Balai Belen: The Travellers’ Haven in Davao City
Ida Damo | December 20, 2018
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A friend has been posting about Balai Belen and it got me curious and asked him why he was posting on it. He said it belonged to mutual friends. And then a friend went there to write about it in a daily and so I said, this cannot be, I should write my story on it, too.
And so I asked for a contact person and number and scheduled a shoot with my travel buddy, Olan The Travel Teller.
Dacudao in Davao City is a busy area but when you get to be in Balai Belen, the noise and the chaos of city living seem to fade away.
At first I thought that it was an ancestral house turned into a hotel only to find out that the building is entirely new. From the homey, old feel of the place, you would not think that it has been there for generations rather than from the ground up.
All around you are heritage pieces of wood and other Filipino materials made into furniture up to bric-a-bracs.
Even the lamps and room directions are made by local artists using indigenous materials.
From the capiz shell frame windows, you can have a relaxing view of the sunset before retiring to your rooms.
The rooms are spacious and rates start at Twin Room PhP1500 to Family Room PhP2900 plus your soaps and shampoos are organic.
What really makes you feel like coming home is the heirloom food at the lodge’s Apo Andoy’s Restaurant.
Here’s what we sampled: Ginataang Puso ng Saging; Tinolang Manok; Pinaputok na Bangus; Chicken Barbecue; and Kare-Kare.
Ginataang Puso ng Saging (Banana Heart in Coconut Milk) This is a simple dish that restaurants have variations of. This one has no frills just good old well-prepared banana blossom without the sticky feel, not so sour because of the right amount of vinegar, and the coconut milk not too thick and sweet.
It can be an appetizer, a filler, or a main dish if you are on a diet of vegetables.
Tinolang Manok (Chicken Soup) This is a quintessential Filipino soup dish with chicken slices, green papaya slices, kalamunggay (morniga) leaves and/or leaves of siling labuyo or chili pepper cooked in ginger and fish sauce or patis.
If America has chicken soup to help make you heal when you are feeling under the weather, the tinola is the Filipino version of it.
Pinaputok ng Bangus (Milkfish Wrapped In Leaf). Only the lady of the house knows the recipe for this and I wanted to ask for it. But you know, family secrets are to be respected. The fish meat is tender and juicy with hints of ginger, shallots, and other spices. It is not the usual pinaputok that is deep fried but wrapped in a leaf to retain the moisture of the fish. This one is highly recommended.
Chicken Thigh, Chicken Gizzard, Chicken Liver Bbq. Some call it inasal. Some call it sinugba. Some call it grilled or smoked. Some call it plain barbeque as long as it is skewered and cooked over coals with sauce.
The sauce is usually a mix of soy sauce, sugar, and kalamansi (lemon) with garlic, salt and pepper. It is served on a layer of banana leaf inside a small metal pail.
Kare-Kare. Whenever I get to be invited to feature a Filipino restaurant, I always ask for kare-kare to be served since it is a favorite. I can have kare-kare every day and so I know what I like and not like.
For one, the beef or pork should be tender and yet juicy and has a flavor of its own and not bland; the sauce should be peanutty but not overwhemingly so. It should also have the ground rice for it to be pasty. Vegetables should not be overcooked. Lastly, the alamang or shrimp paste should not be too salty and should complement the kare-kare and not take the thunder out of the dish.
Apo Andoy’s kare-kare passed all of my criteria and so yes, order this one.
Oh and have a dessert of a scoop or two of dirty ice cream from the mamang sorbetero acrt.
So there it is, you get comfortable rooms and delicious homecooking--- perfect ingredients for a haven for travelers.
How to get there:
- Major airlines fly daily to Davao City from Manila and Cebu.
- Balai Belen is located in Garnet St., RGA Village, Dacudao, Davao City. Cntact them on their FB page or call (082) 233-4624.