Friday, May 16, 2014

Sea Urchins on a Sandbar -- Bingeing on Uni Sashimi at Virgin Beach, Bohol

Aside from the big island of Panglao, where the famous Alona White sand beach is, there are other  smaller islands around Bohol.  One is the protected fish sanctuary of Balicasag where you can snorkel with the fish and the pawikan or sea turtles (check, been there, done that) and the other is Pungtud Island, popularly called Virgin Beach by the locals.

After enjoying the delights of swimming with the fish in Balicasag, Jay and I headed out to Virgin Island the next day.  We hired the same bangka (motorised outrigger canoe) to take us from Amorita Resort to the island.  Do you see that small green land area on the picture above?  
That is where we were headed for on this brilliantly hot and sunny May morning.  
On the left side of the island, you can just about make out the row of bangkas that are parked on the sandbar that stretches out from the island.

Virgin Island is a well liked tourist destination precisely because of this sandbar.  At its widest, it's about 30 meters wide and perhaps a few hundred meters long.  This being low tide,  boats carrying tourists like us,  parked right on the sandbar.  
The water was  a few inches deep in some areas and up to knee deep in others.  
 Our boatman said the sandbar was submerged in waist to chest deep water during high tide.

I thought that Virgin Beach was government or public property.  But no -- it is privately owned.   I was also surprised to find a large bronze statue of Padre Pio on the island -- there is ongoing construction for the small chapel that houses the statue.

This place  is gorgeous -- the sand is fine,  dazzlingly white and perhaps thanks to the caretakers, free from trash and debris.  While there is a fence around the main portion of the island,  the beach is there for visitors to enjoy.  

Even with the sizeable crowd on Virgin Beach, all I had to do was walk a few paces away to enjoy the sand, the sun and the sea -- in relative peace and quiet.

Where there's  a crowd,  you will find an enterprising Pinoy selling food.  
We should have been there when Jesus fed the 5000.
Right in the middle of  the sand bar was this makeshift little sari sari store cum carinderia selling boiled eggs, chips, cold canned Coke, the ubiquitous fresh buko and even piping hot, cooked-on-the-spot banana que!

But the little sari sari store on the sandbar was not what caught my eye.  When we first landed on Virgin Beach, I had already seen this bangka where a more interesting  culinary treat was being sold.

This is exactly what I had hoped to see -- a tub full of the spiny black sea urchins that abound in the waters off Panglao Island.  Sea urchins or uni are a seafood delicacy that I really enjoy. 
In the Visayas, uni is called suaki or swaki. 

I'm sorry I never asked for her name but the uni vendor was very nice and happily posed for photos.

Uni is an expensive treat in Japanese restaurants, whether in Manila or even in Japan.  So, when the lady said that one sea urchin was P20, I told her to start opening them up until I said "stop".

Crack open a sea urchin and you find this creamy, delectable, ambrosial roe.  The first time I had uni, I thought I had died and sunk to the bottom of the ocean. For me, uni tastes of the deep blue sea.  
In the Visayas, they eat uni with a drop of vinegar.   The vendor had a small bottle of pinakurat or fermented coconut vinegar, spicy hot with siling labuyo (bird's eye chili) garlic and onions.  

This is the roe from one sea urchin.   Here's how to eat it Virgin Beach style  -- hold out your palm while the vendor scrapes the uni into your hand.  Don't eat it just yet, wait for the few drops of spicy pinakurat then ... slurp!  What an amazing and peerless taste experience. 
Certainly fresher than any I had ever had in the fanciest sushi place.
The pinakurat worked wonders ... not that uni ever needs any help but still,
hot and sour is a perfect foil to creamy and briny.
Eating uni while standing on a sandbar in the middle of the sea ... to quote  Mastercard,
it was just one of those priceless moments.

After that first mouthful -- I had to have more.  The sea urchins never stood a chance!  

Here is proof that on that hot sunny morning, in the middle of the sea, I added to the  decimation of the sea urchin population of Bohol.

Deceptively simple and basic, is it a plant or is it an animal?  Whatever a sea urchin is, I bow down low before it and thank it for its singular gift of flavour -- elemental yet complex, impossibly indulgent, decadently divine.  

Before I singlehandedly laid waste to Bohol's sea urchin resources, Jay had to pry my greedy little paws from the sides of this little bangka .  I really regret not having asked for their names but  I will forever remember and be grateful to the husband and wife who run this little "uni bar on the sandbar" for  giving me this exceptional, extraordinary experience.  
I hope this is not the last we'll see of each other.  
Sea urchins of Bohol ... I shall return!  

No comments:

Post a Comment