If you like rice, coconut milk, seafood, pork or chicken you will like to eat in Port Barton. A variety of simple foods will add flavor to your vacation. Unfortunately, many places in Port Barton serve poor imitations of popular European dishes. Nevertheless, there are also restaurants where you will get good local food.
Port Barton used to be a fishing village and its inhabitants still depend on three most accessible and cheapest foods: fish, rice and coconut.
Buying fresh fish is a daily routine. “Bankeros” return from the night fishing and sell their catch directly in the beach or take it to a few specialised shops. The choice of the day depends on the time of the year and the fishermen’s luck.
“Kanin” is the first thing that is cooked in the morning. There is a separate pot in every house that is used only for this. In the evening, whatever rice is left, is fried with garlic and coconut oil (sinangag). In this form it will stay fresh till the next morning and can be eaten for the first meal.
Coconut is used to produce milk and oil (along with a zillion of other uses). You will not be able to buy these finish products in the shops in Port Barton but you will find a lot of “niyog” – mature coconut from which they are prepared.
Many dishes are a simple combination of the three ingredients mentioned above and a few additives. Eggs are the most popular among these as well as a few vegetables. However, Port Barton and Palawan in general are not big on vegetables. You must see and touch local soil to understand why. It is heavy clay that is suitable for growing only a few kinds of veggies. At the same time it is also true that inhabitants of Palawan are not great vegetable farmers. The need for cucumbers, tomato and sweet pepper came with tourists and recent social development. For centuries Palawanians have eaten rice, fresh frutti di mare (including crabs and squid) and coconut products.
Here is a list of a few most popular dishes that are on a menu of the people you are visiting.
- Fried fish with rice (preto isda at kanin) – most popular, cheapest and easiest to prepare breakfast dish.
- Pork baby sausage with fried rice and egg (longsilog) – another popular breakfast dish, a bit more sophisticated. The Tagalog name of the dish is an acronym: LONGanisa – pork baby sausage, SInangag -fried rice, itLOG – egg.
- Chicken or pork in vinegar and soy sauce. This is probably the most popular dish apart from fish. Pinoys love pork and chicken dishes.
- Vegetables with fish cooked in coconut milk (ginataang gulay namay isda) – simple and quick lunch or dinner dish.
- Chicken curry – delicious curry which is a bit diffrent in taste from indian curry. A vegetable curry is a great vegan dish.
- Dried fish (tuyong isda) – good for lunch but not very popular with tourists.
- Raw fish, garlic, onion, chilli, ginger, kalamansi, vinegar (kinilaw) – a cold dish with raw fish.
- Eggplant fried in egg (tortang talong) – a popular evening dish
- Pumpkin cooked in coconut milk and ginger – the all-day dish and a very good vegan option.
Dairy, wheat are not popular and coffee was killed by Nestle.
There are many products that you will not find in Port Barton at all. Dairy and wheat products open the list. There are literally no cheeses, yogurts or butter. A few shops will sell UHT milk at 120 Peso per box. In Puerto Princesa and Roxas grocery stores sell “cheese flavor” which most likely is the main ingredient of your pizza (along with Delmonte tomato paste) in majority of places in Port Barton. In most restaurants when you ask for butter you will be served unnaturally yellow margarine. It is also very difficult to buy wheat flour or tasty breads. The buns that are available in all stores are always a bit sweet and so puffy that you feel like eating air. Again, in Roxas or Puerto Princesa, in food stores there are long rows of bread improvers and bread artificial colors. This explains the taste of bread you get in Port Barton.
Of course, there is a simple explanation of why dairy and wheat products are not available and why all you can get is artificial, processed and not really tasty. First, of all, there are no pastures in Palawan suitable for breeding cows so there is very little milk. Additionally, there is no tradition of dairy production as it would not make much sense for native people to fight a 30 centigrade heat to keep milk fresh. Clay soil is not only bad for pastures but also is not suitable for such crops as wheat or barley. It is, however, perfect for making rice paddies and this is why the Philippines is one of the world’s biggest rice producers. Whatever the reason, Palawan is a paradise for people who are on lactose-free or gluten-free diets.
Freshly brewed coffee is also on the list of products that are impossible to get in most places in Port Barton. Nestle, through heavy advertising, managed to convince all Filipinos that a mixture of artificial creamer and instant coffee along with sugar base (so called 3 in 1) is a true coffee you should crave for in the morning. You will only suffer if you are a coffee lover but there are a few places in which they properly brew coffee so you do not need to despair.
Your stay in Port Barton might be a perfect opportunity to eat well and cheap if you stick to local cuisine. If you choose to have pasta, pizza and burgers you can be sure to get erzatz food, which additionally is truly unhealthy.
