What to Expect From a Meal in Paradise
The overwhelming excitement and natural beauty of Coron and El Nido’s majestic landscapes, world class beaches, and seemingly prehistoric seascapes often times lowers tourists’ expectations of what they will be served as a meal. Afterall, a juice box and a well made sandwich would probably suffice in those scenarios, but to most tourists’ surprize, island hopping meals are quite complex and elaborate. Whether served on the main deck of a large tourboat, or the isolated beach of an uninhabited island, your lunch is designed to impress!
Tour companies know that photos of these beautiful displays are equally as inviting to a potential visitor, as well as contributing to the overall experience of the guests, so they take much pride in equipping each boat with a local that has some above average culinary skills.
The tour guides are typically very well disciplined to make sure that the entire feast is presented properly and that everyone is present before allowing the hungry island-hoppers to begin picking away at it. There are plenty of moments to photograph the amazing meal if you get to the table early enough.
Island Hopping Food in El Nido
Expect to find a randomized combination of bananas, watermelon, mango, pineapple, tomato, onion, and cucumber; based on availability and time of year. These bright and colorful trays of freshly carved fruit and vegetables have as much visual impact and are as photo worthy as the islands themselves!
A large batch of steamed white rice is a required accompaniment to any complete Filipino meal, and being on a boat or even an uninhabited island does not make this very special meal exempt from that rule. Visitors can expect to have as much rice as they want with their meal, though an overstuffed belly may not lend itself to a day full of outdoor activities. Either way, it is ultimately up to you to enjoy the day how YOU want, do not skip indulging in a large meal if it makes you happy!
Meals may vary from tour to tour, boat to boat, but they all generally have a similar menu of proteins. Depending on availbility, it is common to be served any combination of pork, chicken, crabs, muscles, prawns, fish, or squid; perhaps even something not named there.
The pork and chicken can be served Adobo style, or grilled. The fish and squid is almost always grilled, while the (steamed) shellfish is often just reheated on the boat; though it doesn’t take away from the freshness. Surprisingly, most of the food prep, including cutting and seasoning are done right on the boat. If you pay attention to the crew as they approach the lunchtime destination, you can often watch them work their culinary magic. It is never announced as something to watch, but it can be quite the show!
Read on to find out what you will be eating while in Coron.
Island Hopping Food in Coron
People often cherish their accidental discoveries because they are what sticks in your memory long after an amazing trip is over. For many, one of those accidental discoveries is the Coron Bankero Adobo.
Yes, enough of the boatmen of Coron have their own spin on traditional Filipino Adobo, that it has become quite popular… and it is quite delicious. Whether prepared with pork or chicken, the Northern Palaweno variety has notes of jalapeno and ginger and is accompanied by a premixed medley of soy sauce with tomato, chilis and calamansi. Because it is all prepared remotely, this dish is cooked and served as meat only. Filipinos often question the lack of potato, a boiled egg, or any other varietal add-on to adobo that they are used to.
Most of these maritime chefs take great pride in their special preparations, so feel free to ask about lunch ahead of time, and watch how passionate they are about their cuisine. If you don’t get back an excited response from the cook, then seek out another tour boat.
Expect the same variety of proteins that you would see in El Nido, even Adobong Pusit: squid prepared adobo style, with soy sauce and vinegar as the base. Fresh fish grilled right on the boat is a staple of a Coron island hopping lunch, and while shellfish are less common, chances of having some shrimp, muscles or even sea urchin are possible. Ask your tour operator whats on the menu!
The fruit and vegetable companions to your meal are often spread out in elaborately decorative displays, like in El Nido. These pre-peeled and bite sized pieces are designed to be eaten easily by hand, and contain most of the organic waste at the preparation stage of the meal… making less trash and reducing the environmental impact of the tour.
Also like tours in El Nido; squid, shellfish, grilled local fish are all common dishes on island hopping tours in Coron. And of course, a large pot of steamed white rice is cooked in the morning to be brought along for lunch, but the boatmen often do an excellent job of packing it so that it is still very fresh when served on the boat or island.
Additional Considerations for a Perfect Day
While the above paragraphs help you understand what you can expect of a typical meal during a day of island hopping, there is some additional advice as well.
Bring snacks, because snacks are always a good idea
Depending on the tour that you are on that day, you can expect to be burning lots of energy. El Nido’s Island Hopping Tour A for example, is all about paddling, while Coron’s ‘Reef’s and Wreck Tour’ (future article to come) has participants burning lots of energy while swimming, or playing beach volleyball. Its for that reason that bringing sugary snacks along is a good idea.
Some rare locations such as Malacapuya Island and Small Lagoon do have vendors that sell snacks, but they are few and far between, and the choices are extremely limited. Both El Nido Town and Coron have lots of small shops to purchase a variety of inexpensive snacks that you can bring along on a day of island hopping.
It’s also important to keep in mind that most of these snacks will have to be tucked away out of the sun, so that they don’t melt or make a mess in your bag. Most people tend to avoid salty snacks as they dehydrate you quicker.
Bring drinks, and be the most popular person on your tour
While nearly all island hopping tour packages include an elaborately styled lunch, none of them include anything to drink aside from water. This really seems like a missed opportunity for tour operators to sell to tourists before leaving for the day. Furthermore, these tourists are not aware that they should be shopping for drinks before getting on their tour boat!
The result is a fairly bland lunch experience. While the food is delicious and plenty of water is available, the option to have a nice cold soda, iced tea, calamansi juice, or beer is severely missed.
This opportunity to be the hero has been captured by the occasional, experienced island hopper. While participating in El Nido and Coron island hopping tours, it was a pleasant surprise to be offered a cold beer towards the end of the day, or a glass of ice cold soda with lunch. These generous souls planned ahead, even to have a cooler full of ice, and were kind enough to share it all with the entire tour group. When purchased in town, drinks are very inexpensive. While you are not required to provide for everyone, doing so will certainly win you much favor while hopping islands in paradise!
Lastly, make sure to consider the palenque
Coron has a large public wet market on the reclaimed part of the harbor, while El Nido is far more direct-to-tourist in nature; meaning that the prices are more inflated in this category.
Purchasing your own food and drink to bring along and ask the boatmen to prepare is extremely rare outside the cases of a private hire. When operating outside of a tour package, travelers need to consider taking care of their own lunch, therefore the palenque is the best option; but even when participating in a tour package, its ok to bring along your own meal. This is specially useful for people that have food allergies or other dietary restrictions. Prefer grilled fish to adobo chicken? Pork over shellfish? Bringing your own food along is the best way to assure that you eat well, when special preferences are important to you. You can ask your tour operator about the meal beforehand, but they are also often subject to the randomness of what they themselves pick up at the market that morning.
above: white smoke rises from improvised kitchens in El Nido's Small Lagoon
With these additional considerations, you should have all the information you need to maximize your enjoyment during your full day of island hopping. Enjoy El Nido and Coron!