By Alexander Villafania
THERE are lots of places to eat in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. In fact, almost every corner of the semi-rural atmosphere has one food stall or restaurant ranging from the familiar fastfood joints to the small local restaurants and the occasional coffee shops and bars. But if there is one place in Puerto Princesa that is worth every penny to go to, it's KaLui.
Ask every tricycle driver in Puerto Princesa to take you to KaLui and they'll gladly give you a little history of the famed restaurant. As it is, KaLui is already 20 years old and is one of the city's oldest icons. It is only matched by another famed bistro, the Badjao Seafront.
However, KaLui is more accessible, located along Rizal Avenue, which is a major thoroughfare traversing the entire length of the city. Many tricycles and jeeps go through here. Drivers will willingly drop you off close to the KaLui with a simple request.
KaLui itself does not look striking at all; there are no large parking lots for cars and the walls are actually made up of wooden fences. The entrance, with a hanging signage of KaLui, is also made of light wooden panels. The restaurant looks like a large Bahay Kubo (thatched house) with extended roofed terrace where diners will be sitting. Upon entering the small "lobby," guests are requested to remove their shoes, socks and sandals; as everyone eats barefoot.
Footwear are properly laid out at the lobby like in a Japanese teahouse, while others are placed in woven baskets. The floor of the entire restaurant is made up of bamboo slats that are regularly cleaned. There are various wooden dining tables and chairs in Kalui but among its unique features are the elevated porches with low tables and pillows for sitting instead of chairs. Many guests prefer these porches over tables but having these means calling up the restaurant and requesting for a spot in advance.
Luis Oliva, owner of KaLui said that the design of his restaurant as well as the requirement to have footwear removed before entering is from his experience living in thatched houses. He also said that the distinctive feel of being at home would appeal to tourists who want to have a different eating experience outside normal methods of chairs, tables and air conditioned rooms. KaLui has no windows, giving every guest unobstructed view of the surrounding gardens.
Watch this video interview with Oliva.
"The environment has to be cozy because this makes people enjoy their food even more," said Oliva.
Of course, the main gist of going to KaLui is the food. Unlike restaurants with set menus, Oliva said that his menu changes everyday depending on the catch. He prints out new menu (even the date is printed) after his staff gets ingredients from the nearest market each day. The idea is to treat people with something new depending on what was freshly caught for that day.
Oliva said he advocates healthy living so he does not serve any red meats. Instead, all of his recipes are seafood, fruits and vegetables. He does have regular selections, including blue marlin, tuna belly, and Lapu-Lapu (grouper). He also has fresh crustaceans, such as shrimps, crabs and lobsters. These are poached, grilled, sautéed, served in sizzling hot plates, and steamed into different kinds of foods. Various fruits and vegetables are also available. In fact, he serves an all-vegetable plate for the pickiest of vegans.
Although his selections are few, his servings are huge and would be way below the usual price range of many seafood restaurants. For example, his grilled blue marlin is a huge 400 gram chunk of fish that when bought in a fancy restaurant in Manila would cost about P400 to P600. Oliva only charges P200 for this.
One of his innovative items in his menu is the seafood lumpia, which is a mix of fish, shrimp and squid. Six pieces of these sumptuous delicacies only costs P150. Unless a guest is a real bottomless pit for stomach, a customer will not have to pay any more than P300 for a superb dining experience in KaLui.
KaLui also serves fresh fruit shakes, fresh young coconut, calamansi juice, pinnacled, and his unique fruit plate, which is composed of slices of pineapples, watermelons, and bananas stuffed in half a head of young coconut, then sprinkled with muscovado sugar.
With the growing tourism traffic in Puerto Princesa, it would be no surprise if it becomes even harder to book a spot in KaLui. Perhaps it's time for KaLui to physically expand to accommodate more people.
This might turn off KaLui's more finicky patrons who want peace and quiet while eating their favorite chow. But until that happens, those who get a chance to visit Puerto Princesa will have to experience KaLui and see for themselves the unique experience that is Palawan.