There is about a dozen grocery and general purpose stores. The choice is limited comparing to Puerto Princesa or Roxas and the prices are much higher, too. You would pay 30-50 Peso of one kilo of carrot and 30 Peso for four AAA batteries in Puerto and in Port Barton it would be 120 and 100 Peso respectively. There is, however, no “tourist price”. Locals pay the same, so do not try to bargain. The only reason it is pricy is the fact that it is an infertile island and many products need to be brought from other parts of the Philippines and the entry harbor is Puerto Princesa. Only local, seasonal produce will be really cheap. For example a bunch of long beans cost only 5 Peso. Fish is cheap throughout the year: from 50 Peso per kilo fort buraw to 100 Peso for tuna or lapu-lapu. Remember that you are not allowed to bring mango from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton. If you have it in your backpack eat it before the road checkpoint which is located more or less half way through. Port Barton mango trees are free from some kind of bug that eats other mango trees in Palawan.
Where to eat?
There are lots of restaurants along the beach and a few more in the main streets. Their menus seem to be copy-pasted from each others and they all lack originality or special touch. The main concept behind the dish choice is to make everybody happy. Americans will get puffy, sweet pancakes with honey and fruit, Israelis can start their day with shakshuka and Europeans would be pleased to get their continental breakfast. For the main meal you could have pizza, paella or carbonara.
Most restaurants, apart from “national” dishes, offer typical philippine meat dishes (chicken or pork) and seafood. It may however happen that a restaurant does not have any fish, which is difficult to understand.
Vegetarians and vegans
Vegetarians will not have many reasons to complain. They will find one or two vegetarian dishes in every restaurant. You will, however, seriously struggle if you are vegan. Choice and quality of vegetables are limited and there is abundance of mangos, bananas, pineapples, avocados and other fruit only in low season (June-October). Many vegans choose to rent accommodation with a kitchen so that they can cook themselves. This way they will also save a lot of time needed to explain that fish sauce in your vegetable chopsuey makes it not a vegan dish.
Gacayan serves local food and is the most popular backpackers’ hangout. The food is always fresh and tasty. The waiting times are usually a bit tough – somewhere between 40 to 80 minutes during dinner time.
Olive’s Crib is a new addition to Port Barton traditional food scene. The owners have some western experience what can be felt both in the taste of dishes and the service.
Kusinero del Barrio needs to be recommended for the quality of the food and the ambience of the place. It offers traditional tables but also nice Japanese-style floor sitting.
Gorgonzola Pizza is a vegetarian place run by people who know what pizza and pasta should taste like and what it means to provide good service. It’s busy from breakfast till late evening.
Le Terrasse is run by a French gay couple and offers the finest of French cuisine along with a decent choice of wines and excellent company of the owners. They open only in the early afternoon but close late so it’s a great destination for late drinks and snacks. Obviously gay-friendly.
Mabuti was opened in 2016 by the authors of this website and it is the only place in Port Barton that offers Italian gellato that we make out of Italian chocolate, vanilla and caramel or local fresh fruit. This is also the only place that offers a true choice of coffees along with tasty cakes. We make our own breads that we use in sandwiches and burgers. We are open from 7 am till 10 pm. Gay-friendly.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Tipping is discretionary but not really expected by your waiter or waitress. It is so most likely because owners take the tips for themselves. You have to be very specific that the money you give is for the staff who usually are paid a state minimum wage (285 Peso) but work 12 to 16 hours a day. When you pay your bill do not round up. You will anyway get exact change back. Only after getting the change give a tip.
- In all places, small or big, cheap or top class there is free water that will be served with your meal or you can pour it yourself from a container. The so called “service” water is always drinkable and clean water coming from special water purifying shops.
- When walking into a restaurant in Port Barton you should take off your shoes and leave them outside. This way you help staff to keep the place clean. In many restaurants there are special signs or even a place where you can store your flip-flops.
- Do not feed cats or dogs at your table. Whatever you leave on your plate will be given to them anyway. By feeding animals you accustom them to “begging” and many other tourist might mind their presence in the restaurant.
- Refrain from smoking in restaurants as it is not allowed in public places (Republic Act 9211, section 5e). Smoking is permitted in restaurants in separate smoking areas but none of the restaurants in Port Barton offers such facility. If you ask waiting staff if its ok to smoke you will hear “yes” and you will get an ashtray. This is because the business owners are afraid to loose customers and smoking does not have the European stigma.
- young coconut – buko,
- mature coconut – niyog,
- fish – isda,
- pork – karne baboy,
- chicken – manok
- egg – log (itlog),
- rice – kanin,
- breakfast – almusal,
- lunch – tanghalian,
- dinner – hapunan,
- afternoon snack – mirienda,
- beer – beer,
- water – tubig,
- It was delicious, thank you – ang sarap nang pagkain, salamat po
- Bon Appetite 🙂