There’s a Slow Food revolution in Boracay

There’s a Slow Food revolution in Boracay
The booth of Slow Food Community in Boracay at Terra Madre Visayas, with (from left): Janna Lejano, Gil delos Santos, Celeen Sazon, Kate Tagua, Vilmina Villanueva, Chef Derrick Perez, Realisa Bornasal, Desiree Segovia. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

Boracay, once a small island community of fishers and farmers, has become the “crown jewel of Philippine tourism.” But amid the global acclaim for its stunning natural beauty and vibrant nightlife, questions arise on what truly sets it apart, particularly in terms of its food culture.

While there is an array of international cuisines to satisfy visitors, the island’s rich culinary history is generally overlooked. In response, a group of residents, cooks and farmers initiated the Slow Food Community in 2023, aiming to develop Boracay’s food system and culinary identity.


Kate Tagua, owner of Meninas Oven, has always had a passion for cooking since she was a child. Her culinary studies in Enderun Colleges took her to France, where she underwent a rigorous internship in a restaurant with two Michelin stars. 

Her course mates eventually pursued further training in international fine-dining restaurants after graduation, but Kate bought a plane ticket home to explore the flavors of her childhood, the cuisine of the province of Aklan. But before she could figure out where to start, the Covid-19 pandemic took hold and she and the other 40,000 residents had to face a troubling reality: Their fragile food system that could feed over 1 million tourists a year could not support them when they needed it most.

As the pandemic wore on, the wet markets sold less fresh and more expensive produce. Homes and establishments began to rely heavily on grocery stores like Boracay Mini Mart, which is owned by Kate’s family. 

But Kate recalled that her mother had “a hard time,” and had to sell “mostly canned goods and store-bought items to customers because it was hard importing fruits and vegetables from around the Philippines.” She said her mother bought “most of the fresh produce from Luzon and Mindanao, and it would arrive on the island a bit spoiled already.”

The residents tried to return to the old ways, venturing out to sea for food. Unfortunately, the new generation of fishers was not taught sustainable practices, and the fish population dwindled dangerously. Even Wetland #3 became a food source. Along the edge of this small lake across from D’mall, people knelt with their makeshift fishing lines. But the fish caught there were small and thin, barely enough to feed a child.

It was during these challenging times that Slow Food International took its first steps. Its goals are to promote good, clean and fair food, with its model providing a platform to empower local communities like Boracay.

Kate described her “dream”: “to have a local food system on the island, to utilize our own local produce in which we can lessen our carbon footprint, and to support the farmers in our region.” She called it “a big step” necessary “to achieve sustainability in our local food system.” 

She is not alone in that dream. The other core members are Desiree Segovia (Boracay Women Producers Cooperative, also known as Pinay Boracay), Shria and Patrick Florencio and Chef Derrick (Nonie’s Group), Tumandok tribe members including myself and Gil de los Santos, and local Leonae Graf, and content creators Janna Lejano and Toni Gonzales (Tara Boracay).

Going with the flow

With revenge travel gaining traction, local establishments rushed to bounce back from the setbacks posed by the pandemic and the prolonged closure of Boracay. But the new efforts were building upon the unsteady sands of the island’s food system and cultural identity. 

Reflecting on his experience since 2013, Chef Derrick, head chef of Nonie’s Group, said: “The island is more focused on what is ‘trendy,’ while sometimes forgetting the food history of the region.” 

With the continuing popularity of chain restaurants, local establishments are at risk of being neglected. One way they are offsetting that risk is to adapt whatever is popular in their restaurants as well, often cutting corners and even changing the menu. A common lament: “We are living in a fast-paced world in which the fast-food industry is [dominant], and includes premixes and ingredients that are less nutritious but more enticing to consumers as they appear more affordable for the masses and more convenient for restaurants and households. We naturally tend to lean towards what is easier and faster, and sometimes neglect the essence and value of food that is made out of love, effort, time, and its natural source or roots.” 

Serving what is trendy and appealing to the masses is not the most effective way to attract more tourists. With its heavy reliance on outside sources, Boracay is at the mercy of suppliers. If even such essentials as chicken eggs are not immune to extreme price fluctuations, items like lettuce and avocado that can only be produced in certain areas and in certain seasons, are at risk of short supply. The result: higher prices. 

This is something Boracay cannot afford; with the Philippines’ interisland tourism becoming more and more competitive, “trendy” tastes can now be found elsewhere at lower costs.

Rediscovering Aklan’s flavors

Being the first official Slow Food Community in Aklan, the members embarked on a journey to explore the culinary landscape of the province through data mapping, covering the municipalities of Malay, Ibajay, Tangalan, New Washington, Libacao, Madalag and Batan.

We noticed that even in other towns in Aklan, consumer demand heavily drives the behavior of rural producers. For example, Batan is lined with rows upon rows of nipa palms but households much prefer tuba over coconut due to its comparative longevity over nipa; thus, the practice of utilizing nipa is dying away.

New Washington is famous for talaba (oyster) and even holds festivals for it. But its residents also want to be known for the wide variety of seafood it can offer. A local fisherman brought us around the brackish waters that make the talaba so tasty and showed us the many different types of fish abundant in the area, including what’s called the snake fish that looks exactly like its name. We were surprised to learn that it was not being sold in the market. When prodded, the fisherman said the snake fish tastes like fish but no one is buying it. “So we just have it for our meals,” he said.  

