Sunday, November 30, 2014

Bacolod: Visiting Rapha Valley, Negros Best Organic Restaurant

Rapha Valley: Organic Farm & Restaurant

Rapha Valley is an organic farm & restaurant located in the mountains of Don Salvador Benedicto in Negros Occidental, Philippines that is dedicated to educating visitors about organic farming and healthy living. The owner, Dr. Albert Jo, is a passionate believer in organics and utilizes his farm to show diners that eating healthy can be a deliciously refreshing experience in itself. 

Birds in the field and cicadas on the trees had been whispering to me about a secret mountain retreat in the peaks of Don Salvador Benedicto recently. The whispers had been about stupendous and sometimes hard-to-believe things like an all organic, farm to table restaurant in Bacolod that served mouthwatering food without meat and artificial anything.

Interesting. I told myself.

An opportunity to visit this famed yet secret mountain retreat presented itself when some guests flew in from Manila recently. One of them was an organic nut (shout out to Monsqueaky!) and was looking for her juju fix amidst the sea of cholesterol that was Bacolod cooking. I was more than happy to oblige.

The trip up the mountain from Bacolod took around 45 minutes. (I had made sure to e-mail the owner and let him know we were coming a week beforehand. Check the 'details' towards the end of the post to find the owners e-mail). Rapha Valley isnt as exclusive as to require dinner or lunch reservations. You do need to reserve if you have a group of 8 and you want a complete farm tour though. We opted with just eating at the cafe.

After finding this 'hole-in-the-mountains' (literally), it felt as if we were transported to paradise. Organic paradise that is. I know I dont have photos of the environment and landscape surrounding Rapha Valley (I'll work on that in a future visit), let me try to describe it to you in words after the jump...

Entering Rapha Valley feels like stepping into a well cultivated farm that has been carefully and masterfully chiseled into the side of the mountain. The property is fenced off by tall and sturdy trees and a huge wooden gate will greet you as you enter. Then you will see manicured bushes and rows of herbs that line the entrance. As you drive up, you will see the tent restaurant as well as a nice wooden hut where the dining area is.

To the distance you will also see a few secluded cottages where you can spend the night. As your eye strains further, you will see the farm tapering off the mountains edge (this is the field where the free range chickens roam). Lastly your eye will focus on the majesty of Mt. Kanlaon in the background.

I couldn't ask for a more perfect view. Anyway, going back to the important stuff, the food!

Raphancit (Php 595) 
The Raphancit is the specialty of the house and is a humongous serving of noodles. They say it can serve 2 to 3 people but it fit our group of 5 just fine! The pancit was delicious. Doc Jo (the owner) told us that nothing was fried in oil with this pancit. Even the vegetables were just added fresh right after the noodles were cooked. This allowed the heat coming from the noodles to cook the vegetables naturally. Very tasty and very fresh!

Here's how the restaurant describes it: "Flat rice noodles with fish cubes, mock crab legs, tofu and veggies in a healthy sauce of herbs sprinkled with toasted peanuts."

The Food:

The food at Rapha Valley is amazing. I had never in my life thought that organic food would taste as delicious as this. Well of course I enjoyed Oh My Gulay in Baguio City, but this is simply something else.

The flavors are more bold, the ingredients more unique, it like I was literally thinking 'what am I eating?' the entire time and questioning 'this is supposed to be healthy? How can it be so delicious?' 

We ordered four dishes during our stay there. (Proper names will be listed as soon as I get all the details) We ordered: "Raphancit" (Pancit), "Guilt Free Adobo", "Pamahaw ni Esperanza" (Fish Flakes Breakfast) and the "Healthy Pizza". 

The dishes were all made without meat save for the fish flakes. All of the dishes were also made with ingredients found on the farm and seasoned with a total of 14 different herbs. I was suprised to find that the cheese used on the pancit and the pizza was made from tofu. Other surprises included the 'fake Adobo' which wasn't really adobo (I forget what it is now), and also the pizza crust which was made from scratch.

The food was not bland at all, rather it was an explosion of tastes. I enjoyed the Pancit most of all because of the texture of the noodles, the taste of the tofu cheese used on it and the freshness of the vegetables on top of it. Our host told us that nothing fried was added to the pancit and that the fresh vegetables were added as is to the pancit right before serving it. He stated that the heat from the cooked noodles itself was the one that cooked the green leafy vegetables added.

"Pamahaw ni Esperanza" (Php 295.00)
Pamahaw ni Esperanza literally means 'Breakfast of Esperanza', Esperanza being Doc Jo's grandmother. This was her favorite breakfast consisting of fish flakes (I forget which fish but this is definitely not cream dory because cream dories are very dirty). The fish flakes were very tangy and flavorful. It wasn't as crispy as I would have liked but I guess that means its a lot healthier. It was served with a poached egg on a bed of red rice and served with a side of organic atchara (pickled papaya). It was also served with very delicious chocolate de batirol (with coconut milk), seasonal fresh and organic fruits grown on the farm and refreshing cucumber juice. It was alright, but I'm not much of a fish eater. 

