San Miguel Northern Food Tour yields new foodie discoveries in and around the City of Pines
A trip to Baguio always tugs at one’s heart. After all, the first out-of-town trip for many Manileños is the Summer Capital of the Philippines, and we remember wonderful times spent there with family and friends.
A recent trip to Baguio with the San Miguel Pure Foods Culinary Center (SMPFCC) afforded us an excellent chance to visit the top foodie spots on our way to and in Baguio itself.
Our trip was made faster and easier via the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway, or TPLEx. A drive to Baguio from Manila through TPLEx takes only three hours.
“There has always been a strong food culture in this part of the country, one that continually evolves,” said SMPFCC culinary services manager Llena Arcenas-Tan. “The provinces have much to offer. It’s a great thing that TPLEx has now made it easier for us to reach iconic and well-loved destinations such as Baguio, as well as discover other provinces that were off the tourism grid.”
The tour would not only promote the food scene in Baguio but also help the city itself, which had been damaged by typhoon “Ompong.”
“Aside from sharing new eats, we also wanted to support Baguio and encourage people to come visit and help in its recovery,” said Arcenas-Tan.
With new access roads, destinations are more easily reached. One destination, for example, is the Sanctuary of the Holy Face in Nampicuan, Nueva Ecija, a short distance from the Anao exit of the expressway.
Inside, one can find a replica of the Holy Veil of Manoppello, enshrined in an ornate glass case. The veil is believed to be imprinted with the face of Christ, one of the many other veils believed to be the actual cloth that touched Christ’s face. The actual relic is in Manoppello, Italy, but the replica enshrined in Nueva Ecija has touched the relic, said its parish priest, Fr. Christian Magtalas.
We then visited Anao, Tarlac, where the streets are lined with ylang-ylang trees. The town is a few minutes away from the Nampicuan shrine. We visited an ylang-ylang processing plant set up by the local government to help the locals. Ylang-ylang oil is used in perfume, candles, bath soaps, shampoo and even air fresheners.
After the tour, we transitioned to the serious business of eating.
In Binalonan, Pangasinan, is Ruperto’s, a restaurant and inland resort. The town is known for longganisa, which is a meatier variant of the popular Filipino breakfast item. Its longganisa has a thicker consistency, with a pronounced garlic flavor—surely a must-try.
“In our town market, almost every stall sells longganisa. It’s one of our most well-loved dishes,” said Ruperto’s chef Aldwin Soriano, who showed us how to prepare the dish from scratch, using Monterey ground pork. He had been making the dish for 15 years.
Toward Baguio, we arrived at Farmer’s Daughter, on Benguet Road. This is home to some of the best-tasting and authentic Ibaloi dishes in the province.
The establishment was the brainchild of local Pil Od, who opened it in 2015. He was inspired by his grandmother, who introduced him to local flavors, and his grandfather, who taught him everything about butchering.
Must-try dishes are the pako salad, dinakdakan and pinikpikan na manok. The pinikpikan is top choice—native chicken prepared the traditional Ibaloi way. The dish is like tinola, but the meat is stringier and tastier than the usual chicken sold in the market.
Also good is the kinuday na baboy o baka, made through traditional smoking methods. Notable as well is the local chili sauce, one of the spiciest we had tried. It’s for the faint of heart, though.
The Ibalois usually pair their meal with gin, beer, brandy or rice wine, especially when they have weddings and thanksgiving. On our visit, Ginebra San Miguel Premium Gin was served.
For dinner, we went to Mama’s Table, hidden on Ambuklao Road in Baguio. The place is actually the house of Vicky Clemente, a former banker and paralegal who studied French cuisine at New York Culinary Institute, fulfilling her dream of becoming a chef.
Given her training, our hostess treated us to a sumptuous French-theme eight-course dinner. We dined on a quiche in an eggshell, which was made with caramelized onions, local mushrooms, gruyere, parmesan cheese, truffle oil and Magnolia cream cheese.
After the amuse-bouche, we had squash soup topped with Purefoods Honeycure Bacon, and served for the mains was Magnolia roasted chicken.
The chicken dish was prepared Saltimbocca style—stuffed with sage, parmesan, pecorino Romano and grana padano cheeses, and topped with Purefoods Honeycure Bacon.
For dessert, we had chocolate mousse and crème brulee sprinkled with Essenso Microground Coffee.
Our bellies bursting, we then rested at the Baguio Country Club, known for its breads and breakfast bacon buffet, which was all we talked about upon checking in.
The next day, we went on an art tour of Baguio. “Just recently, the city was declared a Unesco (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Creative City for its crafts and folk art. There is a very diverse range of talent here, from traditional artists to musicians, film makers and many more,” said Arcenas-Tan.
We went to the University of the Philippines Baguio’s Museo Kordilyera, which displayed artifacts unique to the cultures and societies of the Cordillera region.
On display until February 2019 is the “Feasts of Merit,” an exhibit on the political-cultural dynamics of Ifugao, Bontoc and Ibaloi societies on wealth and feasting.
We then went to BZA HomeArts Café, an arts and craft shop specializing in rhinestone art. At its café, we tried Baguio’s Best Strawberry Shortcake from Vizco’s, pairing it with Magnolia Ice Cream Kesong Puti.
Afterwards, we had lunch at Lemon and Olives, the first Greek-theme restaurant in Baguio. Apart from its excellent cuisine, the restaurant also has a breathtaking view of the mountains.
Try the souvlaki chicken with pita made from Magnolia Chicken Breasts, spicy, cheesy tirokauftero dip and savory spinach pie spanakopita.
For dessert, and also our final stop, we went to H.O.Y. (House of Yogurt) Lover. The place has excellent views of Baguio, a café and bed and breakfast all-in-one.
Try its homemade Yolo yogurt, available with different toppings. Must-try combo is the coarsely crushed La Pacita Graham cracker topping.
The shop also has an indoor vegetable and fruit market.