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Breakfast in Tawi Tawi | The Bongao Style





Pandesal w/durian jam, Panggih panggih, Wajit, Pali Kambing, Junai w/egg

Traveling to Tawi-Tawi is one of my craziest dream adventures that I shall treasure forever in my whole life. Reaching the farthest ancestral land in the southern part of the Philippines was a privilege jaunt and an eye-opener to discover another great culture embedded through their local delicacies.

As I prepared for my trip to Tawi-Tawi, I was strongly discouraged by my friends and requested me to cancel my flight to an ARMM territory on the ground of  "security instability". But I always contradict them with my own reason that “we always fear  the things we don’t understand and we will not understand those things we fear unless we face our own fears." Their hesitations on my decision even motivated me to prove them wrong on their negative impression about the Muslim dominated land. There was no turning back as I have firmly decided to cross an item on my bucket list.  Coupled with unconquerable mind set and positive will power, I ignored all the warnings and headed for a ride to the remote province, rationalizing that Tawi-Tawi is just another  underrated tourist destination meant to be discovered.

A day after Christmas, I arrived in Sanga Sanga airport and escorted by the hospitable staff of the Vice Governor of Tawi Tawi, Michael. I felt so relieved to get acquainted with a  local Christian in a Muslim land-dwelling province.  Excited to know more about this "feared land", we hit the very first activity in my  itinerary-“BREAKFAST!”

Breakfast ala Bongao

From Sanga-Sanga airport, we took a short motor ride to  Kahapan Street in Bongao proper and have chosen to settle in Kadday, a local coffee shop that serves home-grown breakfast that I found so unique and I have  tasted   only  in Bongao. (With the proximity of Tawi-Tawi to Sabah, I am not sure if they have similar delicacies as they share almost same Muslim traditions.)

Aromatic coffee of Bongao, Kahawa Lubog
Sitting observantly on the seemed ordinary "karinderia", the store attendant startled me by serving us with two full trays of different types of Halal food together with a glassful of strong aromatic coffee known as Kahawa lubog. The coffee was served with another glass where you have to transfer the steaming liquid back  and forth to reduce the intensity of the super hot morning beverage. As I was warned that the coffee was very hot, I repeatedly transferred the hot liquid on the spare glass more than 20 time as I was cautious about getting my tongue burned so I could enjoy the rest of the food on the menu. Honestly, I was astonished sipping Kahawa lubog for the very first time, stirring my brain to full consciousness with its head-kicking strong aroma. Kahawa lubog if promoted internationally will give Starbuck's Cafe Americano a run for its money.

Back to my tray-full of strange looking goodies, I can't decide which item to pick first, not because they were all bizarre food to me , but simply I don't know how to eat them properly and I don't want to offend our Muslim brothers by disrespecting their culture through their food. So, I observed and copied my seatmates on how they eat their food. It wasn't so difficult as I thought it was, they were all using their bare hands just like any other probincianong pinoy!

My very first bite landed on Pangih pangih, a huge fried dough that looks like a croissant and tasted like an ordinary sugarless greasy doughnuts. A few bites of Pangih-pangih have already given me an overload of carbohydrates that I could use in my usual 1500 kilocalorie daily energy requirement. Pangih-pangih alone have weighed me down already but my cravings to savour other morning delicacies have just started.

I shifted my attention to what seemed palatable  Junai and Egg. Junai is a steamed rice mixed with black roasted coconut grates wrapped in banana leaf and usually paired with hard-boiled egg. Junai and Egg is an all time favorite diet among the Sama people and can be served anytime of the day, making it a staple food and impossible not to find in the local menu.

Pali Kambing on the other hand looked not so enticing at first  with its ordinary round -shaped fried bread similar to a chinese buchi. Pali Kambing once tasted, reminded me of my favorite maruya, that is made of banana covered with flour mixed with butter.  Pali Kambing is made of crushed pure banana mixed with flour, brown sugar and butter then rolled into a bite and then deep-fried in cooking oil. Pali Kambing is another heavy carbo delicacy that would suffice your energy requirement for the day.

After munching on the not-so-sweet but delectable Pali Kambing, my eyes  suddenly got fixed on the right top corner of my tray with what seemed familiar bread-wow Pandesal! Though it looks so ordinary, the odd stench made it more interesting to taste. It was filled with sweet Durian jam , a common fruit enjoyed almost by all Mindanaon people. If you are sensitive to the strong odd smell of Durian, this sweet spread is not for you. But since I have an unconditional love for Durian, I finished all the pandesal filled with my new favorite fruit-flavored jam.  

