i recently spent the day in saipan, our lovely neighbouring island to the north, in the commonwealth of the marianas islands (CNMI). guam is the largest, southernmost island of the marianas islands chain, and is aligned with the commonwealth as being the main home of chamorro (or chamoru) culture and heritage. i myself am not chamorro, but as a nearly lifelong resident of guam, quite proudly guamanian; still, i have quite an affinity to saipan, as it is very much like here, only not so big (it's 14 miles long), and a little more unspoiled by modern living (although thoroughly modern in many ways).
after a short 40-minute airplane ride, we decided to have a late breakfast, but unfortunately, one of my favourite restaurants, el segundo's, appears to be closed (for good? unknown. i think it might still be open for dinner service). el segundo's was well-known for its chamorro breakfast specialties, including champulado with tinala katne (chocolate rice porridge with air-dried beef served on the side), and charakiles with chotda or lemai (toasted rice soup with green bananas or breadfruit). somewhat saddened by this, we made our was to a small village bakery, esco's, which is also well-known for its native delicacies.
we had a bit of a tough time choosing what to get, but eventually settled on some manha biscuits made from freshly grated coconut, coconut milk and flour, just-out-of-the-fryer banana chips, and guyuria, a local cookie made from coconut milk, sugar, and flour, then coated in powdered sugar.
i also couldn't resist picking up a few packages of apigigi, a local specialty made with freshly grated coconut and tapioca flour, then grilled in banana leaves. soft, sticky, smoky and slightly sweet, it is quite delicate yet earthy and irresistible. this only whet our appetite, so we went over the hill to a longstanding coffee shop, coffee care.
coffee care is a bright shop with a fantastic view, near the government offices of capitol hill. it used to be an ex-pat hangout, but lately has become a favourite with locals as well. although the menu is small, it is quite eclectic, and the food is fresh, interesting and healthy. we started with a large, shared bowl of cut up fruit (nothing local, alas, just oranges, fuji apples, and bananas), greek yoghurt, and granola. we were also given a couple slices of wheat toast and white toast, which remained mysteriously hot and toasty throughout our meal.
julius--cousin and travel partner--had the joe's special, an omelette based on a famous san francisco breakfast dish. this one was filled with sauteed red potato chunks, onions, and ground beef, then topped with a fresh tomato salsa. generous and hearty.
i had the veggie frittata, an open-faced omelette with a sautee of locally grown long beans and tomatoes, red onion and green bell peppers. it was topped with some kalamata olives, cubes of feta cheese, and more tomatoes. this was also a generous portion, very fresh and delicious.
stuffed to the gills, we headed off for some laid-back sightseeing. as saipan is less developed than guam, the landscape can be breathtaking for miles; flame trees line the streets and dot the valleys, along other lush tropical foliage. many of the attractions are related to the battle of saipan and world war 2, as it became a major battleground towards the end of the war.
of course, the ocean vistas are stunning, as are the beaches and diving spots.
although i managed to work off most of our hefty breakfast in the tropical heat, and by hiking down and up to various touristy spots, we weren't very hungry for lunch. we ended up stopping at another bakery during the shopping portion of our adventure, this time at herman's bakery (and adjacent tan marikita's café).
herman's is one of saipan's best known bakeries, for their bread made with the local coconut liquor, tuba, pan de leche (milk bread), and pan tosta (er, toasted bread. sort of. more like baked-until-dry bread). it has been open since the battle of saipan, making it the oldest business establishment on the island. however, you can see that this particular outlet isn't that old, and offered a light snacks menu besides their bakery items.
i wish we had a little more time to spend on saipan; although it is quite small (you can drive around the entire island in less than an hour), there were so many little shops and restaurants i would have liked to have explored further. however, we left, stuffed and happy and luckily, i'm only a 40-minute plane ride away, so hopefully i'll have more to report in the future.
saipan's official tourist mascot, saipanda. sai in japanese means "rhino," and panda, is well, panda. therefore, crazycreepycute rhino panda!
check out chopsticks, a saipan food blog!
per usual, more photos of the lovely island of saipan in my i heart saipan flickr photoset.
capitol hill, saipan.
capitol hill, saipan.
herman's modern bakery and tan marikita café,