When I first visited Palawan in 2008, I spoke with a travel agent for a hassle-free arranged tour. It was a three-day trip which included a tour of Honda Bay, the Underground River, and the city. We explored a number of well-promoted sites particularly the Islands, Mitra Ranch, Crocodile Farm, Baker Hill and the Underground River itself. Perhaps, you have had the chance to experience the same itinerary. Personally thinking that I had seen all that Palawan has to offer, I never thought of going back. I realized my mistake after I visited Palawan again for my thesis fieldwork.
Four hours before our departure, my thesis partner and I headed to the Puerto Princesa Airport to catch our flight bound for Manila. We checked in our baggage and decided to eat dinner outside the airport. We walked along Rizal Avenue and saw a red-themed Noodle House, just a few meters from the airport. I suddenly remembered a local suggesting food that we should not miss – Chao Long!
Chao Long is a Vietnamese cuisine, brought to the Philippines by the Vietnamese refugees. Tracing back its history, the Communists occupied South Vietnam in 1975, during which time refugees fled to neighbouring countries, including the Philippines. Years after, the local government asked these people to return to Vietnam. It was said that out of 2,000 refugees, some found their way to US while the others returned to their home country (Villareal, 2009).
A Chao Long House looks like a common Pares/Mami House or an eatery. Typically, it is open-spaced because rain rarely visits Palawan. I was quite surprised when I saw their menu because they only serve Chao Long. However, the space is optimized by placing several square tables which can individually hold up to 4 diners.
Chao Long is served hot with bean sprouts and calamansi. It is best partnered with a French bread (either plain, buttered or with meat fillings). The price ranges from PhP40 to PhP50 depending on the meat toppings and an additional PhP10 if you opt to have it with egg. According to a local, Chao long is made from rice noodles brought in from Vietnam itself. The noodles have an unusual texture. It is not very finely ground and you can still identify that it is made from rice. It is reasonably tasteless because the soup complements it very well. It has an orangey color because of achuete (a natural food coloring) and its broth has a strong flavorful taste – common to Asian cuisine.
Where to try
A number of Vietnamese who married Filipinos chose to stay with their families and established their own businesses in the country. It is quite evident that when you stroll around the city, Chao Long Houses are almost everywhere. If you’re coming from a hotel, the easiest way to find one is to ride a tricycle. Tricycle drivers know where the best Chao Long Houses are located are, although be wiry as some charge higher than the usual fare.
Within the outskirts of the airport alone, there are no less than three Chao Long Houses. Coming from the airport terminal, the nearest ones are located along Rizal Avenue. It would only take a five to 10-minute walk.
Be sure to try this out the next time you visit Palawan! – Cha Octiva
Villareal, Melo. (2009). “Chao Long Noodles: A culinary treat from Vietnam in Palawan Philippines.” Retrieved from http://outoftownblog.com