December 4, 2022

I can only travel to my favorite places these days through table fare. We had a lauriat Pinoy style last Monday when we sat to eat early lunch that brought us to seven provinces while sitting.
It must have been luck that brought our feet to Kanyaw Café and Restaurant near Lourdes Grotto when the first plan went bad because the restaurant we planned to sample was closed for the day. But it was a happy surprise to find a menu of eight items and we decided to try seven. The thing is, ever since this page was designed and planned, the idea is to promote local fare. I have broken some of the rules by eating in franchises but my nose is still out to sniff out the local cuisine that should be patronized. So, mangan! (let’s eat!)
Mangan tamo!, say the Kapampangans with the sisig that is a sizzling pork dish on a hot plate. The regular parts of the pork used in the plate are supposed to be the cheek and the ears. This one however, was a mysterious tender and creamy edition of the lowland fare meant to be perfect with icy bottles of beer with a lot of laughter and braggadocios.
Let me guess, apart from the raw egg that is mixed with the meat while it sizzles, there is some mayonnaise to substitute the pork brain that is scarce these days. If you know how true blue dinakdakan is creamy because of the pork brain, this is so close to it. Yes, it would be grand to have some malt with this more than red rice.
The former stomping grounds, Dagupan’s pigar-pigar is a classic. Eating this after rounds of beer used to be a night cap to balance the alcohol. Along the market alleys there, this kind of fare can only be had towards midnight. To have it in the morning in Baguio is something else. Truly something else because the chewy and gummy beef strips with cabbage, onions and green onions in the lowlands was the tender and prime strips of beef here. Of course, I would rather have the meat tender minus all the ligaments and tough trimmings. The cabbage is like a tongue cleaner because the texture is different and unusual after the chewy slivers of meat. This serving is perfect with one cup of red rice.
Sinanglaw is reminiscent of a trip to Abra at the crossroads of Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. I remarked that it was the local version of callos minus the tomato sauce. The innards of the beef were tender, and the tendons melt in your mouth. This stew is supposed to be an antidote to a hangover in those Ilocos areas minus the bile. This version should be tested too.
Bulalo is beef bone soup. This soup is not the real thing if you don’t get a piece of the bone with marrow at the center or a sinewy knee or knuckle with the ligaments falling off the bone. Perfect with green onions, sweet corn, and some cabbage this is full energy restored. This alone with a cup of rice is a complete meal. The fat has been reduced, so the cholesterol must have been scooped off because there is a clear soup that is nice to slurp on a cold day.
Beef pares is another lowland invention. This is similar to the Korean galbi that is sweet and salty. This dish is a Chinese-influenced with the star anise as a dominant spice that flavors the oyster sauce that is used to stew the meat in. Delicious and tender meat sprinkled with sesame seeds is for those who like their food on the sweet side. The thick gravy over tender red rice should keep you satisfied until the next meal.
Now, we begin our ascent to the mountains of the Cordillera. Kini-ing is pork meat, usually the belly, that is smoked and dried over a hearth or placed in a local smoke house or oven as one would call it. Over the hearth takes months before it is sufficiently smoked but in these local smoke ovens, it may just take a week or less. I am guessing or imagining my good friend’s kini-ing maker in Kapangan, Benguet that was designed from a drum with shelves for several slabs of meat and fired with guava wood or local wood and the meat allowed to slowly shrink and absorb the smokey flavor. The meat when cooked with the chicken in pinikpikan gives the broth a rich burnt flavor.
To have kini-ing nicely sauteed with green onions and caramelized white onions is any meat-lover’s kind of food.
I think my pleasant surprise at this restaurant is the way the Chef Ralph Catajan caramelizes the onions. We do not appreciate the sweetness of onions and to have them even sweeter when they are patiently cooked a little longer is such a natural flavor to the rich burnt flavor of this preserved meat. Only in the Benguet towns are these easy to find in these parts.
The best is the last, mix-mix, is a plate of pork liver, pork intestines, and chicken gizzards in one. Oh, mygout! This is still the best version of silet and liver that I have tasted. In the native style, we get it as greasy and as chewy as it gets. This has a nice tenderness to the pork intestine and the liver with a kind of sauce that one must figure out. The green onions is something that makes this a little more aromatic. I was back in Bontoc, Mountain Province again and the memories of those years looking over the vehicles passing below.
To coffee addicts, the coffee that blends Benguet beans and barako must be tried in the coffee press. A fitting wash for the rich food that gives anyone a taste of signature cuisine from parts of northern Philippines, an order of coffee will serve three happily.
Thanks to Nylene Pacio for the space to laugh and sample the good food. I must return for the mami that I missed out on. I must return when Kanyaw turns one in July.

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