March 2, 2024

You aren’t from Baguio unless you remember the taste of Mother’s fried pork chop, chicken quarter leg or t-bone steak and the sticky rice. Better yet, when a Mother’s Restaurant opens, you must have your fix of the food that drew so many people to Military Cut-Off rotunda, DBP third floor or to Rimando Road in the 70s and ‘80s. Mother was Crescencia Garcia who started cooking pork chops and chicken quarter legs in a garage outside the old gate of Camp John Hay in the late ‘60s. She fed the taxi drivers in a simple long table with benches in what they used to call John Hoy. In Baguio City, the cheapest and best eating spaces are those frequented by taxi drivers, this we learned during our college days. At that time, you brought your plate up to the serving counter where a cup of sticky white rice is placed and the oil where the pork chop was fried is slathered on the rice with the pork chop or the oil with the fried chicken. This greasy meal with a little soy sauce and a chili vinegar dip was a delicious memory. In those days, that meal was worth P10 which our college budgets could afford at least thrice a week. The t-bone steak and the gravy were heaven, tender, and greasy too over the sticky rice. By the80s, the lines grew longer when she moved to the lot behind the Domondon house. One could watch how the meat was fried in large vats and served straight to your plate. Then the spartan set up of tables and benches were shared by all who came for the hearty meal and left happily fed. When Mother began to slaughter her own pigs because of the growing demand for her meals, the dinuguan or chocolate meat and igado a mix of pork innards and liver were included. It seemed like everything she prepared became instant favorites.
In my early business attempts with her, she taught me that pigs with long ears that cover their head have a thinner layer of fat. This was her quality control of the pork chops that she served.
After Mother died in 1996, her children took over the business on their own in the different branches to include one that opened in La Trinidad, Benguet, too. But they disappeared slowly until 2010.
Today, Mila Garcia-Costales, 72, one of the five surviving children from Mother’s 10 children opened a new branch at Cabinet Hill. The talk about a Mother’s Restaurant spread among the “Mother’s babies”. Mila says they are the children who grew up with Mother’s meals. Since she opened at 11 Cabinet Hill on Sept. 18, 2019, a steady stream of people fill-up her garage eatery fit for 20. She opens at 7 a.m. for breakfast and closes at 7 p.m. when the cooked food runs out.
“A lifetime passion for cooking” is what drives Mila to continue the Mother’s tradition of homestyle cooked food. She said that she watched and helped her mother at the kitchen and in the restaurant. Mother passed on the recipes and techniques in keeping the food delicious every day. After her family members left for abroad, the widow found time to reopen her eatery. Mila says that each day of the week will have different menus because her regular lunch customers are wont to look for different budget meals. She makes her own bagnet (crispy fried pork slabs), her own recipe for pakbet (sautéed lowland vegetables in shrimp paste), crispy dinuguan, Bicol express, barbecue, meat balls, dinakdakan (boiled pork cheek and ears with citrus dressing), mongo beans, and other Filipino favorites.
She has also found a standard for her meat portions through weight. She says her quarter chicken legs must weigh 300 grams from her supplier, this way she doesn’t reject the deliveries. Her secret is the timing in the flipping of the beef, the frying of the chicken twice, and the marinade of the pork.
We had to try the old favorites like fried chicken, pork chop and laing (taro stalks in coconut milk) to refresh the old memories of Mother’s. When asked, a customer said the food brings back fond memories and tastes like it used to. Another customer said it is even better. I say except for the greasy chicken oil and pork chop oil generously poured with the cooking spoon from the vat on the sticky cup of rice, my palate memory is refreshed. But I must return again to try the beef and the chicken and the pork again and again.