How to get the best kind of ‘rum deal’ in the stunning Philippines (Picture: Rob Buckhaven)
Full disclosure, I hadn’t properly connected the Philippines with rum-production before going, and I write about alcohol for a living. That’s either on me, or them.
For many, rum is wrapped in the misappropriated tiki myth, a spirit produced in exotic countries like the Caribbean and Jamaica, latterly even lesser-tropical Wales.
In fact, for fear of sounding like the bluntest tool in the box, I didn’t know much about the Philippines as a holiday destination either, its sumptuous coral reefs, mind-blowing mountain vistas, cutting-edge restaurants, world-renowned bars, top resorts, or its claim to have some of the most biodiverse diving in the world. I certainly had no idea that it was the texting capital of the world or a mecca for karaoke fans.
The Philippines offer the sort of views you’ll dine out on for years (Picture: Rob Buckhaven)
Now I was halfway around the world, I had questions. ‘Where am I?’, ‘what time is it?’, ‘what’s my karaoke song?’, but more importantly, ‘is it possible for an archipelago like the Philippines, made up of 7,641 islands colonised for 350 years by the Spanish, English, Americans and Japanese, to really have a readily recognisable identity like, say, Thailand?’.
I was going to find out, no matter how many rum cocktails I had to drink or white sandy beaches I had to splay out on to get there. That’s because I’m a professional.
The first stop was the Filipino capital, Manila, which I took in bleary-eyed from the taxi, recently excavated from my long-haul slumber by a Gulf Air attendant with a sensitive bedside manner. Initial thoughts were around its charmingly faded Americana, neck-cricking high-rise blocks, super-genial locals, shopping malls, fast pace of living, countless boxing gyms and jeepneys, minibuses reworked from abandoned US army jeeps.
Filipino capital Manila is teeming with friendly life and hectic commerce (Picture: Rob Buckhaven)
Impressive ex-colonial facades line the roads of Bacolod City (Picture: Rob Buckhaven)
My Filipino food and drink awakening began in Makati, the bougie finance district. I had my first rum cocktail of the trip there, the ‘Filipino Mojito’ garnished with a lime-like fruit that also tastes of satsuma, called the calamansi. Bear in mind that the Philippines is made up of 7,107 flavours, and you’ll see why I became a greedy guzzle gannet for Filipino hospitality as the trip went on.
Case in point was my next stop, Metro Manila dining hotspot Lampara, which put into context the myriad influences on their cuisine, from Spanish to Korean, Chinese and so many in between. Toyo was another, a World’s 50 Best Restaurants-level restaurant, helmed by a chef with a couple of three-Michelin starred restaurants under his belt, delivering playfully elevated Filipino flavours, washed down with crafty rum cocktails.
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