Having been born and raised in Baguio City, I thought I knew all there was to know about the Summer Capital of the Philippines.
A culinary adventure recently, organized by the Tarlac–Pangasinan–La Union Expressway (TPLEx) and San Miguel Corp. (SMC), proved me wrong.
Tony Reyes, the marketing manager of TPLEx, emphasized, “It’s not about the road, it’s about the destinations. We want to promote tourism in places never before seen here.”
True enough, the Daily Tribune and other media guests experienced North Luzon in a whole different light. We visited landmarks from Nueva Ecija to Binalonan, all the way to Baguio that deserves more spotlight than it has ever been given.
Holy Veil at Nampicuan
The adventure began at TPLEx, on the way up to Baguio, where we first stopped by The Sanctuary of the Holy Face of Jesus Immaculate Conception Parish. This Nueva Ecija church used to be visited only by the people in the community.
Recently, however, visitors have been growing in numbers to view the Holy Veil and visit the church itself.
The Holy Veil at Nampicuan is an exact replica of the original one in the Basilica di Volto Santo in Manoppello, Italy. What makes it an official replica is that it is claimed by the Church to be the only burial cloth that touched the actual cloth that touched Jesus Christ.
It was gifted to Nampicuan by the Rector of the Basilica and Guardian of the Relic, Capuchin Friar Carmine Cuchinelli, in 2014 after its Philippine tour. Since then, this humble church has been declared a Shrine by the Catholic Church.
It has made a name for itself, and today, a signage along TPLEx, draws more people to visit. It also has two jampacked services on Sunday and a large crowd on celebrated Christian occasions like Holy Week.
Ylang-Ylang Processing Plant
This leg of the trip reminded me of my childhood days where field trips consisted of visiting factories and plants, and seeing for oneself how a product comes to be.
Here, we were shown how the ylang -ylang flower was made into essential oils, perfumes and other sprays. We were each given an ylang-ylang reed diffuser to try for ourselves.
The local bloom grows profusely in the northern provinces of Tarlac and La Union.
Ruperto’s Inland Resort
Showcasing Binalonan’s famous longganisa, our brunch was enjoyed in this resort. Binalonan’s local sausage contains lean meat, with hardly any fat in it. A cooking demonstration on how to make the longganisa was held by SMC using their products.
The trip to Baguio took a few hours, so we were ready for our late lunch at Farmer’s Daughter when we arrived at the highlands. This got me excited because of where the restaurant was situated, somewhere far from the city proper.
Farmer’s Daughter had a homey, provincial feel to it, not to mention it was a bit chilly already. I was surrounded by wood, including the walls, tables and benches.
What was served was Pak-Pako Salad, a river fern salad with tomato and cucumber mixed vinaigrette; Pinikpikan, an Igorot chicken dish (Cordilleran version of tinola) with Etag (salted meat); Kinuday Jen Baboy, stir-fried smoked pork; Kinuday Jen Baka, steamed smoked meat; and Dinakdakan, a charred pork ear, tongue and snout dressed in pig’s brain and other spices.
I highly enjoyed the Pinikpikan and Pak-Pako Salad, but the rest were all too new for me, and a little too overwhelming to eat. Nonetheless, they are definitely dishes everyone must try for the experience.
The highlight of this trip was the extravagant and lavish dinner at Mama’s Table by Chef Vicky Tinio-Clemente. It was special because no one can just walk in as they please to dine here — one must reserve a table and come with a minimum of six diners. During special occasions, reservations can be a challenge as this home is always fully booked.
When we entered the premises, we all felt as if we were transported to a scene from a movie — a cozy home with wooden accents, similar to a cabin but more modern. The house was huge, with walls that were all colored in a rusty red hue. Dim yellow lights set the mood.
What surprised all of us were Mama’s Tables, literally two huge, long tables that were beautifully prepared as if the Queen of England were joining us.
Candles lit the table, with wooden ornaments as centerpieces. These brought beauty to the table, not to mention the lovely yellow and white flowers in bloom. The charger plate was gold, making us all feel like royalty. It was truly a forest fairytale, and we were all guests of honor.
