By Rafa Oca
It was one of those weeknights at the hostel when there were few guests and I was hungry. I had been in Baler for 2 weeks already and I was craving sashimi. I heard that the market had fresh tuna so I decided to grab a kilo. To my surprise one of the groceries there also sold wasabi. I was excited. So I went back to the hostel and with absolutely zero experience I started to cut up the fish into what to me resembled a plate of sashimi that I shared with a few guests. It did not look appealing at all but it sure tasted like a win!
When I came back to Manila, I chanced upon a few videos on Youtube about how to prepare sashimi and over the course of a few visits to Baler, I started getting better and better at it. I learned how to properly fillet fish and squid, and even bought my own sushi knife.
Some of the things I like to make are tuna and squid sashimi, tuna nigiri, seared tuna with a basil crust, tuna tartare, ceviche, pako (fern) salad with tuna… basically, I like cooking fish. But aside from all the tuna I guess my signature dish would be my garlic mahi-mahi with lemon butter rice. Most of my ideas are born out of what ingredients are available in the Baler wet market, but sometimes I see something on the internet I want to try and experiment so I bring my own ingredients. I do this almost always in Baler only because there’s easy access to fresh fish. So if you catch me in Baler you can ask me to cook!
The best compliment that I’ve ever received about my cooking – and I’ve heard it 3-4 times is – “Swerte yung magiging asawa mo (your future wife is going to be so lucky.” but my proudest moment was when an Italian chef who was our guest at the time, liked my pasta and said that all my food was properly cooked.
Feeding 20-25 hungry surfers is no joke. From buying ingredients to kitchen prep to cooking – it takes about 4-5 hours to churn out all that food, but there’s a certain kind of stoke that you feel when you see a horde of hungry guys and girls gorge themselves on something that you made. Sometimes friends and guests help out and it’s really fun when you see a group of totally random strangers from different parts of the world come together at the same table sharing the same food.