Food and Leisure

A foodie guide to Camiguin’s best restos

CULTURE VULTURE - Therese Jamora-Garceau - The Philippine Star
A foodie guide to Camiguinâs best restos
Island dining: Eating with a view of the beach at Kurma in Camiguin
Therese Jamora-Garceau

Cebu Pacific Air (CEB) launched its maiden flight to Camiguin on Nov. 15, and it was a beautiful rediscovery of the island in northern Mindanao I’d visited 10 years ago but didn’t do or see much because I didn’t have hosts like (CEB) director of corporate communications Carmina Romero and corporate communications manager Michelle Lim, DOT Undersecretary Art Boncato Jr. and Camiguin Provincial Tourism Officer Candice Borromeo-Dael.

I’ve traveled fairly widely across the Philippines, and was amazed to find that the 64-km circumference of Camiguin holds the greatest concentration of world-class restaurants among all the island destinations I’ve visited (including Boracay and excluding Siargao, which I haven’t been to yet).

The food they offer is incredible, rivaling the chef-made creations of restaurants in the National Capital Region, with many options available to a pescatarian like myself.  Perhaps it’s the quality of ingredients. Maybe the trappings of island life — fresh air, beaches and clear blue water — help food taste better.

But no, many of the proprietors of these restaurants are foreigners or out-of-towners. They visited Camiguin, loved it so much they stayed, and brought the flavors of their hometowns with them, marrying them with local ingredients to produce a new breed of Camiguin cuisine.

World-class: La Dolce Vita’s Vegetariana pizza

La Dolce Vita: Pizza and pasta to die for

If success is all about location, La Dolce Vita has the lock on that. In a can’t-miss spot right across Camiguin Airport is an unassuming bamboo hut from which issues some of the best pizza and pasta in the country.

Alessandro Cucchi, who originally hails from Ancona, Italy, came to the Philippines in 2009 to visit a friend, met his beautiful Filipino wife, and never left.

We tasted why La Dolce Vita has been voted one of the top pizza restaurants in the Philippines. Their Vegetariana pizza (P360) is flavorful down to the crust, and the pastas are freshly made with sauces authentic enough to transport you to madre Italia but tweaked to Pinoy preferences.

The Spaghetti Pomodoro & Basilico (P250) was a simply-but-beautifully presented swirl of al dente noodles with a tomato sauce Goldilocks would have loved (it was just right); Cappellacci al Tartufo is pasta pillows filled with silky truffle cream (P400); new dish Black Chitarrine Carbonara Seafood is squid-ink fettuccine coated with the chunky-creamy Carbonara sauce Pinoys love.

You can even take La Dolce Vita’s pizza and pasta home on the plane if you order ahead. They box it up nicely, and your family will love you for it.

Camiguin Circumferential Road, Mambajao, email [email protected], follow La Dolce Vita Camiguin on Facebook or call (0955) 829-7925.

Mecca for coffee and ice cream lovers: The Beehive Camiguin Driftwood café

The Beehive Camiguin Driftwood Café: The Bee all and end all of ice cream

Unfortunately we weren’t able to meet the owners because they were in Belgium, but they were there in the spirit of this quaint and quirky café, which is like a treasure chest of antiques, mosaics, and driftwood that’s been repurposed into a labyrinthine playground for coffee and ice cream lovers… and bees, apparently. Don’t be afraid: the bees buzzing in the café are just looking for a nice hole in a branch to settle into and won’t bother you unless provoked.

Make sure to order a pot of Tres Marias coffee, which is roasted to different strengths (medium, strong), and even has a fresh macadamia variant. It comes in a beautiful vintage kettle and cups adorned with the designs of Czech artist Alphonse Mucha.

Beehive is already famous for its creamy-citrusy dragonfruit ice cream, but the breakout hit among our group of journos was the passion-fruit ice cream. They grow passion fruit in Camiguin, apparently, and its sunny flavor combined with the crispy texture of its seeds make this ice cream a must-try. I also loved the chocolate ice cream, which is made from tablea with Belgian chocolate chunks.

Zone 1, Catibac, Catarman, visit https://beehivedriftwoodcafe.weebly.com/ and The Beehive Camiguin Driftwood Café on Facebook.

Pedro’s Restaurant: Authentic Camiguin Cuisine

Camiguin’s signature dish is Chicken Sorol — native chicken cooked in a coconut-milk broth with ginger, oregano, siling labuyo and tomatoes — and the best place to try it is Pedro’s, a modern Filipino restaurant that is walking distance from Mambajao’s Parola park. (Pro tip: watch the sunset at the seaside park then walk to Pedro’s for dinner.) This seemingly ordinary ginataan dish is elevated at Pedro’s into something savory and unforgettable.

To start we had a nice, tart kinilaw and pako salad, and proceeded to a variety of grilled fishes, squid in white garlic sauce, dinuguan and the star sorol. Dessert is already on the table when you come in: Masa Podrida, Filipino shortbread cookies that go well with coffee, and cubes of chewy cassava cake — both Camiguin specialties as well.

