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ORMOC IS AN ODD CITY IN Leyte province. Instead of Waray as the spoken language, Cebuano is the lingua franca. The proximity to Cebu is given as one of the reasons for the different language. But when the Cebuano-speaking southern Leyte was carved out of Leyte province, Ormoc wasn?t part of it because it was outside the mountain range that served as natural border between the two provinces. Daily, people travel to Cebu and back via the ferry that everyone calls ?supercat.?

From Tacloban, it takes around three hours to Ormoc by vehicle. The roads are good and you pass through a zigzag route up and then down the mountain showing a breathtaking view of Ormoc bay.

Pineapple was the first thing that came to mind when I knew I was going to Ormoc. I had tasted the smallish fruit many times and it was always pointed out to me that it?s the sweetest variety in the country and that locally, it was called ?Queen.? It was always served with the core included because it was crunchy, not hard the way it is with the usual pineapple one can get.

It is the same Formosa variety as that grown in Bicol where it is a major crop in Daet, Camarines Norte. But having tasted both, the Daet version at regional exhibits and the Ormoc Queen in Leyte, I can say the latter is consistently sweet. It must be the climate and soil, the terroir that the French like to cite when they explain the taste of their wines. It must also be the constitution of the fertilizers used.

Finally I saw where those pineapples grow in Ormoc. The farm was off the highway and when it was before us, the land had a tinge of pink. A closer look at the pineapple revealed how its fruit had reddish traces at the edges of the eyes, the crown and the base and how the leaves had a red hue at its center. From afar also, the rows of greens were perfectly in line and undulated conforming to the wave-like landscape.

It?s quite sad that this kind of pineapple hardly reaches other places like Manila. The variety can?t be canned. And once it?s harvested, the shelf life is so short.

So a refreshing chilled juice of fresh Queen pineapple was the perfect welcome to Sabin Hotel in Ormoc City. It was Butch Larrazabal who brought us to the farm and it was his father, Sabin, who first grew the ?Queen? variety in the place. The hotel is laid out so well that the view from the lobby is of the mountains and the sea. And it was a pleasant surprise to have a big swimming pool dominating the garden area.

Most attractive seafood

It?s the market where one must go to learn about ingredients, taste preferences and the terms used in the place.

Perhaps the most attractive seafood in Ormoc is the shellfish. Sahang with its peach color has a distinct shape because of the pointed parts on one of its sides. The imbao are huge clams and the way to open each is to hit the thin white shells together till the shells crack. When the sahang is cooked, the flesh inside can be removed by pulling on a hook-like claw. And the imbao is perfect, cooked or uncooked.

The big nukos (squid) is not to be found in Manila markets. You can just imagine how big the pieces will be when one orders calamares.

Because the seas offer so much produce, salting and, for the bigger fish, drying, makes it a big industry and so deserves its own section at the market. Pails of fish and shrimp pastes and salted fish of all sizes are there. But the salted bihod (fish roe), sisi (little oysters) and tuyom (sea urchin) are all in bottles inside the stalls of the main market.

We bought what we thought should be an interesting lunch. Small mamsa (talakitok, jack) was grilled. The imbao was boiled as tinola. The sahang with coconut milk was perfect.

Breakfast consisted of Ormoc specialties. There was chorizo, the pieces round rather than elongated and smaller in size. I was told that one of the suppliers makes about 50 kilos a day and then sends them out to Tacloban, especially. Our very Visayan breakfast had tinola, fresh fish that is boiled just a bit and soured slightly. Dried lapu lapu (grouper) was fried and served with a sweet-sour sauce. A unique suman combined three kinds in one?kabog (millet), morón (ground glutinous rice with chocolate) and the regular rice?called ?Tres Marias.? Brewed coffee and thick chocolate completed the breakfast picture.

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