Saturday, March 31, 2018

Exploring Cavite City -- The Advocates for Heritage Preservation Tour

Cavite City is just 35 kilometres from my doorstep and yet  it was not exactly on my radar until two years ago when I joined Clang Garcia's Food Holidays Tour of Cavite (  
Clang's whirlwind tour of some of Cavite's well known sites showed me there was a lot to see and discover.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to learn more about Cavite -- albeit just Cavite City when we joined the AHP (Advocates for Heritage Preservation) tour.

The AHP is an interesting group of diverse yet like-minded individuals enthusiastic about local culture and heritage.  Seeing that maintenance and preservation of heritage sites like churches,  houses, public buildings, monuments, etc are not exactly high up on the list of the government's
(nor the citizenry's) priorities, the AHP does what it can to open up more eyes to the need to
conserve these irreplaceable parts of our past and patrimony.

The tour's first stop was St. Peter the Apostle Church, tucked away on one of Cavite City's  side streets.    Thank goodness for waze or we might not have found it. 
The original church built in the late 1500s was completely destroyed in the massive bombing of Cavite City in 1941.   This structure built in the 1980s is in a new location along P. Justo street.

St Peter's Church was constructed almost completely using repurposed old bricks, stones and wood
giving it that unmistakeable patina of Spanish churches of bygone years. The interiors have been 
kept simple and unadorned, save for the stained glass windows depicting the Stations of the Cross. These glass windows are in predominantly yellow and gold tones infusing the church in a soft warm light. 

The AHP always conducts its tours in coordination with members who are also native to the area.
The knowledge and perspective of these local "guides" are invaluable, giving guests  a deeper and richer sense of place.  
This tour was curated by true blue Caviteños,  Bhel Esquierdo and Ige Ramos.  
At the start, Ige gave a short talk about  the history of St. Peter's church plus a briefing on the day's activities.

Since we had  left Manila at the break of dawn (okay, 6:00 a.m. but on a week-end!) I was particularly looking forward to the complimentary breakfast that the organisers had set up at the  church's patio.  Local businesses had their specialties for sale but also generously provided free samples of their products.  
The local bakery Roadside Breads and Burgers brought a giant basket of hot pan de sal -- each roll baked to brown crusty perfection.

The pan de sal went perfectly well with Big Ben's Imus Longganisa.   The owner, Gene Gutierrez 
had two bilao-fuls of the fat sausages which unfortunately ran out before I could snap a photo.  
Mr Gutierrez makes the longganisa from an old family recipe -- they are garlicky, slightly sweet and made with much less fat than other regional variants.

My hopes and prayers were answered!  On one table were trays upon trays of my favourite ensaimadas, bar none.  Baloy's Ensaimadas are the best on the entire planet but sadly, can only 
be bought from Baloy's Bakeshop in Cavite City.  
Mr Baloy had brought along boxes of ensaimadas which were completely sold out in minutes.  

The next stop  was just a few hundred meters away from the church.  This is the monument and shrine of Ladislao Diwa -- a familiar name from elementary history books.   This shrine also 
serves as a mausoleum as his bones have been laid to rest here.

The shrine is located in front of the  Diwa family compound.   Just behind it is the house where Ladislao Diwa lived  and which continues to be used by his descendants.    Thanks to the efforts of AHP's  local coordinators, we were allowed inside the gate and in some portions of the house. 

I was probably not paying attention during my Philippine history classes  as I did not recall knowing that Ladislao Diwa was one of the original founders of the Katipunan. This illustration hanging in the anteroom of the old house shows the original KKK triumvirate -- Bonifacio, Diwa and Teodoro Plata

Local food and culinary traditions are part of our heritage so after the visit to the Diwa Shrine, we headed off to the Cavite City Public Market -- to see, smell and yes,  taste  the many local delicacies.  While breakfast had just been served (and relished) an hour ago, we were more than ready to dive into what the palengke had to offer.

I had a bit of an (unfair) advantage.  I had visited the palengke before on the Food Holidays tour 
and knew that the place to go for delicious local fare was Aling Ika's Carinderia.  
Aling Ika has moved on to that glorious carinderia in the sky but  her daughter continues to cook and serve the dishes that her mother was known for.  Today, it is the oldest running carinderia in the market, dating back to the 1940s
While we were in the van on the way to the palengke, I told my van mates about Aling Ika so we all made a beeline for the carinderia the minute we arrived.  A smattering of other AHP members came much later on, only to find out that our motley group had wiped out all of Aling Ika's famous specialties.

