KALUI IS BACK IN BUSINESS: (L-R) Kalui's floor tables and tasty seafood dishes, like these fried squid rings, make for the best dining experience.

Puerto Princesa’s famous modern bahay kubo-style restaurant Kalui has reopened after being closed for over two years due to COVID-19.

It resumed operations on October 3 for locals who missed its homey atmosphere, friendly service, and affordable seafood options, as well as for tourists who wanted to know why it’s the best place to eat in the city.

Lui Oliva, the owner of the place, told Palawan News on Monday that if it were solely up to him, he would not reopen Kalui anymore as it had already provided him with everything he could ask for in the years leading up to the pandemic.

He said that the break caused by the coronavirus had provided him with ample opportunity to reflect on life; now, he simply wished to continue unwinding and taking care of other matters after many years of operating Kalui.

However, there’s a clamor—a lot of people want Kalui’s legacy to live on in the city’s and province’s culinary scene.

“I’m very flattered and very honored. Somebody came here; she introduced her son, a nurse who was leaving for the US. She said, ‘He was the one I was carrying when I would come here for meals. I frequented this restaurant throughout my pregnancy.’ There were also visitors who expressed gratitude that they could now bring their guests to an open establishment,” he said.

MODERN BAHAY KUBO RESTO: The restaurant is your chance to find a contemporary take on the classic Filipino abode, the bahay kubo.

A friend who works in advertising also provided him with insight into the importance of valuing Kalui’s brand, which others are struggling to achieve.

Understanding these made him realize that he does not own Kalui alone, but rather shares it with all those whose lives have been enriched by its legacy.

“What they tell me made me understand that it is part of the reason people come here. Why did I come back? Why did I reopen this? Because there is a clamor,” he said.

“My friend said, ‘while others are working hard to establish brands, you, who already have the Kalui brand, are not sustaining it.’ I felt moved by that. I also realized that when the pandemic struck, this simply shut down; there was no way to exit gracefully. I mean, it wasn’t a graceful exit; I needed a swan song,” Lui added.

He knows Kalui will close someday, but he has no idea when. What’s certain is that his lease for the space that Kalui currently occupies along J. Rizal Avenue’s Tourism Mile has been extended for an additional number of years.

The current aim is to restore the restaurant to its past self, luring back former patrons from the neighborhood and offering visitors from all walks of life a dining experience unlike any they have ever had before.

No longer for profit, just giving back
The thick dirt and dust they removed from Kalui’s crevices, the roots of a large tree that had crept up its wall during the past two years, and the structural damage caused by Typhoon Odette in December 2021 show how much the restaurant has been through.

However, he believes it has a promising next chapter in terms of preserving its mark and legacy, despite the challenges posed by numerous factors, including rising food prices and the persistent COVID-19 virus.

Lui hired back the people who used to work for him, and he didn’t raise the prices of the food at random to such high levels that customers could no longer afford them. He has received so many “blessings” from Kalui in the past, he no longer sees it as a means to an end in order to make a profit, but rather as a way to give back.

Kalui’s eel adobo (sana always available), lato (seaweed) salad, green mango with matching bagoong, and the Palawan seafood sisig.

“I’m very thankful that my employees are back. I didn’t hire new ones, I didn’t train; it was very smooth. We did not change the menu, we did not change our prices,” he said.

“Honestly, and this is not romanticizing; what I want is to already give back. For me, this has brought me so much blessings—I had my share of fame and fortune—it’s no longer about the profit,” Lui added.

Squid adobo (Php270) and Pinakbet sa Puerto (Php195).

Food advocacy
Kalui’s advocacy in the past was “the shortest food line makes the earth smile,” but now it is “meatless meals prevent most ills.” This means advocating to get people to eat healthier food variations that use local ingredients and seafood, which is full of micronutrients that help the immune system.

He assured that their reputation as a restaurant that serves food hot off the stove would not be compromised, as it is important to keep customers safe. Correspondingly, the manner in which the dishes are prepared and offered on the table will always be taken into account for them to appeal and to set the ambience of the entire restaurant for the customers.

“Nothing has changed so much. The only significant change is the implementation of protocols against COVID. We’re here, we’ll still serve your food hot so you get the feel of bahay kubo,” Lui said.

The restaurant serves Palawan seafood sisig (Php270), which is made of chopped cuttlefish and shrimp with onions and seasonings; seafood kare-kare (Php250) in Pinoy-style curry sauce; Tubbataha salad (Php195), which is made of fresh tuna strips, seasonal fruits, and a special dressing; and Sinigang ni Kaka soup (P350), which is made of tuna fish or shrimp, in coconut water.

Crustacean lovers can get their fill of prawns for Php1,200 per half kilo or lobster for Php1,400 when there is supply. There are three different preparation styles to choose from: garlic butter, sweet chili, and grilled.

Wash basins available to wash your hands before going in.

Crabs (Php850 for half a kilo), green grouper, or lapu-lapu (Php110 for 100 grams), and rabbit fish, or samaral (Php70 for 100 grams, if there is supply), are also available on its menu. Diners can get lapu-lapu cooked in different ways—sweet and sour, steamed with black beans, grilled, and fried. It can also be served tinola-style for Php350 per order.

Customers are urged to wash their hands in the basins that are provided as soon as they enter the establishment in order to eliminate the risk of the coronavirus infection spreading and of becoming infected themselves.

Always make reservations in advance if you wish to dine at Kalui. Dial either 9395707180 or 9452987215.

About Post Author

Previous articleCity council to probe Backride Palawan operations
Next articlePH lifts quarantine for unvaxxed inbound travelers
has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.