crystal clear: Amun Ini’s infinity pool faces the Mindanao Sea with a view of Camiguin Island’s Mt. Hibuk-hibok on the horizon.

Once we got to Amun Ini, it was Freddie who opened the huge wooden door leading to a receiving balcony with a view of the ocean on the horizon.  A very refreshingly cold drink of a watermelon-buko shake was offered us. The balcony has a good-vibes feeling that makes one feel the warm welcome of a home.  It is, after all, home to Freddie and Karin, who both have had enough of Manila life and decided to buy a property in Bohol. Its sound system is managed by their wheelchair-bound friendly linguist nephew, Jim.  All 16 rooms are on one side of their three-hectare property and are tastefully done with 60 square meters of uncluttered space. Each has a king-size bed and ours had a sofa bed, which was interestingly positioned at an angle for a softer feel.

“The housekeeper obviously just forgot to put it back,” Claude said, and straightened it. 

“Karin is a true, certified OC to do this,” I said with much amusement, and put it back at an angle. 

“And you, too, for noticing it,” said Claude, visibly annoyed. 

Locally caught flying fish gravlax on whole-wheat toast baked by chef Joshua

Dinner was served at the resort’s dining hall, which overlooks the 30-meter infinity pool. The open and very basic kitchen is manned by Adriana (nicknamed Boe), Freddie’s unica hija, and her boyfriend Joshua Barrientos.  Both chefs are graduates of the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) belonging to the first graduates of chef Norbert Gandler’s culinary school, after which they went their separate ways to hone their cooking skills. Boe went to San Francisco and worked in Cortez in Hotel Adalgio, Sutros (Cliff House), Rotunda (Neiman Marcus) and Kokkari Estoria, at times having two backbreaking jobs), while Joshua apprenticed with French chef Cyrille Soenen of Ciçou, then located at Celeste Hotel in Makati City. 

Maybe because they are young, they dare to be different and give their food a modern twist.  But maybe because they have the natural talent, they are successful in maintaining the flavor and substance, and maybe because Freddie and Karin are sometimes dragons breathing at their backs and sometimes are angels sweetening their way to success. Whatever it is, it surely works, putting Amun Ini at an advantage over other resorts in the country. And what caught my interest in particular at Amun Ini is their insistence on using only locally sourced ingredients except, of course, for olive oil and the occasional Angus beef.  Now, that is really helping the economy.

For our two-night stay, we practically had everything on the menu and much more.  I requested the breakfast fare of Freddie, which is fried daing (dried fish), egg and garlic rice with chili flakes.  Claude was happy with his melt-in-the-mouth de-boned pork knuckle terrine, formed into a patty and refried to a crisp.  Included in the menu are their interpretations of international classical dishes like Scandinavian gravlax using flying fish, Spanish gazpacho with green tomato, deep-fried baby octopus (ala Romana), Italian risotto with local tuyom (sea urchin), French cassoulet and bouillabaisse, etc. Not to be missed are the Pinoy tangigi kinilaw and shrimps in gata, and raw kamote tops figuring prominently in several salads with a shrimp bagoong vinaigrette to boot.

On our second night, an angel sent a celebrity guest lots of female crabs, packed with orange fat that the chefs cooked just right, Thalong style with our breath firing of garlic days later.

Crisp, melt-in-the-mouth pork-trotter terrine on a mashed potato bed Photos by CLAUDE TAYAG

Our itinerary for the day said we were to meet lady Mayor Angeline Simacio of Anda at the town’s public beach Quinale. Its more-than-a-kilometer-long beach is quite impressive with its fine white sand that is comparable to that of Boracay and surely better than Bali. The mayor has provided very modest, clean and functional public toilets and showers. Monoblock chairs can be rented for P2.50 each and plastic-covered tables for P50 each. Even local tourists on a shoestring budget can enjoy a fine, white-sand beach with their families in Anda, with a restaurant/bar serving reasonably priced meals to boot. You recognize the efforts of the mayor, who is so proud of her town and people.   But no one forewarned us, though, that she would endorse us afterward to English-speaking tour guide Mang Florentino, who took us hiking for over an hour up to the Lamanok island, named because their pre-Hispanic shamans offered chickens as a sacrifice to the spirits (still being practiced to this day).  It was a difficult climb for me because I was in a linen dress and my plastic Melissa shoes. (We were to meet the mayor, remember?) Claude wants to delete all my photos saying they look so unreal; you cannot tell which was superimposed, the caves or me.  I thought they were stylish.

“You look like an apparition,” he said, giving it as a backhanded compliment. My travel tip: Wear really comfy shoes with good track soles for this climb as there are boat rides and slippery planks in between. I had to say goodbye to my shoes after the trip. 

Daddy’s girl: Chef Boe took after her dad Freddie, who’s loved to cook at home since she was a baby. Now it’s her turn looking after his daily meals, and how!

It was my third time in Bohol, which is known for ube and old churches.  But what caught my fancy on my first trip was their shellfish called saang (spider conch), which has the texture of an abalone and the taste of snail. My second trip happened because I needed to curb my saang fix.  Both visits we stayed within the capital, Tagbilaran.  This is my first time to be in Anda.  An ideal itinerary, especially for first timers, will be two days in Tagbilaran and three days in Anda at Amun Ini.  Every Juan’s airline, Cebu Pacific (our favorite airline to Laoag City and Iloilo) flies daily and has low rates from Manila to Tagbilaran.

Anda town was named after the Spanish governor general Simon de Anda at the time of the British occupation of Manila in 1762. The word anda also means to move or get into action in Spanish.  From what we saw, Anda and the four-month-old Amun Ini resort are very much in motion.  Take note, though, that once you are inside Amun Ini, you naturally shift to neutral gear.  Even their dogs are too lazy to bark and only want to sleep.  I don’t know about you but that is my kind of vacation. 

Andalé, Amun andalé.  The tourists are coming!  

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Call Amun Ini Resort And Spa at (929) 301-3946, or visit www.amun-ini.com.

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