Provisioning the boat was an immediate task upon arrival. Since the boat was in the boatyard "three" hours (really, more like 4) away, in the middle of nowhere Philippines, I knew that most of the initial provisioning would be done in Makati City and transported to the boat before departure. It proved to be the most Herculean of tasks. We shopped at big box stores, small delicatessens, specialty shops, hardware stores, pharmacies and while en route, we stopped at public markets and on the side of the road. The biggest challenge of it all was understanding the exchange rate (40 pisos to the dollar)--I stood confused at the registers trying to comprehend the enormous tally--how much is 36, 885 pisos anyway? The provisions were sent to the boat in advance of my boarding, fortunately--I can't even imagine all the carrying.
Before departure from the States, I had sent the chef some menu suggestions, both Western and Filipino dishes, and asked her to give me some sense of costs for the food. Pancit Malabon, Crispy Cat Fish with green mango, Boneless Bangus, Fresh Lumpia were a few of the regional selections. I knew I was in for a culinary adventure. On the first day, I was in the galley and saw this sliced up fish cooking:
Frankly, it's a bit gruesome for my eyes, but I so appreciated the freshness and "snout to tail" nature of this dish. I asked what it was, and if I may photograph it ("Yes."), and the chef explained that it was for the staff. (The hosts and guests had not yet arrived.) I saw rice cooking in a large rice maker nearby, and also a smaller pot of rice being cooked. She explained that the large pot of rice was for the crew, and the smaller pot was for me. "You won't like our rice." She was preparing jasmine rice for me. And another entree, not the fish stew.
Breakfasts started early for everyone, including the guests who awoke at 6:30 for juice and tea and then had yoga on the helipad or the sundeck. Or a nearby beach when available. The crew often ate fried eggs and small fried fish. The smell was very delicious, although I usually opted for black coffee and a piece of bread.
Each morning we had lots of fruit available for everyone, including the best and ripest mangoes we could find. One morning I had the chefs split open a durian fruit for everyone to try. It is famously called the worst tasting food on earth by Anthony Bourdain, but I liked it. Not quite "loved" it, but liked it. Here it is below:
The flesh is housed in a large spiky shell which cracks as it ripens. I didn't see how the chefs removed the flesh from the fruit, but it looked like small buns or croissants to me. The smell wasn't as strong as I had expected. I took a small piece and found the texture soft and the taste sweet. The smell was a little cheesy but not rank. Two bites told me I liked it, and that was enough for me. Some of the guests tried it, but few liked it. I would try it again and would love to see it used in a dish.
After our first day at sea, I learned of Fernando's love of setting the table--it was his pride and joy. He had demonstrated all the napkin folds he knew and told me of the tablescapes he could create. I could see this was his passion, so I told him it would be fine for him to create one for us each morning. The materials to work with were limited, but he succeeded in creating some dramatic scenes on the table, like the one above with the sailboat and a giant stuffed lobster. Later in the week, the lobster attacked the boat. I prefer less showy and dramatic table centerpieces but recognized that the staff wanted to demonstrate their strengths and I had to let them do it. It was one of the many lessons I learned (again) on the boat.
On the third day of the cruise the guests spent the day at Ariara Island Resort, a private island in the middle of lovely nowhere. The resort is rented by one party at a time, be it two guests or 22 (their maximum capacity); privacy as only money can buy. The place is also stunning. The villas are large and comfortable, many with outdoor showers so that you can bathe in the trees--that always feels like paradise to me. Service is not quite to a Western standard (yet) but was always polite, efficient and quiet. I really like this place. And look at some of their food presentation, what's not to love?:
|from upper left: pineapple, dragon fruit, cantaloupe, mangoes, mangosteens, fresh lychee, papaya and in the center, passion fruit|
|guests are greeted with fresh, young coconut juice called boku.|
|I had my lunch away from the guest, here a starter salad some of which came from the island's garden|
|my lunch main plate was this curried scallops with fried onion rings|
After a day of water sports, hiking and relaxing in the shade of the trees, the guests had a traditional barbeque on the beach at Ariara. Since we were in the Philippines, a suckling pig (called a lechon) was the main dish. It had been slaughtered earlier in the day on the island and had been roasted by the chef for several hours before being brought to the beach for dinner. When the boat chefs learned that a lechon had been prepared at the resort, they asked me to secure the head for them to use for another crew dinner. Of course, with their rice. And no invitation for me.