Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Batanes' Culinary Celebrity: The Coconut Crab (or Don't Tell A Conservationist I Ate A Coconut Crab)

The guffawing has ceased. After a death-defying falowa ride, and a whirlwind trip of Sabtang Island in the morning, we were all famished. And I was prepared to shove anything edible inside my mouth.

But of course, we got class. Or so we posed as such. We were an entourage of seven, six of us won an all expense paid trip to Batanes via an online contest, and were led by province maven Engineer Joseph Dy (I seriously thought he's Ivatan).

We appeared to be patiently waiting with our uneasy smiles while we snapped countless photos of our hut by Morong Beach where several other groups of travelers dined. As the dishes were served one at a time, we took more photos while craning our necks toward the kitchen, wondering what else will end up on our table.

Coco loco! Coconut crab steamed in coconut sauce.

The seaweed soup arrived first, then the adobo and veggies (which was sauteed onion leaves), then steamed fish and breaded squid, and finally the star of our lunch... the coconut crab, also called 'tatus' (and Birgus latro if you're into scientific names).

My knowledge of the coconut crab was scant, though it was my second Batanes visit. I only knew of the local delicacy dibang or flying fish the first time I went, and loved it. With a hefty price of P600-P1,000 per kilo, I thought the coconut crab better prove its worth.

It looks more like a gigantic bug lobster than a crab. I picked a pincer from the plate and peered closer. I bit off its white flesh sticking out and savored the taste. The coconut crab is named so because it does feed on coconuts (its mighty claws could open a coconut shell). However it does not taste like it, perhaps because apart from coconuts, it also feeds on other fruits and animal carcasses. It is also not as sweet as the common crab, but more tasty than the lobster. In a seafood-y kind of tasty if you know what I mean.

My second bite was followed by a spoonful of turmeric rice. A perfect match. After which I sipped its simple coconut sauce which did not overpower the crustacean, and highlighted its flavor instead.

So did I like it? Let's just say I might (me considering the possibility already means a lot!) ride a falowa again just to have another serving someday. But surely, I can order somewhere else on the island of Batan, yeah? And by the way, its melt-in-your-mouth fat (the aligue) that can be scooped from its abdomen is to die for! Literally and metaphorically. Man, it's got heaps of cholesterol that could do you some serious harm.

Batanes food made us jump with joy (even with our heavy bellies)! Dios mamajes Engr. Dy for this fun photo. Taken at Morong Beach.

Pinay Travel Junkie Trivia: This is officially my first (and maybe last) jump shot on this site. Another trivia: The coconut crab is under the conservation status 'threatened'. Not proven as endangered yet. Even so, after all that I've said and done... Awkwaaard.

Okay, so here's the real deal: As per our guide Engineer Dy who posted a comment below, "There are regulations in place in Batanes to help protect the species. Coconut crab can only be consumed locally and cannot be brought out of the province in any form (live/raw or cooked)." So there. Don't even think of sneaking some bits of the crab aboard your flight!

I got one more reason to jump for!

I finally joined the Pinoy Travel Bloggers Group Blog Carnival. And this is actually my official entry. The theme for July 2011 is "Awesome Food Experience While Traveling In The Philippines", hosted by Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet.


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Bonzenti [Con Tour] said...
July 14, 2011 at 9:54 PM

Hi ga-ye. Because of my busy schedule these days, I even forgot to write about food for our blog carnival. Just to be honest, coconut juice filled crabs is really my favorite and will eat more on that if not of my allergies :-(. Its in our bloodline...hehehe. :-).

Mhe-anne Ojeda said...
July 14, 2011 at 10:08 PM

Love your post Gay!! writing is witty funny and yummilicious!!!you should join the Blog Carnival on a monthly basis and you have a fan in me!!

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
July 15, 2011 at 5:38 AM

Oh no! You're allergic to crustaceans, Kuya Bonz? Too bad. Dami pa naman nyan sa Mindanao.

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
July 15, 2011 at 5:54 AM

Thanks Ate Mhe-Anne. Will try, but I kinda find it difficult to write if there's a specific theme. Haha.

Ding | Explored! said...
July 15, 2011 at 6:35 AM

I was disappointed for not having tasted this one when I went to Batanes around 4 years ago. It was not in season then (since, I think, if I remember it right, the waiter told us there are seasons for catching them--that perhaps answers Ivan's concern on it being threatened--though this needs to be clarified and validated). And you need to pre-order it kasi nga limited ang stock.

Ed said...
July 15, 2011 at 6:39 AM

hahaha, crabs! still don't know how to eat them. this seair contest really brought out a lot of things to talk about for you. :D

btw, why the last jump shot? serious mode na? kahit anong gawin mo gay, bagets ka pa rin! haha.

