More than just a Culinary Discovery: The Marang Marang Experience

September 24, 2021 Travel

A year and a half of no travel gave me lots of time to ponder. While I am always lured by peaks and beaches, my more meaningful travel experiences come from those that allow me to create a sense of connection.

I recently joined a group of travel influencers who explored a few sites of Zamboanga Peninsula to help the battered industry recover from the pandemic. This was organized by the Tourism Promotions Board and the Department of Tourism – Region 9, in cooperation with local government units.

Our seven-day itinerary included white and pink-sand beaches, mangrove tours, weaving centers, city sights, and, of course, shopping destinations. The theme was 3H – Habi (weave), Halal (cuisine) and Hilom (wellness). 

First on our itinerary was the Marang Marang Floating Cottage. 


Marang Marang


Marang Marang is a barangay located in Malamawi Island in Isabela City in Basilan. It is surrounded by mangroves and is one of the first sites visitors of Basilan province see on their approach to Isabela City from Zamboanga City on board a fast craft or RORO.

According to Isabela City Tourism Officer Claudio Ramos III, the name Marang Marang comes from the two Marang trees in the area which was a popular meeting place among the Sama Bangingis. 


Sama Bangingi is one of the ethnic groups in Basilan. They build their houses on high stilts over shallow waters in sheltered areas and they rely on the bounty of the sea for their livelihood.


The local government eventually tapped them to be part of its ‘Sea and Sand Experience Package’. That also includes Malamawi’s famed white sand beach which I first visited in 2018. 


A Feast of Heirloom Dishes


From Isabela City, we boarded sakayans or outrigger boats. The ride took less than thirty minutes and as soon as the women of Marang Marang saw our boats arriving, girls started performing native dances accompanied by the internationally-popular dance tune, the Lambada. The women started chanting, “Welcome of Marang Marang, HapIsabela”.


We were escorted to one of the floating cottages where one of the most amazing food spreads was waiting for us. 


Mayra Abbas, Marang Marang Women Association President, welcomed us. 


“Ang layo tapos naabutan kami dito. Maraming salamat andito kayo ngayon. Nagpapasalamat kami nabilang kami sa tourist site sa Basilan.” (You came even if we are so far. Thank you very much for being here. We are thankful we are part of Basilan’s tourist sites.)

Then, she introduced each one of the Sama and Tausug heirloom dishes they prepared for us. 

According to her, most of the ingredients of the dishes they served were sourced locally. These are the same ingredients they sell in Isabela City.


“Eto talaga kabuhayan naming sa isla. Pati mga bata, nangunguha sila. Eto mismo binebenta naming sa Isabela.”(This really is our livelihood on the island. Even the kids harvest. These are what we sell in Isabela.)


There were crabs, shrimps, shells, and squids. They also made a very tasty dish out of jackfruit.  What really caught my attention were the oko-oko, which is rice cooked in sea urchin; the utak-utak, a fish cake; and the junay, a packed rice dish wrapped in banana leaves with burnt coconut meat and various spices. 




We also had panyalam, a fried pancake, and putli mandi, steamed rice cake, which was paired with mangoes. 

putli mandi paired with mangoes


Our tour director, Errold Lim Bayona of iTravel Tourist Lane, shared that the members of Marang Marang Women Association recently participated in a culinary education session, which emphasized sanitation and food presentation.


While tourism was at a a standstill, organizations like the Marang Marang Womens Association were prepared for the eventual influx of tourists.  The Sadlufun Bangkeros, which brought us around Marang Marang, also had Basic Life Support Training.


Mangrove Tour + White Beach


After our feast, we boarded smaller outrigger boats, which I think they call papets, and went on a tour of Marang Marang’s mangrove forest.


We went deep into the forest up to the community where the women of Marang Marang Women’s Associations live. It was a short and refreshing ride that was much appreciated considering most of us have not been outdoors since lockdown began. 


After that, we proceeded to the port of Malamawi and rode multicabs that took us to the white sand beach of Malamawi. It was the same route I took when I first visited Malamawi White Sand, but back then, we rode habal habals.


When we got to the white sand beach, we were greeted with another jaw dropping food spread. This time, it was boodle style and was modified to fit the pandemic safety protocols. We had crabs, squids, shells, and fish. I remember there were times during the pandemic where I dreamt of boodle fights by the beach. 


After lunch, I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the beach. I walked its concrete walkway, which gave a sweeping view of its long stretch of white sand beach. It was still as beautiful as I remembered and it was not very touristy. It truly deserves to be called the crown jewel of Isabela tourism. 


I also didn’t miss the opportunity to swim. It was my first swim since the March 2020 lockdown. The waters of Malamawi were so calm and clear that I couldn’t resist.


Meaningful Travel


Marang Marang did not only give me a memorable culinary experience, it connected me to its people, their culture, their lives and to nature. 


It was only our second-day. The first day was spent on travels and briefings, and I was already sure Marang Marang would be one of the favorite destinations during the tour. I was right: I will never get tired of sharing this story to family and friends. 


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