I was almost done with all the food placed on my tray when I spotted the green triangular shaped delicacy across my table. Wrapped mysteriously, I shamelessly asked the attendant for a piece which they locally called Wajit. Wajit is a lightly sweetened sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf that tasted just like the Tagalog's favorite biko, only the former is lightly brown in color and tasted similar to a lightly sweetened suman

Warning: There's a Food Tray Rule!

My first meal in Bongao was a challenge as I tried to digest a full tray of newly-introduced delicacies served with the thought that it would be impolite not to finish everything served on the table, making my stomach bloat to the fullest.   As I look down on my companion's tray I was a little confused to see that he  have only savored on some selected food items, not touching the other delicacies served on his tray. I inferred maybe he was a little choosy or he was on a strict diet.

When we asked for the bill, the cashier came over to account only for everything that we have touched, disturbed and have consumed! Glued on my seat while holding my bloated stomach, I was troubled listening to the cashier's explanation. After the Sinama interpretation was made, I was dumbfounded to find out that you are not required to devour everything served on the tray and the untouched food in your tray won't be charged against your bill. Poor me, I munched on everything served on my tray and paid a hundred pesos for my very first breakfast in Bongao. Lesson learned: In Bongao, you touch it, you pay for it!

More to this, in Kahapa, the food tray that you used will just be refilled with food items that you have consumed and the same tray shall be served for the next hungry customer. Oops, that made me wonder who used my food tray before me and who used mine after? Just a thought that you should know.And that's how I spent my very first breakfast in Bongao, Tawi Tawi, an exceptional meal experience I hope you find so easy to digest!

Getting there

Bongao, Tawi-Tawi can be conveniently reached by airplane. Since there is no direct flight bound for Tawi Tawi, you have to land for Zamboanga City first, then from Zamboanga, take a plane bound for Sanga-Sanga, Tawi Tawi. Travel time is less than an hour. There is only a single morning flight schedule bound for Sanga-Sanga every other day based on my experience, so you may want to check the local airline operating bound for Tawi Tawi if you are in a tight schedule ( Air Phil Express and Cebu Pacific)

Transport System

Tawi Tawi transport system is mobilized generally by the colorful tricycles and motorcycles roaming around the town with a very minimum fare just like any other places in the Philippines. You can also hire the tricycle and motorcycle if you wish to roam the coastal areas of the island.

Cash Problem

Unlike what many are thinking, Tawi Tawi maybe remote but several banks with ATMs are available in Bongao proper such as Land Bank of the Philippines and Philippine National Bank. Common goods and convenience stores are placed everywhere.


15 comments :

  1. Wishing i'll be able to visit tawi tawi this year. Its on my top 3 dream destination :(

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  2. This will help me a lot for my Tawi Tawi travel this coming July.

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  3. I will be coming back to Tawi Tawi but still don't have a definite date when :D

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  4. true it is a place must visit in the Philippines . Love this place so much

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  5. thank you LM for paying our place a visit...meeting you was indeed a pleasure...im glad u had a great time...as a tawi-tawian myself i am sad that many regard tawi-tawi as a chaotic place...that is why we are doing everything to tell the world how beautiful and peaceful our place is...just as i describe it "TAWI-TAWI a mystical place of rich and colorful heritage.."come visit and explore tawi-tawi!

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  6. i wanna visit Tawi Tawi too! I saw the place on a TV documentary and I really love it :) would love to try their food too!

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  7. Fear is sometimes the one that limits possibilities and it's glad you went against the common notion and visited Tawi Tawi. The food looks real good and I hope to see Tawi Tawi too.

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  8. I also wouldn't enter any of the ARMM areas... even if they say it's safe for civilians to travel through... call it paranoia but can you blame me for having it?

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  9. Hmm. Breakfast in Tawi-tawi looks yum! I wouldn't want the durian jam though. Not a durian fan. :D


    Myst visit Tawi-tawi soon! Looks like a promising place!

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  10. That is an interesting way to be served and charged for breakfast. Well at least, you had a taste of everything you wanted to try from what was offered.

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  11. not know so much about tawi-tawi except for those negative ,impressions people give to it. its nice to hear some good things about it. Yahweh bless.

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  12. Maria Gemma Defeo-HilotinJanuary 18, 2013 at 12:36 PM

    "I
    want to prove them wrong that Tawi Tawi is a hard core under rated
    tourist destination and a peaceful Muslim community in the Philippines" - This appeases our minds! I love how you are promoting Mindanao as a safe tourist destination!! I'm sure this will be your year to get recognized as a person and as a blogger! Kudos!

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  13. whoa, i think that's amazing. only paying for what food you've touched and eaten. I think this is the very first time that I've read about Taw-tawi as a tourist destination. I wish you could have posted more photos though :)

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  14. Wow! I never knew Tawi-Tawi had delectable dishes like these. I'm sure travelers would give this one a try soon.

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