My summer vacation began early. And I was surprised that on a Sunday when I left, so many at the airport were leaving as well for their destinations.
Mine was Bohol, a place visited three times before; each time, sun and sea were excellent. Food, however, was good only that first visit. At the now closed resort, the cook introduced me to Boholano cooking such as balbacoa (soup of ox feet with peanuts), and my host brought me to the market where the specialties were tasted—chicharon and lechon—and then for some barbecue at the open-air grill site called “Sky’s the Limit.”
Every past visit was at a resort on Panglao Island. But now we were going east 100 kilometers from Tagbilaran City into a peninsula to a town named Anda.
An hour and a half after, we turned right to a rough road and entered a resort named Amun Ini, Visayan for “This is ours.”
The welcome drink should be refreshing, right? But the watermelon and buko combined was more than that, and if that was a preview of the food quality we would be served, then the outlook for the weekend was, indeed, as bright as the sun that afternoon.
We met the young cooks who didn’t want to be called chefs, yet. Both were members of the first batch who finished at the International School for Culinary Arts and Hotel Management (ISCAHM) in Quezon City. Adriana Carmona and Joshua Barrientos sailed through the resort’s big kitchen cooking what guests ordered, whether it was on the menu or not.
Adriana or Boe to her family is the daughter of owner Freddie Carmona. She has worked in restaurants abroad, a daily backbreaking grind of two jobs, she said. Joshua has apprenticed with renowned chefs like Mark Aubry and Cyrille Soenen. They have chosen to work in this almost isolated place. They’re too young to be retiring, but what seems attractive to both is that they can do their own menu, and they love to work with local products.
Freddie’s wife Karin said there are very few imported ingredients used like olive oil, wine, US steaks and Malagos cheese from Davao, which Karin markets. Most of the ingredients are sourced in Bohol whether from the Amun Ini plots planted to herbs and vegetables, the local wet market or from purveyors such as the shellfish farms near by. Even the breads are made in-house by Joshua.
In the five meals we had during our stay, we must have gone through the whole menu. It had an international array of dishes. There was Filipino kinilaw and shrimps in gata, Italian pastas and risotto, French terrine and chicken liver pate, Thai curry coconut rice, Scandinavian gravlax using flying fish.
But the proof is in the cooking. Imagine still getting the crunch of pork skin in the trotter terrine. And how flavorful and still moist the vegetable omelet was. We were glad for the guilt-absolving salads, mainly because they used mostly local veggies like kamote tops and eggplants strips fried to a crisp, corn and singkamas. The dressings ranged from bagoong vinaigrette to Caesar.
Adriana and Joshua pointed out that the dishes are their interpretation of the classics, whether bread pudding, cassoulet or bouillabaisse. The green-tomato gazpacho was cool because of its serving temperature and its presentation, broth poured from a green teapot.
The duo accommodated a request to do a sea-urchin risotto using the local runny tuyom gathered by the handyman just minutes before.
Thankfully the resort provided us with exercise facilities, a beach and swimming pool where we swam or merely walked in both the waters of the white sand beach and the pool big enough to do laps.
It is quite rare that a resort like Amun Ini has both good food and first-class amenities. But then Freddie was manager of another high-end Bohol resort before he opened his own, and was owner of a restaurant and convenience food outlets in Metro Manila.
Karin studied hotel and restaurant management in Switzerland. And so the rooms are more than comfortable; they also feature local artistry in the décor of curtains, banig (Bohol has its own style), baskets, lacquered tabletop made from peanut shells. Building roofs are made of cogon strung tightly together, for natural cooling. And the bathroom is as big as the sleeping area, and the shower area can accommodate three of you and not feel crowded.
It can be enough to just relax within the resort, which has a view of Camiguin Island in Mindanao right across on a clear day. But there are more to see in Anda. Go to the Quinale beach downtown where the sand can rival that of Boracay—powdery fine and high in silica, according to Mayor Angeline Simacio. She had it analyzed, she said, but will make sure no one will mine the sand.
Visit Lamanok island where guide Mang Florentino can bring you to caves, then weave you a story of shamans and immortals. But be sure your legs are sturdy enough, and wear footwear good enough for climbing steep, slippery and pointy corals. Or dive in the clear blue waters all around this island.
The only bad mark to my great vacation was the Bohol airport, where it was standing room only at the departure waiting area. How can we accommodate the millions we want to visit us if facilities are the way they are?
Call Amun Ini Resort And Spa, at 0929-3013946; www.amun-ini.com.
E-mail pinoyfood04@yahoo. com.