Slow Food Community has identified more than 90 plant, animal, and processed products. It has also uncovered a culinary thread common to 99% of the mapped food products: the use of gata (coconut milk).  In remote communities, gata, along with gawod (young coconut meat), is used to enhance the flavor of every dish. 

Slow Food
The Slow Food Community in Boracay’s booth at Terra Madre Visayas featuring produce and heirloom rice from Ibajay and Pinay Boracay products, with Eden Wilson.

A campaign was launched to declare Aklan the “Ginataang Capital of the Philippines” at the first ever Terra Madre Visayas, a project of Slow Food Community in Negros in collaboration with Senate President Pro Tempore Loren Legarda, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Department of Tourism, the provincial government of Negros Occidental led by Gov. Bong Lacson, Rep. Kiko Benitez, Mayor Albee Benitez, and Slow Food International.

During the event, we featured some of the mapped plant produce as well as various heirloom rice grains, courtesy of Ibajay. We also featured and sold a different ginataan dish daily, such as “Inubarang Manok,” or chicken cooked with banana pith (see recipe); “Ginataang Buhay-Buhay,” a plant that grows along bodies of freshwater in Boracay cooked in coconut milk; and “Ginataang Adobong Manok,”  or the famous chicken adobo cooked in coconut milk.

The campaign was intended to draw attention to the undiscovered richness of Aklanon cuisine, a melting pot of ginataan dishes. The dishes received high praise from the attendees, local government officials across the Visayas, members of Slow Food International, and even the event’s special guest, Erwan Heusaff.

Slow Food principles

Collaboration with local government projects, such as the Malay Food Systems Innovation Initiative, is integral to the Slow Food Community’s efforts. The focus is on creating connections among farmers, producers, and consumers to build a local food system that supports regional products and promotes organic farming.

All the farmers are certified but they are hesitant to try organic farming. They are not used to it, said Dienes Cabular, an officer at the Cooperatives Development Office. “They need more push and training.” 

Cabular, too, takes an interest in organic farming and wants to start the practice in his own farm as an example. 

The Slow Food Community in Boracay is planning to help by providing training and identifying the local plants for Aklan’s farms.

The group’s core members, including Pinay Boracay and Nonie’s Group, are now practicing Slow Food principles. advocating for organic practices and promoting healthy, locally sourced food.

Said Nonie’s Chef Derrick: “It has always been part of our mission to give customers good, clean, fair and honest food sourced locally … including in our other restaurants of different concepts—Little Taj (Indian cuisine), Muchos (Latin American cuisine), and Island Izakaya (Japanese cuisine).”

Since its inception in 2013, Pinay Boracay has been advocating for “an Organic Boracay” through its “communal gardens,” said Desiree Segovia, its founder. “We envision uniting the community for a green, organic, healthy Boracay!”

Tumandok Gil de los Santos also has plans in the works to build a hub where the Slow Food Community can feature ginataan dishes. 

The Slow Food Cooks Alliance Philippines, launched in December 2023, seeks the involvement of more chefs, home cooks, and food lovers in exchanging information and highlighting the nature and potential of local ingredients. Chef Derrick, who heads the alliance in Boracay along with Kate Tagua, said it aims “to reach out to the restaurants and establishments to highlight Boracay’s local dishes for tourists and other visitors.” 

He added: “Restaurants and hotels should also ideally embrace the seasonality of endemic ingredients which would help improve the level and capacity of the skills, techniques and imagination of our local culinary community.”

The Slow Food Community envisions continued data mapping, exploring more municipalities in Aklan, and nominating products with market potential for recognition by the Ark of Taste of Slow Food International. 

Here’s an easy recipe for “Inubarang Manok, prepared by the Slow Food Community in Boracay and served at Terra Madre.


1 kilo native chicken, cut up

1 kilo ubod (banana pith)

1 big coconut

1 teaspoon ground pepper

2 pieces of tanglad (lemongrass)

1 onion

4 cloves garlic

1 piece ginger


chili peppers

salt to taste


1. Combine chicken pieces, coconut milk, garlic, ginger, banana pith, pepper, and salt in a pot. Bring the mixture to a boil.

2. Reduce the heat to medium, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain and set the sauce aside.

3. Heat oil in a pan and sauté the chicken pieces until golden brown. Remove excess oil from the pan.

4. Pour in the saved sauce and let simmer for about 10 minutes.

5. Add chili peppers and continue to simmer for an additional 3 minutes, stirring continuously. Add ginger to the mixture.

6. Serve with steamed rice.

Wynken Gelito, a Tumandok storyteller and the secretary of the Slow Food Community in Boracay, is currently developing No Space 4 Waste (NS4W) Boracay, a social enterprise fighting to reduce plastic and glass pollution on the island. She has worked in nongovernment organizations for four years with a focus on protecting the environment. Check out @slowfood.boracay on Instagram and Slow Food Boracay on Facebook.

Read more: When food tourism in US colonial period spurred fight for Filipino cuisine

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