DOT goes cookin’ in the mountain

Chef Chavi Romawac at the Mountain Cookout in Abra

There’s somethin’ cookin’ in the Cordillera mountains, quite literally, as the Department of Tourism (DOT) recently completed its Mountain Cookout series as part of the development of new tourism packages in the highland provinces.

The simulation run toured the provinces of Abra, Kalinga, Benguet, Ifugao and Apayao at exciting under-the-radar outdoor kitchen destinations where the region’s culinary heritage was showcased.

“The Mountain Cookout highlights the Cordillera’s age-old indigenous culinary traditions [that are among] the country’s most exotic cuisines. It is part of the department’s National Tourism Recovery and Response Plan (TRRP), and is aligned with [Tourism] Secretary Christina Frasco’s thrust to strengthen food tourism, and develop new products and untapped destinations,” says DOT-Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) director Jovita Ganongan.

She noted that the cookout is a collaboration among Baguio-based trained chefs and community cooks so they can interact, share gourmet-style native recipes, and learn from each other in the process.

Chef Dyna Gonzales at Lussok Cave in Luna, Apayao

The culinary expedition kicked off last June at Rancho Daguio Campsite in Baay-Licuan, Abra; Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park in Balbalan, and The Ranch ATV Adventure in Kalinga in Tabuk City, both in Kalinga.

Chefs Chavi “Baguio Mountain Man” Romawac and Benz Dasalla of the University of Baguio teamed up with Abra’s Mark Banez, Tabuk’s Hazel and Gilbert Martinez, and the Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park community guides in whipping up great-tasting upland cuisine while savoring the allure of the natural settings.

The cookout showcased Abra’s kinamatisang sinarabsab nga oxtail, and Kalinga’s pinikpikan at pinuo-or nga native chicken sa coco-kalabasa, maskarapata ken bukel, nasukaang pulpog ti Tabuk, garlic sausages, and the signature binungor, and sticky dessert inandila.

Chef Benz Dasalla at Tayao Gardens in Atok, Benguet

The second leg rolled off in late July at Tayao Gardens in Atok, Benguet, which featured Benz Dasalla’s creations of ensalada masaflora highland vegetable salad with passion fruit vinaigrette for appetizer and roundlet pinikpikang halanghalang in coco-peanut bean sauce as entrée.

The road tour concluded in September at Apayao province, regarded as the Cordillera tourism frontier because of its distance from the rest of the region.

Chef Dyna Gonzales of Baguio’s Lihim ni Maria and home-grown restaurateur caterer Benjamin Castillo took center stage with their jazzed-up renditions of sinaing na tilapya sa gata, spicy caramelized kalabasa turon in coconut cream sauce, mix vegetables sauted in sagket native bagoong.

Not to be missed is the traditional sinursur, which is cooked in bamboo and uses a bamboo stick to smash all the ingredients of vegetable, fish, and others. The slow duration cooking on fire gives the dish a more delectable flavor, which may be absent in more modern cooking means.

Chef Benjie Castillo cooking Apayao’s Sinursur delicacy

Lussok Cave in Luna, the province’s top natural wonder which boasts of a subterranean river, provided a stunning location to the food excursion into the best-kept secret in northern Luzon.

Day 2 unfolded at the Bacut Lake Tourism Complex and Nature Park in the interior town of Sta. Marcela, where the two chefs teamed up once more to bring saba spicy sisig, pako salad in bugnay wine vinaigrette, sinigang sa santol, and rice coffee pudding.

Joining the circuit are tour operators who will put together customized culinary tours which may also cover elements of culture and adventure, as well as community immersion, to give participants a consummate experience of the Cordilleran way of life.

Mountain Cookout at the Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park in Kalinga