The food at Aling Ika's is always consistently amazing but my two favourites are the unique,  slightly tart pancit puso and the crab torta filled with an unbelievably abundant amount of fresh crabmeat.  
If you want to taste these specialties,  you'll have to be at the market well before mid morning as these two dishes are the first they run out of.  

Yes we did -- we had the last two plates of pancit puso!  Better luck next time!

Another previous discovery at the market was the quesillo or kesong puti.  Aling Miriam who sits by the market entrance should be your quesillo suki.  Because they are cooked with vinegar, the cheese can survive more than a few hours of travel -- I should know as the 10 packs that I bought were none the  worse for wear when I finally arrived home.

Just a quick ride from the market is San Roque Church.  This is a relatively new structure and is  quite massive -- you can actually see the dome and tower as you drive along Cavitex, the coastal highway connecting Metro Manila to Cavite.  

The church houses the miraculous, centuries-old image of the Virgen de la Soledad de Porta Vaga.  She is venerated on the small altar you see on the left side of this photo.  San Roque's statue, also centuries old and also attributed to be miraculous, is on the main altar on the bottom right hand side. 

I found this silver carroza in the shape of a seafaring vessel --  a nod perhaps to the local legend of  how the statue of the church's patron, San Roque came to Cavite.
 It is said that the statue originally came on a boat (possibly a galleon) and was unloaded while the boat was being repaired.  When they were ready to load him back on board, the statue became so heavy that they could not lift it up. And so San Roque stayed behind -- and continues to serve as protector and intercessor of the people of Cavite City.

One of the many things that  I liked about the AHP tour was the proximity of the various sites we visited.  A short drive away from San Roque church was the Monument to the 13 Martyrs or Trece Martires as they are more commonly known. 

A simple marker lists down  the names of the thirteen heroes.   Not all of them were Caviteños 
but all of them were executed in Plaza de Armas in Cavite by the Spanish authorities on September 12, 1896.  Their crime --  they were sympathisers of the  Katipunan.  Their execution happened just 
a few weeks after the start of the Philippine revolution. 

Right across the monument is a promenade facing the relatively clean waters of Bacoor Bay. 
Only a few fish pens mar the serenity of the view.

It was a good spot to gather everyone in our van -- all 11 of us, for a group photo.  The three of us who joined the tour together had never met any one in this group who obviously had been on quite a few AHP jaunts together.  Yet they were so friendly,  making us feel welcome and right at home. 

Nearby  is a spacious swath of greenery called Samonte Park.  The noonday heat was a bit too much to handle but I can imagine how popular this place is with local residents in the early morning and late afternoon hours. 

Situated in Samonte Park is this model of the church of the Virgen de la Soledad de Porta Vaga which originally stood on this piece of land.  Built in the late 1600s, it withstood damage from fires and earthquake but could not withstand the Japanese bombs that landed on the city on December 8, 1941 -- just a day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Cavite historian Ige Ramos said that eight Spanish era churches in Cavite City were completely destroyed on that day.  After the bombing,  only the bell tower of Santa Monica church remained standing -- you can find it on a side street, a few hundred meters from Samonte Park.  
It was interesting to see that an entire congested residential neighbourhood now surrounded 
the tower,  I had thought that such an important landmark would merit more judicious care.

The belfry of Santa Monica  Church survived the war and despite the less than ideal environment it now finds itself in, I have no doubt the bell tower will survive all these too.

We were so busy discovering all these heretofore unknown places that I did not notice that it was 
lunchtime.  Our convoy of vans and cars headed to  Tita A's Food Choices, where a proper and traditional Caviteño lunch was waiting for us. 

This lovely and very charming lady is the aforementioned Tita A.  We invaded their 
breezy and spacious 60's style home where tables had been set up all over the driveway and front yard. 

Despite the ensaimadas, the pan de sal and Imus longganisa that I had wolfed down for breakfast, not to mention Aling Ika's pancit puso and tortang alimango,  I found myself ravenous when Tita A's efficient and friendly servers laid these out on the table.  
Earlier Ige Ramos had said that lunch would feature the "tres marias" of a typical Cavite Sunday lunch ... adobong pula (cooked with atsuete),  kare kare and kilawing papaya.  
While you can no doubt identify the other two, the brown coloured dish in the foreground is the kilawing papaya -- easily my favourite (and new discovery) among the three.
Kilawing papaya is not atsara as you would easily think.  It is unripe papaya shredded and cooked in vinegar along with cow lungs and thinly sliced tripe.  While tripe is normally chewy, the pieces in this dish have been sliced paper thin so they just about melt in your mouth. 

To cool down, we had chinchao or chinchaw -- the Caviteño version of gulaman at sago.
What makes it different are the pieces of boiled glutinous rice cut into pellet shaped bits.  The pellets look like pasta noodles cut into small pieces but when you bite into them, the unmistakeable texture and taste of galapong comes through.