We were welcomed with unlimited wine and softdrinks. For the SMC French-inspired eight-course degustation at Mama’s Table, the first to be served was the spreads and dips. This included the Bagna Cauda (anchovy garlic dip) with vegetable crudites like chopped cucumber, carrots and broccoli; Smoked Bangus Mousse served with R. Lapid’s chicharon that chef gets fresh; the Chili Con Carne that everyone was raving about served with hint of lime tostitos; and the Artichoke Parmesan and Mozzarella Spread served with assorted breads and crackers.
The Amuse Bouche was adorably presented — a brown eggshell sitting pretty on a white throne with one finger toast brushed with anchovy butter. Inside the shell was a quiche, almost like an omelette, with caramelized onions, sautéed locally-grown tasty mushrooms, Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses in strong and delicious truffle oil custard, all baked together.
Third was the Squash Soup with a twist. This was the best I’ve tried so far. It wasn’t thick, but runny with a little touch of graininess. It was cooked with just the right saltiness of smoked bacon, grated apples, thyme and port garnished with julienned crunchy apples, crispy bacon bits and roasted pine nuts that came as a surprise to the mouth.
Intermezzo 1 was next, which was a baked herbed feta in puff pastry topped with smoked salmon, acidulated fennel, tobiko roe and capers.
For the seafood course, a baked pinkish-orange Norwegian salmon that melted in my mouth was served. It was one of the highlights of the night, if not my favorite. I’ve eaten salmon so many different ways but this made me fall in love. It was so soft that it vanished too quickly from my mouth, which was the only disappointment because I could eat this everyday. It was served with thin zucchini slices, topped with peas and pepper like stars in the sky, with a hint of tarragon, orange supremes and citrus buerre blanc.
The Intermezzo 2 was a sweet and salty cheese two-ways. One way was the crunchy and fulfilling buttered bread cup in the shape of a boat with mouthwatering aged Manchego cheese topped with Hill Station’s Guava Jam. They complimented each other with the perfect amount of contrasting tastes. The other way was the triangle slice of Truffle Noire Aged Gouda drizzled with truffle honey. I love honey I would have loved more of it in the cheese.
Who knew cheese and honey made such a great team?
For the meat course, what was served was tender roasted chicken breast topped with honey cured bacon in Saltimbocca style. I found this dish a little too strong for my palate, but great for people who love salty food. It was stuffed with sage, Parmesan, Pecorino Romano and Grana Padano cheeses. On the side was the red wine reduction mushroom jus and risoni in mushroom cream sauce with French beans, asparagus and snowpeas.
For the digestive, we were served an easy-to-eat salad that was like a taco. The Romaine lettuce was drizzled with house-made Caesar Salad dressing using local Benguet lemons, grated Parmesan cheese, crunchy bacon bits and baked croutons.
Contrary to modern belief that salads should be eaten before the main course, the French originally served it at the end of the meal. It was just served at the right time because it cleansed the palate before dessert.
This came as a duo of Toblerone chocolate and Essenso Microground Coffee mousse with whipped cream, diced fresh mango; and Creme Brulee in a mini saucer served with whipped cream and diced mangoes, sprinkled with Swiss chocolate and Essenso coffee.
The great ambiance, soulful music, splendid food and amazing company completed the four-hour meal.
The soulful music was performed by Paul Columna, vocalist from Camel Hump, a local band from Baguio. He sang folk indie songs with his trusted acoustic guitar. It was music perfect for the chilly weather.
Baguio Country Club
We rested our heads that night in this Baguio classic, the views splendid for our city-weary eyes.
The next day, we had the morning to ourselves, with the option to go to the Trading Post early to purchase extremely affordable vegetables or sleep in and enjoy the sweater weather of Baguio.
The first adventure for the second day was at the UP Baguio Museo Cordillera (The Museo Kordilyera). As I mentioned, I was born and raised in this city, yet I had never ventured into this museum. I’m sure plenty of locals and tourists alike walk past this museum, not taking the advantage to immerse themselves in their own cultural heritage.
