A trip to Baguio can
be transformed into
a culinary adventure with wild ethnic dishes and native wines in the extreme or by sampling our one-of-a-kind local restaurants. Although the Cordillera mountain range supplies 80% of the Philippines' daily vegetable requirements, the folks here really prefer to eat meat -- smoked, boiled, grilled -- using the simplest cooking techniques with long preparation times. Foremost is the Pinikpikan, a chicken dish that is rooted in the native ritual of reading signals from the gods to determine one's course of action. Sometimes humorously called 'Battered Chicken,' native chickens, smaller in variety with darker, tastier meat are beaten with a wooden and grilled over open fire. Etag is added to the brew.
Etag or Itag is salted meat, cured and aged underground in an earthen jar. The flavor is comparable to blue cheese but is much oilier and flavorful after it's cooked. It is also used as an ingredient to flavor the Pinkpikan.
Similar to the Filipino dinuguan, Pinuneg is a native blood sausage composed of minced pork and innards mixed with cooked rice (usually the red variety known as kintoman), salt, vinegar, garlic and other flavors and then stuffed into clean animal intestines. The Cordillera version of the longganisa (native sausage) is then eiher sun dried, smoked, poacked or simply boiled and served as a main course or appetizer with a vinegar and chili dip.
Sabusab is mixed dish using fermented rice, sliced meat, green onions, ginger and moistened with Tapuey.
And then there is the Tapuey, sometimes called Tapuy or Tapey, a native wine made by fermenting rice with a special yeast in a clay or wooden jar using mountain spring water, resulting in a strong brew popular at cañaos or mountain feasts. A great souvenir to bring home or give as a gift, it is available in bottles at the Baguio City Market.
Exploring the Wild Side of the Cordillera Culinary Culture
Introduced by the Spaniards, Benguet coffee, of the Arabica variety is the favorite beverage of the Cordilleras. It is the first thing a native will offer you when you visit his home, and what he expects you to offer him when he visits yours.
The Baguio Coffee Shop culture is strong with retired natives and old- timers seated in their favorite cafes all day discussing business and politics, or simply shooting the breeze.
Organic mountain rice, reddish in color, referred to by locals as kintoman, is commonly served in Baguio restaurants and in homes. It is considered a healthy, flavorful alternative to white rice.
Easily available at the Baguio City Market and specialty shops, this is a more natural option preferred by the health-conscious.
"Anything that Walks is Food!"
Those were words uttered by an elder from the Bontoc tribe who was wanting some of the meat from a horse that had "kicked the bucket." And I was aghast! He was himself a horse owner and I felt so strongly that horses are not food animals (yes, of course they serve a utilitarian purpose, to transport man and baggage, but my Jupiter was also a pet so I could not imagine how anyone can eat one of man's best friends).
The Cordillera culinary culture is pretty controversial. There are restaurants openly selling dogmeat, horse meat and goat meat in Baguio City. For lovers of these gentle creatures, this is anathema, but for the mountainmen, it is all but natural! And as for pork, in true Filipino style, no part of this animal goes to waste including the brain, the knuckles, the intestines!
And it seems that anything that is grown or fruit picked from a tree can be turned into wine! We have rice wine, strawberry wine-- and even bugnay wine and yakun wine (available at the public market at about Php120 per bottle) with all their medicinal properties.
Basically, the mountain people (they prefer to be called "highlanders," by the way) are experts at hunting and gathering (i.e. catching fresh water eels in mountain streams and rivers) and converting any animal into food, although the taste and presentation may not appeal to the mainstream palette. The cold temperature is a natural preservative and is supplemented by ancient natural curing and smoking techniques that are done in union with the great outdoors. And very little goes to waste.
In fact, that is the culinary culture in the Philippine highlands -- to convert everything edible into food and to use all parts of the animal or plant possible. As for plants, their edible parts -- flowers, leaves, stems and roots -- are all ingredients. And cooking techniques use all organic ingredients and implements, wooden jars, clay pots, the sun to dry, rain water in mountain streams, wood for fire and smoke, the earthen soil to preserve and cure. Their food is a testament to the ingenuous, frugal, resilient and organic nature of the wonderful Cordillera people.
Baguio City showcases all these in rugged places like the Slaughterhouse on Magsaysay Avenue and in fine places with appealing gourmet versions like those served at Cafe by the Ruins across Baguio City Hall.
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