Viet cuisine, introduced by Vietnamese refugees back in the mid-70s, has seeped through the city’s vernacular diet. Chaolongans (places to eat chao long), originally operated by Vietnamese emigrants, have become consistent crowd-drawers. Our guide recommended Rene’s Saigon, a celebrated Vietnamese restaurant along the bustling Rizal Avenue, but it was closed before we arrived. Who else to ask but our tricycle driver. He brought us to Bona’s Chao Long Haus, a busy no-frills eatery along Manalo Extension. There were more local diners than tourists in the chalongan. They ate noodle soup with what looked like a baguette. When in Rome, do as the Romans do, so we ordered beef stew chao long with plain French bread, an unmistakable French influence in Indochina. The other variations of chao long are buto-buto, pork and beef. I noticed that the diners favor the meat-filled baguettes. It must be good.
The hot beef stew chao long arrived with a separate bowl of fresh bean sprouts, basil, mint and calamansi. It looks and tastes pretty close to a pho bo kho. Minus the flavor-boosting herbs, the dish would be plainly sweet. The hofan-like rice noodles are notably pleasing to the bite The stew’s intense red-yellow color must come from natural anatto oil. I read that cháo lòng in Saigon is rice porridge with pork innards. How Puerto Princesa’s chao long got its name is vague. Suffice it to say, chaolongans and chao long have character worth exploring.
The husband considers the downright cheap 45-peso chao long meal his best chow in Palawan. Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Ciao for now.
Bona’s Chao Long Haus Manalo Extension, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan
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