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
July 15, 2011 at 6:43 AM

Ed, because I was never good at posing for jump shots! It's clearly not my cup of tea. Hahaha!

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
July 15, 2011 at 6:44 AM

Ding, it is indeed threatened. However, I think certain states have implemented restrictions already (like you could only catch crabs of a certain size) but I don't know what the Philippine government has done about it. Clearly, Batanes locals may not be aware of it since coconut crabs are still served in restos.

chino said...
July 15, 2011 at 11:40 AM

Di ako masyado fan ng crab.Ang hirap kasi kumain talaga ng crabs. until now di ko parin alam kung pano yung sikreto pano mo kakainin ng wasto ng hindi nasasayang. Feeling ko kasi puro shells lang ang crab. Success kapag nakain mo lahat ng walang tira haha.

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
July 15, 2011 at 1:06 PM

So true Chino. Nakakabitin kumain. Tsaka after eating, feeling ko napagod ako. Lol.

Joseph Dy said...
July 15, 2011 at 11:06 PM


Nice post. Napa-reminisce tuloy ako.... hehehe.

To add some info:

1. Coconut Crab

As per IUCN Red List (dated 15 Oct 2011), coconut crab (Birgus latro) is listed as "Data Deficient." The most recent assessment (1994) lists it as "Rare."

There are regulations in place in Batanes to help protect the species. Coconut crab can only be consumed locally and cannot be brought out of the province in any form (live/raw or cooked). Not sure about harvest size restrictions though. The one served to us was quite small for a coconut crab.

I remember seeing (in April 2009) coconut crabs being farmed (i.e. grown in big buckets and fed coconut) in one of the houses in Savidug. Did not see any when we were there.

Winter (like when we were in Batanes) is typically not a good time to harvest crustaceans since most of them are hibernating (i.e. generally translates to less flavorful meat since the animals do not forage but instead burn their fat stores).

2. How to Eat Crab

I could describe it but nobody does it better than Mikey Bustos in his Filipino Crab Eating Tutorial.


Do note that the tutorial above mainly applies to alimango (aka mud crab aka Scylla serrata) and alimasag (aka blue swimmer crab aka Portunus pelagicus) but may also be applied (with much imagination) to coconut crab. Ü

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
July 16, 2011 at 5:19 AM

Thanks Joseph! Been looking for this info :) Ikaw na talaga ang Batanes maven! Will update my post so readers will refer to this comment. But maybe you mean October 2010 not 2011? Kasi, parang futre sya. Hahaha!

Salamat ulit. I miss you guys :(

Jovial Wanderer said...
July 16, 2011 at 11:16 AM

Re : Regulations sa coconut crab - yan din yng sabi sa amin ng isa sa mga resort owner.. You can eat it there but you cannot bring it out. The locals are aware of that rule :)

Great post by the way bff!

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
July 16, 2011 at 11:19 AM

So Tin, were you guys able to eat? By the way my entry was actually inspired by yours. Lol.

tina said...
July 16, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Wow! Nice job Gay! Bute kapa nka-sali na! ako never pa eh... haha! Kk-gutom ang crabs especially with gata! ah.. yumyum! :D

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
July 16, 2011 at 3:16 PM

Yeah, gosh... After months, I finally joined!

Joseph Dy said...
July 16, 2011 at 9:55 PM

As pointed out by Gay, I did mean 15 October 2010. Ü

I want to get hold of a copy of the document stating that coconut crab is ok for local consumption within the province of Batanes (except perhaps in Itbayat where a coconut crab sanctuary was supposed to be established last 2008; don't really know, haven't been to Itbayat yet). I'll share when I get a copy.

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
July 17, 2011 at 5:40 AM

Really, Joseph?! Sana tinuloy nila yung sanctuary. I wanna go to Itbayat!

Seair said...
July 17, 2011 at 9:21 PM

i love seafood! that just made my mouth water.. hmm maybe crab for dinner tomorrow night just cause i read this post :)

EJJ Chicano said...
July 19, 2011 at 4:56 AM

wow!! love your post and definitely nakakatakam:)

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
July 19, 2011 at 6:22 AM

Thanks EJJ! Ako rin natakam sa post ko. Hihi.

Tripper10 said...
July 21, 2011 at 10:51 AM

Sarap Basahin ng post nyong ito Ma'am...
Nakakagutom.. :)

Ian said...
July 26, 2011 at 11:55 PM

Eating a "threatened" crab specie is really a controversial one.... kaw ba naman maging isa mga sanhi ng population decline nila... anyw'ay, I'm glad that awareness and regulating their population is being implemented.

Pinay Travel Junkie said...
July 27, 2011 at 9:32 AM

Yeah, I think the current policy should be alright Ian. And hopefully may regulation din concerning the size of the crab that they can catch.

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