We tarried over lunch until we were all herded back into the vans for the next stop -- Fort San Felipe.
This is one place in Cavite where you can still see the remains of the walls built by the Spaniards in the 1600s.  
Does Fort San Felipe remind you of Intramuros?  Both were built for the same purpose -- to protect the strategically located Spanish forts from invaders and marauders. 

This part of the wall in the foreground forms part of Plaza de Armas where the Trece Martires were executed by musketry.  
Today, you can climb to the top of the wall and walk through stones that sentries of that era trod on.  And yes perhaps they also witnessed the execution from this vantage point. 
When you reach the top, there is a small building, not part of the original structure,  that functions as a mini museum of Philippine naval history.

The view from the top is of Cañacao Bay, a small inlet within Manila Bay.  You can also catch a glimpse of Sangley Point right across the waters.

Seeing and walking through these remains of the Spanish fort was certainly the highlight of today's tour. 

After walking around the walls on a scorching sunny afternoon, we saw this mamang sorbetero.
He gladly gave up his bell to me and  I was able to attract a good number of AHP members 
to come and buy his ice cream.    I have found my new calling, pun intended.

Our penultimate  stop was Sangley Point  currently jointly used by the various branches of the Philippine Armed Forces.  

To keep us from wandering all over the base, we were shepherded into a hall and shown a video presentation that traced the history of Sangley -- during colonial times, it was a trading post for Chinese merchants who were initially restricted entry into Manila.   Later on, it would become a 
base for American forces and would also be occupied by the Japanese during the war. 

This is the articulate  and knowledgeable lady lieutenant who gave us the briefing and is part of Sangley's communication team.  

There were a number of different aircraft on display.  The personnel assigned to our group were kind enough to assist those who wanted to get on board this military helicopter for a photo op.  
Instead of clambering on board, I decided to ask this Technical Sergeant to pose -- which he smilingly did. 

Sangley Point is where you can find the Danilo Atienza Air Base.  The end of the runway 
offers a panoramic view of Manila's skyline which is just on the other side of the bay.  

The last stop for the AHP Cavite City tour was this unobtrusive memorial to Julian Felipe.  
Born in Cavite City,  Mr Felipe was a "musikero" and is most famous for having composed 
"Lupang Hinirang", the Philippine National Anthem.  
As a final activity and to pay homage to Julian Felipe and all the heroes born out of the fertile, revolutionary soil of Cavite,  indefatigable patriot Ige Ramos requested us to stand and sing the National Anthem, right here at this monument.  
Was it the singing of  "Lupang Hinirang" that caused a lump in my throat?  Perhaps it was the late afternoon sun that shone in my eyes and caused them to tear up.  
It was definitely a most fitting way to bring the AHP Cavite City tour to a close.


I was told that this tour yielded a record number of 120 participants!  
Thank you to the AHP for a well organised and entertaining tour.  Thanks to their president, 
Tito Encarnacion who declared us members on the spot.  Thank you too to Johnson Bernardo who arranged for us to join this tour.
This photo of most of the tour participants was taken by Jonathan Hernandez and posted on the 
AHP Facebook page.  
If you want to know more about the AHP and their activities, you can find them on Facebook.  

NB  If there are any inaccuracies in this post, I must not have been paying attention again.  The fault is all mine!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Lunch at The Chef's Home in Baguio City

Jay and  I had not been to Baguio in over ten years.  We visited in December and got a taste of the pre-holiday crowds.  The old tourist traps were even "trappier" than before.
The main thoroughfares were as traffic clogged as Manila's streets and Session Road had lost its relaxed vintage feel as fast food chains lined both sides of the street.
But there were some bright spots -- we enjoyed our stay at Hotel Elizabeth and found some delicious discoveries.

If you walk straight past Mansion House towards the road going to Mines View Park,
you will find The Chef's Home.
Well regarded in the Baguio food scene, it is owned by a Malaysian chef and serves an eclectic
mix of Southeast Asian dishes.

We called to check if we could come for a late lunch and were told they close at exactly 2 p.m. 
It's a quick 10 minute walk from the hotel and the lunchtime crowd had left by the time we arrived.

As the name implies, the ambience is cosy and homey.  You certainly get the feel that you really are in the chef's home.  At the entrance, a small stand of homemade sauces and pickles are not to be missed -- specially the cucumber and the chili pickles which were superb.

For appetizers, the smiling waitress suggested their fish tofu which was fried and served with their own chili sauce and lots of wansoy leaves.  This was my favourite -- flavourful cubes of tender fish blended with creamy tofu. 