Here's how the restaurant describes it: "Flaked red snapper cooked in coco-vinegar and secret spices baked to a light crisp, drizzled with EVOO and sprinkled with fresh shive bits. Freshly cooked organic brown rice mixed with chopped lemon basil on the side (kalo-kalo rice) Soft boiled "malasado" egg served in the middle of the rice. The oozing yoke will coat every spoon of organic herbed rice. Also, a cup of organic 'Chocolate d Baterol" to complete the meal."

Dr. Albert Jo - The Owner

(Too bad I never got a picture of this passionate and insightful doctor as he was talking to us)

Dr. Albert Jo is the owner of this fine establishment and is a staunch advocate of organic farming and healthy living. He is very generous with his large wealth of information about clean living and gives seminars and workshops around the Philippines about what he is passionate about. He and his wife run Rapha Valley.  He was kind enough to take time from this busy schedule and personally talk to us  about the state of the food industry while we were eating his delicious food.

We were shocked with some of the things he revealed to us like:

  • The Philippines' production of beef cannot cope with the demand. Therefore we import reject beef from the USA. The beef we import are full or carcinogens that have been banned in many places like Canada and Australia.
  • High Fructose Sugar is one of the worst kinds of sugars that you can have in your body. One teaspoon of this is equivalent to ten teaspoons of normal sugar. This HFS is found in almost every fast moving consumer food product in our supermarkets. 
  • Dr. Jo recommends detoxifying at least four times a year. One way to start is by going on a cleanse wherein you drink a mixture of 4 litres of water mixed with 20 kalamansi (lime) juice, 2 tbsp of black strap molasses and 1 tbsp of cayenne powder or sili labuyo. This mixture must then be drank every day for 3 days and is the only thing you are allowed to consume during the cleanse. 
  • Frying food, especially in teflon frying pans and such, strips healthy vegetables of their nutrients and adds carcinogens and chemicals that can cause Alzheimer's disease to your food. One good way of forgoing frying is by cooking your food in traditional clay pots (slow cooking). This is what Dr. Jo does for most of the food served at Rapha Valley. 
  • (If I remember more of what was taught to us, I'll write it down here)

"Guilt Free Rapha Adobo" (Php 375)
The Guilt Free Adobo is (if I am not mistaken) vegetarian adobo made from some sort of vegetable. Rapha Valley entered this adobo dish in the annual Cinco de Noviembre Adodo Festival Contest in Silay City and this healthy adobo dish was able to win a bunch of awards. The Guilt Free Adobo tastes exactly like any normally delicious adobo. You won't be able to tell the difference with the taste, but you will find the texture to be a little more chewy. This dish was served with garlic red rice, atchara (pickled papaya) and a starter salad (pictured at the start of this post) and tanglad juice which was oh so refreshing. 

Here's how the restaurant describes it: " Adobo flakes served with organic red rice cooked in spices, herbs and flaxseeds. Served with pickled cucumber, raddish and papaya on the side."

"Healthy Pizza" (Php 475)
The Healthy Pizza is an all organic and, true to its name, a super healthy pizza. The dough is made from scratch and is full, crumbly and delicious. The cheese on the other hand is made from tofu and if I am not mistaken, the tomato paste is made manually too. It was a delicious take on the modern comfort food. I really love how Rapha Valley is able to make cheese taste so good by producing it from tofu! This dish is served with a pitcher of healthy tea and has 8 generous slices that can fit a group of 3-4. 

Here's how the restaurant describes it: "Herbs with slices of fresh tomatoes and onions. Topped with our homemade cheese of Soy and Cashew. Served in gluten free cassava dough."

Rapha Valley Details:

Pricing/Entrance Fee:
  • Items on the menu (main course) are priced at around Php 300-350 per dish.
  • When you enter Rapha Valley, you will be required to pay an entrance fee of Php 300 which is consumable in the restaurant. 
  • Rapha Valley also has a tour package which costs Php 625 for a minimum of 8 guests. This includes food and a tour of the surrounding farm and property. 

How To Get There:

  • Rapha Valley is located in Brgy. Kumaliskis which is in the municipality of Don Salvador Benedicto in Negros Occidental, Philippines. It is to the east of Bacolod and is a 45 minute ride away from the city proper.
  • Rapha Valley is located on Kilometer 48 of the Eco Tourism Highway. Keep an eye out for short yellow way markers with numbers and the letters 'KM' beside them. The farther you are from Bacolod, the more the numbers will increase until you reach kilometer 48.
  • Once you reach kilometer 48, you will see a sign pointing to the right (if you are coming from Bacolod City.) Turn right and take the dirt road for 2 kilometers more. It might look sketchy at first since it is a dirt road but just keep going. You will soon see some signs that indicate how far you are from Rapha's Valley.
  • There are no street lights and it will be a bumpy ride but it is generally safe. We made the trip home at 7 PM in the pitch black night and we made it safely (obviously I wouldnt be writing about my experience here if I didn't make it lol ;) ) 

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