Old Parola, Jose P. Rizal St., Poblacion, Mambajao, follow Pedro’s on Facebook.

Sapore Ristorante Italiano: Filipino-Italian hospitality

Sapore (“taste” or “flavor” in Italian), the restaurant of Camiguin Nypa Style Resort, is a destination in itself. Proprietors Stefano and Ilena are an Italian couple who’ve made their home in Camiguin, and choose to share their own private garden paradise via seven bungalows and an intimate nipa-hut-style restaurant, where the menu changes not just with the seasons, but every day.

Stefano, who used to work a corporate job in Venice, decided to change his life completely by settling here. He now manages the resort, works front of house at Sapore and practices muay Thai in his free time.

I didn’t get a chance to talk to Ilena because she was busy in the kitchen, but her food spoke volumes. We started with three kinds of bruschetta: the runaway favorite was classic tomato and oregano, though I also loved the eggs and asparagus and the cream of eggplant after taking off the topping of dry pork loin.

The pasta courses reminded me of La Dolce Vita in that they were all freshly handmade.  I particularly enjoyed the ravioli with ricotta, spinach and cream, and shrimp and saffron.

Sapore also offers a mind-boggling array of juices and smoothies, in every possible fruit combination you can think of.  (I had banana, mango and cinnamon.)

We capped our meal with Dessert in a Jar, which layered mango with yogurt and cream; chocolate salami cake, a unique confection made with bittersweet dark chocolate; and homemade ice cream.

Purok 4, Bug-ong, Mambajao, http://www.nypastyleresort.jimdo.com/ and like the Camiguin Nypa Style Resort page on Facebook.

Guerrera: Little Asia within the big island

When Michelle and Carmina said we were going to an Asian street-food restaurant, my first thought was, Asian street food in Camiguin?  Cool.

And “cool” is definitely the word to describe this two-story brick restaurant sitting in the middle of a rice paddy, facing a mountain and backed by the sea, though “hot” might be a better term to define the fighting spirit of the couple who founded and named Guerrera: Fil-Am triathlete Mark and chef Carmel Almadrones, who studied Thai cuisine at Le Cordon Bleu in Bangkok.

The couple was initially based in Carmel’s home city of Cebu and ran a Thai-Vietnamese restaurant there, Little Saigon Big Bangkok, until the success of the resto started running their lives.  After four years they decided to move to more remote, idyllic Camiguin and attempt a more equitable work-life balance with Guerrera Rice Paddy Villas Resort and its signature restaurant.

Guerrera serves knockout Asian favorites like fresh Vietnamese spring rolls with four dipping sauces, pad Thai with the Pinoy twist of a tamarind sauce, and a must-order banh mi with ciabatta bread so superb you’d like to buy it on the spot.

Carnivores are spoilt for choice with Indonesian beef or chicken rendang and a multitude of pork dishes. High-quality food and service while the owners are off living their lives?  Now, that’s every restaurateur’s dream.

Pearl Street, Rocky Village, Yumbing, contact (0935) 457-1767 or visit guerrera.ph.

Kurma: Diving into spirit and soul food

It’s a story I hear again and again in Camiguin: an out-of-towner visits, falls in love with the island or a Camiguingnon, and decides to leave their old life behind for a new one.

At Kurma, Christian “Diggi” Asche came here from Southern Germany 24 years ago, had two sons with a local, and established Kurma Eco Beach Lodge, where he teaches free diving as a Level 5 instructor.

His business partner is Robert Garcia, who left the stresses of Manila, along with a failed love affair, for a three-month break in Camiguin, which turned into three years, and was mentored in free diving by Diggi. Now 40 lbs. lighter and tons happier, he’s a Level 3 free-diving instructor who explains Kurma’s mantra of “Dive into spirit”: “Scuba is an event — ‘Did you see that whale shark?’ — while free diving is about going inward, and how you feel in your body.” Armed with only a snorkel and fins, you don’t create bubbles so you don’t scare the fish away.  He says that it’s also a better community that doesn’t mind sharing secrets.

Thus, Kurma serves the type of healthy soul food that fuels not only the free diver but also his spirit. Make sure to order the German sausage and omelets, which come with slices of toasted homemade bread: standouts are the Mexican omelet; Kinamiguin, a local vegetable omelet with alugbati; and Mambajao, Kurma’s take on shakshouka with homemade tomato sauce and mozzarella from a Swiss supplier, though Garcia uses Bukidnon cheese when it’s available.

For dessert we shared the “free diver’s breakfast” of tablea oatmeal with homemade muesli, banana, papaya and mango. Ah, that muesli — another piece of Camiguin I wanted to take home but couldn’t. You’ll just have to go to the island to sample its wonders.

National Highway, Yumbing, Mambajao, visit www.kurmafreedive.com , contact (0936) 980-8395 or follow @kurmacamiguin on IG and FB.

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Cebu Pacific flies to Camiguin twice a week from Manila and Cebu: Mondays and Fridays between MNL-CGM and Tuesdays and Saturdays between Cebu-CGM. Book a flight at www.cebupacificair.com .

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Follow the author @theresejamoragarceau on Facebook and Instagram.


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