As our ferry slowly approached the busy Jolo port, the early morning sun cast a fiery glow just beyond the majestic Mt. Tumangtangis.
It was a welcome sight after an otherwise uneventful and long overnight boat trip from Zamboanga. I could hear from our bunkbeds the small bangkas whizzing past us, perhaps carrying the day’s catch.
I missed the early Muslim prayer that time because when my friend and I woke up, everyone else was already on their feet and doing what they have to do on a wonderful Saturday morning. Porters were already shuffling back and forth carrying some of the passengers’ heavy luggage. The rest who were still on board looked happy after seeing their loved ones waiting for them nearby.
Kawa and Bang-bang
We then carefully walked down the wooden plank with our energetic contact leading the way. Our first order of business that morning was to have a quick coffee break at Dennis Coffee Shop, which was the only establishment open at that hour.
The aroma of the morning’s fresh brew was unmistakable as we entered the place. By its entrance is a wooden cabinet, the shelves of which were stacked with freshly cooked Tausug pastries called bang-bang. Soon enough our orders of kawa or the native coffee were poured pipping hot on pretty yellow glasses.
It had a black, rich flavor and was one of the better blends I’ve had in recent memory. We would later find out that this brew was slowly roasted for many hours and over charcoal-fired heat.
The coffeeshop was quickly filled up with locals before we knew it. This small crowd looked like they just wanted to stop by Dennis for a quick caffeine fix. They are not the kind who linger in signature coffee chains to read a good book, talk about the weather or discuss yesterday’s news. In coffeeshops such as Dennis, you just come here for the coffee, eat some snacks and then leave.
A college teacher approached our table, probably curious as to why we were talking about the plates of bang-bangs before us. Only the biko and the boiled egg of course, was familiar to me. I’m glad that he helped identify the other Traditional tausug delicacies – the que talam, pasong, putli mandi, baolu and the junay.
“You don’t have to finish everything off,” he reminded us. “You only pay for what you ate.”
He then asked us why we visited Jolo. This was not the first time that we heard this inevitable question. I answered a little bit differently each time, but without straying too far from our original intentions.
Why visit Jolo?
The explanation we gave to a retired government employee, our gracious host and our overqualified tour guide later, summed up why we traveled to this part of the Philippines. My friend told him that we wanted to experience the Tausug culture and to see Jolo beyond the little we knew about it. Well, aside from the Abu Sayyaf, all we know about Jolo is that it is Sulu’s capital, and that it is an island somewhere in between Basilan and Tawi-tawi.
There was no drastic change on the look on his face, but I felt that he was satisfied, and to some extent, impressed with what he just heard. He then gave us a brief background of his hometown and I could sense with his careful choice of words, peppered with wisdom and humor, that he has seen both the good and the bad in these parts.
Minutes after he welcomed us at his rooftop, a spread of bang-bangs and cups of Sulu coffee were served before we could even protest. We politely declined, but he insisted that we eat, including a durian that was freshly split open.
I actually like the foul-smelling fruit and I could probably finish more portions than what your doctor would normally prescribe. Our host assured us that we need not worry of our cholesterol levels because the durian in Jolo, which he also claimed to taste better than the ones sold at Davao, is free from pesticides and fertilizers.
This was one of the most memorable and unique breakfasts I’ve had so far. How often do I get to have a native Sulu coffee, with durian and delicious bang-bangs on the side? All these were not only a part of a meal but also served as a foretaste of our small adventures in Sulu, a province that has been grossly misunderstood by the rest of the Philippines.
It is a reminder too that while one could google or read so many headlines about a place such as Sulu, tasting its local delicacies could actually nourish, enrich and surprise you in more ways than one.