BORACAY, Philippines -- If there’s something to like most about Boracay, apart from the endless summer fun, it's the diversity of culture in the island.
Because of the high influx of tourists who visit Boracay, their cultures have invariably influenced life on the island. As a matter of fact, there are a number of cuisines available in Boracay. If you’re craving for Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Korean, or Mediterranean food, you will easily find one on your next turn.
There is also never a shortage of local delights, ranging from some of the popular restaurant chains (Gerry’s Grill) to local "lutong-bahay" treats (check out the budget carinderia just a short walk from D’mall).
Soon to join this growing list of food havens in Boracay is The Sun Asian Kitchen, which opens later this month.
On a rainy Wednesday evening, my sister and I made our way to meet Chef Emer Ibabao of The Sun Asian Kitchen. We met at Starbucks, just a few steps away from where The Sun Villas and The Sun Asian Kitchen will soon open.
Upon entering the restaurant, I felt like I was being welcomed into the home of an influential Filipino-Spanish family. As if reading my mind, Chef Emer informed me that the theme of the entire establishment is rustic. Armed with old doors, Vigan tiles and recycled wood used for the furniture, the small restaurant charms its way into the hearts of any guest.
As its name suggests, the restaurant offers Asian cuisine— Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean. On our visit, we were presented a plethora of dishes that, while no longer strange to our taste buds, still tasted new. That's because Chef Emer creatively and deliciously recreated long-time Asian favorites but gave them new twists.
Asking about his culinary background, I was surprised to discover that the young chef was self-trained and did not have any formal training except for making pasta and pizza dough. His biggest influence comes from his mom and grandmother, who were both culinarians in their own right. I find that these are the best types of chefs -- those who spent their childhood inside the kitchen.
The first dish our host presented was the Squid Balls & Chicken Noodle Soup, which went well with the rainy weather on the island at the time. What I liked most about the soup was the squid balls as they did not taste like the ones sold by street vendors. The dish was delicious and packed, full of squid meat, while the soup was soothing.
Squid Balls and Chicken Noodle Soup
Next on the list was the Baked Oysters with Basil, Cheese, and Garlic. It was the first time my 15-year old sister got to try oysters and it did not disappoint. In fact, this was the dish she loved the most! I have to admit, it was very delicious and decadent, with enough cheese to coat the oysters, but not too much to overpower its taste. Since the oysters were baked, Chef Emer assured us that it was safe to eat them.
Baked Oysters with Basil, Cheese and Garlic
The third dish was Fried Spring Rolls, a typical dish composed of ground meat wrapped in lumpia wrapper. What intrigued me most about this dish was the manner in which it was consumed. Carefully, I watched as Chef Emer took the first roll, wrapped a lettuce around it, spread sweet chili sauce, and lastly, sprinkled basil leaves over it. I followed suit, making sure I was doing exactly as my host did before taking a bite. Again, the flavor of the ground meat thrilled me, so much so that I initially forgot that I was allergic to shrimp.
Fried Spring Rolls
We weren’t done yet as Chef Emer offered me the Smoked Fish Salad or 'tinapa." I initially thought the smoky flavor of the fish might be overwhelming so I placed just a small portion on my plate. The moment I tasted the salad, however, I was immediately a convert. In all my food travels, I have never found a restaurant that served Smoked Fish Salad. And in all honesty, this was the best salad I ever tasted. What fancied me most about the salad was that the perfectly smoked fish did not overpower the entire dish. Nor did it leave a bad aftertaste.
Smoked Fish Salad
Lastly, we tried their Hainanese Chicken Rice. Perfect for anyone on a diet, Hainense chicken is a dish served with a selection of sauces to complement the meat. Although this was a basic Hainanese chicken dish, the takeaway for me was the rice. Chef Emer shared his secret with us -- he steamed the rice using the water where the chicken was boiled. This resulted in a very flavorful cup of rice that was a delight on its own.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
Just when we thought we were done for the night, Chef Emer informed us that he prepared three desserts especially for us: Green Teamizu, Banana and Apple Pudding and Maja Biko.
Upon hearing the words "green Tea," I swallowed hard. I was up for anything except green tea. In fact, you can serve me any dish you like except for green tea or something with cinnamon. Fearing I might offend our host, I decided to be open for anything. And true enough, it became my favorite dessert of the three. The chef told me that he used mascarpone for the filling of the dish. But what made me like it was the fact that the green tea did not taste bitter. It was a delicious twist to the usual tiramisu dessert.
Next came the Banana and Apple Pudding, also served with mascarpone and topped with a walnut. Again, another delicious treat that did not disappoint my taste buds. Even though it was a satisfying dessert, I feared I had already reached my stomach’s capacity so I decided to just have a few bites.
Banana and Apple Pudding
The last dessert was a cross between two Filipino treats -- maja blanca and biko -- combined in a two-layer concoction dubbed as the Maja Biko. No words can describe how delicious the combination was except these: pure genius.
After dinner, Chef Emer gave us a tour around the soon-to-open hotel. The Sun Villas has 18 rooms, and just like the restaurant, the bedrooms also had the same rustic interior. For instance, the paint on the doors looked unfinished but that was the design motif of Boracay's newest hotel. Instead of headboards, the rooms were painted with different colors; each exuding a character of its own.
My favorite, was the room with a bright red headboard, a sofa on the side, and a balcony to boot.
My favorite room!
The hotel also has a two-level spa with the same rustic feel. Guests can choose to have their massages with their friends or in one of the private rooms.
Overall, my experience at The Sun Asian Kitchen is one to remember. While I won’t be around to witness the official opening, I will surely be back for more of the delicious treats I got to taste. That alone is a good reason to return to Boracay soon.
The Sun Villas and The Sun Asian Kitchen will open on the second week of June. You can find them on Station 1, a few steps from Starbucks Boracay.