June 2, 2023

Indeed. Gastronomic adventures are what many people come to Baguio City for because within a distance of five square kilometers anyone could have a variety of restaurants to sample international and local cuisine.

Mangan Taku! The Cordillera food festival inspired by the Department of Tourism was one experience at the Burnham Park’s Rose Garden prior to the Covid-19 pandemic which brought regional food to dozens of stalls. This was simplified this year with virtual and limited physical exposure that culminated in a small fair at the SM City Baguio atrium.

Here are some of the exciting eats that one sampled.

Rabbit pao by Tam Tam Café caught my eye. I was brought back to my Tinoc, Ifugao adventures of old where I sampled rabbit dinuguan with my good friend Brenda Palispis. I remembered how delicious the tender meat was and wondered about this novel snack. It did not disappoint me. The meat was ground finely and cooked ala adobo style because it was dark and flaky. Of course, unlike the popular asado and bola-bola siopaos with saucy fillings, this is dry and flaky. It would be like the Chinese pork floss but darker and less sweet. Unless one is told that it is rabbit, there is no distinct taste to the meat. There are other rabbit dishes to try at this Cordillera restaurant.

I was most impressed by the kiniing-watercress salad at Eats Johnny. I wondered if the refreshing taste of watercress would dominate the salad like that of Café by the Ruins gado-gado salad. I had no notion of how it would look and what dressing would match kiniing, the smoked pork. I was delighted when I saw the bowl of watercress greens with heart shaped slices red sweet strawberries and the flakes of fried smoked pork. It was a colorful bowl of food. When I tasted the sweet – sour vinaigrette dressing mixed with the flavors of vegetable, fruit, and meat, it was more than I expected. I should have taken time to ask the blend in the dressing, perhaps next time. It is wonderful to have fresh strawberries available all year round in these parts now, thanks to the greenhouse technology.

The strawberry-kiniing sushi of Le Cusina Den was so pretty to pass. I wondered how this could measure up to the Korean and Japanese counterparts. When I peeped into the chafing trays, I saw different ways that the strawberry was sliced. What impressed me most was the outer layer of the strawberry with the inner core scraped off because this was what wrapped the sushi. According to the lady who explained the preparation, the inner filling was made of boiled sweet potato and kiniing. Those who know how to make sushi with the seaweed wrapper inside and the rice outside will understand the process of having white sushi with the strawberry wrap. If this was salmon sushi, a fine slice of salmon would take the place of the fruit skin. With soy and wasabi to dip it in, it was a different experience. The chewy rice used and the chewy sweet potato with the slivers of kiniing, a burst of sweetness from the strawberry, the salty soy sauce and the shot of wasabi are truly texturing to enjoy. Not to forget the seaweed that adds to the chewiness of the whole munch. Something different.

Green Pepper Dos had kiniing inapoy binungen as a version of a larger sushi or burrito if you might add.  This came in a long black roll of seaweed wrapper on the outside and the same principle of wrapping the inner mix of carrot strings, cucumber, and peppers with kiniing strips inside red rice. The whole piece could be eaten like a shawarma of sorts or sliced like the Korean kimbap. The flavor of the smoked meat is dominant in this fusion food.

Okoy, the all-time favorite fried vegetable fritter with a mix of carrots, squash, sweet potato, and camote leaves (I may be wrong with this blend of vegetables, my bad) was different courtesy of Bistro Lokal. The fritter is dipped in a special vinegar mix with onions, garlic, and green chili peppers for more flavor. But my hat is tipped off to Chef Miko Dy who finds eco-friendly things to go with his fare. This okoy was placed in small bamboo boats that are both pretty and biodegradable. He has edible straws too when you drink any of his juices and teas. Chef Miko won this year’s edition of Mangan Taku with his tinapuey risoto.

This coffee addict chose Café Yagam for the drink to go with all the nibbled goodies. The blend recommended was the Arabica from Tuba and Tublay, Benguet. These coffee beans are grown in different Benguet towns and have won in some coffee bean competitions here and abroad. There is distinction in the flavor of the coffee if you ask me. It has an earthy after taste that is slightly bitter. Not a common strong bitter taste that is found in most blends. I never noticed this side of this beverage. I guess, the real way to judge the coffee is the after taste.

I would have wanted to sample all the Cordillera fusion foods, but this vain persona is delighted with the samples had that these restaurants are serving. There are more of these to enjoy and a visit to their cozy nooks should be in our agenda while we have our city to ourselves at the moment. Happy Mother’s Day! Mangan taku, sidi. Let’s eat.