For mains, we had chicken sate and  fresh snapper cooked in chili and garlic sauce.  Perfect for spooning over hot rice. 

We loved the food so much that the chef came out to say hello.  Here  he is posing beside the menu board which lists the daily specials.  The menu is changed frequently based on what is available and fresh in the market. 
However, if you are craving for something that is not listed, they would be happy to cook it for you 
as long as the ingredients are available in the kitchen.

The waitstaff were so friendly and charming.  We stayed past closing time but never felt that we 
were being rushed out of the place.  Next time we're in Baguio, we shall definitely take time to 
enjoy the warm hospitality at The Chef's Home once again. 

P.S The restaurant will be moving out of this location early 2018.  Please check for their new address if you plan to visit. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Cordillera Cuisine at Cafe Yagam in Baguio City

On a recent trip to Baguio, I saw with dismay how food courts and fast food chains had taken over the city.  Not wanting to waste calories and money on chicken, pizza or a frappucino, I headed off to find a local, independent restaurant -- hopefully one where I could also enjoy local flavours.

Serendipitously, I found one just 200 meters from where we were staying for the weekend.  
Cafe Yagam is along Felipe Rd. was just a hop and skip away from Hotel Elizabeth. 

The cafe is inside a renovated house.  The living room has been converted to a dining area where simple wooden tables are set comfortably apart.  Paperbacks are conveniently placed on bookshelves so that you can read while waiting for your order.

Not into reading?  How about doing some shopping while you wait?  Crafted by local weavers, 
these attractive bracelets, neckpieces, belts and coin purses make good souvenirs. 

Cafe Yagam bills itself as a coffee shop that serves Cordillera coffee and a few choice specialties.  
Of course for those who prefer safe, generic fare (yes, I am being judgemental here),  pasta, pizza and a sandwich or two are also on offer.

I love blood sausage --the Ilocano version is called penuneng while the Cordillera version is called pinuneg.  Cafe Yagam serves pinuneg with a side of  mountain rice, a spicy sour vinegar dip and some chopped fresh greens.  
The blood sausage, fried to a crisp and almost bursting out of its casing, came on two metal skewers.  Like its Ilocano cousin (sibling?) pinuneg makes use of minced pork mixed with pig's blood.  
Unlike penuneng, pinuneg is mixed with rice so you get a texture of crunchy pork bits, soft pig's blood and dense and chewy rice.  Mixed with garlic and vinegar, it's delicious and definitely worth trying.

Jay ordered pinikpikan and I half expected the PETA police to suddenly materialise and haul him off in handcuffs.  
Pinikpikan is a classic and traditional Cordillera chicken soup  that tastes somewhat like the tagalog tinola.  
However, if Cafe Yagam cooked it the classic traditional way, it is a very cruel and inhumane way 
for a chicken to lose its life ... just for a bowl of soup.  
I shall not elaborate.  However way this dish was cooked, it was hearty, gingery, piquant and perfect for the chilly Baguio evening.

Since it was my birthday dinner (happy birthday to me!) I wanted to toast myself (since Jay cannot take alcohol) with the native liquor - tapuy.  
This is a smooth, sweet wine made from fermented rice and is the local drink in the Cordilleras.  
It reminds me of a slightly more robust and sweeter version of sake.
When drinking tapuy, remember that while it is sweet and easy to drink the alcohol content is 15%.  
I enjoyed Cafe Yagam's tapuy so much that I brought back two bottles to Manila. 

While I normally avoid coffee after dinner as it can keep me tossing and turning all night, I had to finish this genuine Cordillera meal with a cup of their mountain blend.  
The friendly and helpful waitstaff at Cafe Yagam talked about how arabica coffee beans are farmed 
in the Cordilleras and how difficult it can be for the farmers to get it to market.  
They also said there are now initiatives made by NGOs and cooperatives to make the coffee more available and give the farmers better prices for their crops. 
One sip of their coffee and I was hooked.  I ordered a medium roast/medium strength brew (they brew your cup to your specifications) and found it aromatic with sweetish, earthy notes.  
I asked if I could buy a couple of bags but was told that you have to order these a few weeks ahead.    
Surprisingly, the coffee was lighter than I thought it would be and did not give me a sleepless night.  Although that could have been due to the two glasses of tapuy that I enjoyed.

Coffee goes well with good company and conversation.  We lingered at Cafe Yagam long after we had emptied our coffee cups.  
When we left, a group of young people had taken over the front yard and someone had started a fire going in the outdoor fireplace.  
Sipping tapuy or coffee under the stars, with a fire to ward off Baguio's sweater weather ... what a nice idea!  We must try that next time we go back to Cafe Yagam.