It’s been a while since I last visited Boracay. The first time my family went there was in 2010, but in such a short time, I already missed the place. I missed the sun, the sea, and the quiet rolling of the waves on my feet. I missed the seafood and the cocktails. I missed looking at the starry sky with a bottle of beer in one hand, and the quiet mornings by the beach.
Boracay is a tropical paradise, home to a laid-back lifestyle where one can relax and have peace of mind amidst the calming embrace of the sea.
So what am I doing, hunting for burgers in Boracay?
The chori burger is made of grilled chorizos slapped between two burger buns. Except for the preparation and the variations in taste (which ranges between sweet to spicy), each of them is basically the same.
It was food blogger Pie Rivera who suggested that I seek out the chori burger. Nowadays lots of food stalls in Boracay offer this novelty item. It’s said to be a popular snack in this side of the vacation island, a perfect companion during those long walks by the beach. Never mind that it’s cheap, and it’s not a dish from some special menu, but a burger, plain and simple. Every visitor in Boracay has to try one, or so they say.
My hunt for chori burgers almost got spoiled when my siblings and bro-in-law first dined on this; when I bit on one, I swore on a certain someone’s high heels that I was sure I ordered a chori burger and not a bun burger with vegetables. The temptation to try finding another chori burger proved too strong though.
And so, one afternoon on that vacation island, poor, hungry me decided I would get a chori burger. Without enough clues or funds for a food trip, I decided to rely on my instincts. If chori burger is that popular and is heralded as a sidewalk snack, then I should just walk around right? Walking around Stations 1 to 3 is good exercise, after all.
And then I found this stall.
“Merly’s BBQ Boracay” was just your ordinary barbecue stall hanging out near one of the bars at Station 1. The words “Original discoverer of longga and chori burger since 1988” are printed on a tarpauline tied onto the stall, while its barbecued meats stand proudly on a front shelf. The chorizos in question are among them.
I remember reading about “Merly’s” somewhere. Tourists tend to recommend this stall’s chori burger over the Internet. Whether it’s because they are really the first to sell the sandwich here, or theirs is comparable to restaurant burger, I don’t quite know, and it didn’t matter. I wanted a chori burger and I wanted one now.
How much is one, I asked the vendor. I couldn’t remember if he said P50 or P55, but I’m sure it was about half the price of the bun burger I encountered. Anyway, he popped a pair of chorizo slices and a bun into the fiery grill, and started cooking the burger.
“Do you always set up shop here?”
“Most of the time, yes,” the vendor replied.
“It’s a good time to set up shop anyway around this time.”
“True, we have more customers at night, especially the ones coming out of bars.”
“So you’ve really been open since 1988? Merly’s been here that long?” (At this point I was feeling really hungry and senseless.)
“Yup, that’s my mom over there,” the vendor replied and pointed to the old woman behind him.
Indeed, there she was, How old was Merly… 50, 55, 60? I never bothered to ask, for some reason. What I learned though was that Merly personally makes the chori burger sauce, but since her body couldn’t handle the stress, her family minds the rest of the stall’s operations. She’s had a lot of visitors at her stall, they say, including some celebrities whom I never bothered to ask.
“I didn’t know you have to grill the bun too.”
“That’s part of this burger’s charm. The bun becomes crispy, so it tastes better. Hot sauce?”
“Make it hot.”
The vendor brushed the buns and chorizos with some more of Merly’s sauce while they were still sizzling on the grill. The sauce, he said, is supposed to be more on the spicy side. Yeah, I was sure I saw two varieties of sauce by the grill. How spicy is their spicy sauce, I thought. By the time the chori burger was done, it no longer mattered.
Mumble, mumble, chomp, chew, chew. The chorizos were a bit salty but really meaty. The sauce was really spicy and smelled appetizing. The grilled bun locked in all of the flavors. It was just one burger, but it was satisfying.
“What time are you closing?” I asked the vendor.
“Need some water?”
The burger is a baffling food item. Formerly the staple of fastfood chains and steak restaurants, now there’s no place where you won’t spot patties in a bun with ketchup, mayo, and coleslaw on some sidewalk stall in your neighborhood. It’s cheap, easy to grab and eat anywhere, and it works as a quick snack for people the on the go.
It’s no surprise why the chori burger’s a hit in Boracay. There’s that tropical paradise feel that comes with eating a grilled burger while walking by a sandy beach. The scent of the sea and the burning chorizo, along with the sweet-spicy mix of flavors in the tongue excites the imagination, making you feel more at home. The burger fits with the simple, easy-going lifestyle associated with this island.
On the other hand, the chori burger is that little reminder of what one left behind in the urban jungle. More like something to keep you from getting homesick, methinks.
So what am I doing, hunting for burgers in Boracay? Just having a taste of the island’s lifestyle, I guess. Bonus points for finding a chori burger pioneer.