At The Museo Kordilyera, there was so much to learn and the museum was actually very engaging. There were lifesize figurines of the natives and their actual house as well. It was a three-level structure with the reception level visible on the surface and a few historical artifacts to see.
For more to see at the second and third floor, one must avail of an entrance ticket. This ticket leads one to view most of Museo Kordilyera’s essential facilities which include a permanent collection and curatorial space for ethnographic materials; a temporary exhibition space for loaned exhibitions and collateral activities by students, faculty and alumni; a visitor’s room for museum orientation purposes; an audio-visual room; and a museum shop and café.
The Museo Kordilyera is part of an infrastructure development plan initiated by UP Baguio Chancellor Raymundo D. Rovillos. This development plan had been approved and funded by the UP system under the administration of university President Alfredo A. Pascual. This museum, as Vice-Chancellor for Administration Prof. Jessica K. Cariño said, will focus “on the collection, preservation and display of objects associated with the unique societies and cultures of the Cordillera region.”
BZA Home Style Crafts
For dessert, we all had this sweet and delicious Strawberry Shortcake topped with Magnolia’s Vanilla Ice Cream at BZA Home Style Crafts.
BZA is a three-year-old arts and crafts shop in Baguio City where one can paint, create rhinestone art and more. It was born out of the passion of Donna Marie Navarrete. It was her love for the arts and crafts that brought her and her eldest son, Brandon, to manage this business together.
This dedicated single mother of three named BZA after her three sons Brandon, Ziggy and Andrei.
Donna said she saw the need for art in the area, so she started with cross-stitch and crochet then ventured into DIY 5D Rhinestone Art in the late 2014. Rhinestone art is a jeweled art. It begins with a sheet of paper with numbers or colors, and all one has to do is glue the rhinestones to the designated number or colors until it is filled up to complete the jeweled image. BZA also offers customized rhinestone art for anyone interested using their desired image.
BZA, located at 1st Road, Quezon Hill, Baguio City, is part of Donna’s beautiful home. “This house has history. This used to be former President Manuel L. Quezon’s vacation house back in the 1930s or the 1940s, so when I got it, it was still spooky. What’s great about it is the space, which is why my son, Brandon, truly believed in its potential. Yes, it’s all my son’s idea. He’s my pride. This was how he came in. His vision turned this into a full blown restó cafe. People now even host events here.”
Aside from an art cafe, Donna also manages a furniture shop and an indoor golf course. “Yes, I also have a furniture shop and everything here in this art cafe is for sale, meaning we have stocks if anyone is interested. As for our indoor golf course, well, my family and I are sporty and since it rains a lot in Baguio, we made an indoor golf using a golf simulator. This way, there is no need to protect oneself from the sun! Also here in our indoor golf course, basically anyone can play a whole round of golf. We even have different courses.”
BZA Home Style Crafts has branches in Taguig City and Binondo in Metro Manila; Angeles City, Pampanga; Imus, Cavite; San Jose and Baliuag in Bulacan.
Lemon and Olives Greek Taverna
Lunch was at a quaint, wooden cottage-themed old house turned into a restaurant along Outlook Drive South, Baguio City.
This restaurant has a beautiful view of Baguio’s greenery, especially their al fresco area. This spot is where tables are perched on a little veranda where guests can enjoy the landscape.
Also, every nook and cranny of Lemon and Olives is decorated from exterior to interior. On the outside, plants dangle from the entrance; while inside, the finest details can be seen on the painted walls, chairs, tables and decorations.
This new establishment celebrated its first anniversary last June.
We enjoyed their homemade pita, Greek dips, chicken and salad. Their servings are big and are good for sharing.
House of Yogurt
Our final stopover was at the House of Yogurt. Their home blend yogurt was thick and fully satisfying. Their yogurt is a must-try during one’s trip to Baguio.
They also have a pasalubong (souvenirs) area right at the entrance, showcasing the “Best of the Highlands.” All the best products from the provinces within Cordillera can be found at this one-stop shop.