July 21, 2024

Nonnette C. Bennett
Siyam is nine, the counting number, in Filipino. “Siyam, siyam” is a saying that means it is “taking too long” or a long delay. On the other hand, it could also mean, “in nines”. At this hole in the wall kind of eating joint called Pet’s Bulaluhan, the line seldom vanishes at any time of the day. This was the nth attempt to try the legendary food that people can’t get enough of.
Foolish enough to search for Cordillera food fare in different parts of Baguio served in regular restaurants, it never occurred to me that the best place was right under my nose. It is not the cuisine that makes something Cordillera, it is the manner by which it is cooked that makes a dish from these mountains. Actually, it is either boiled or grilled and dipped in soy sauce withcrushed chili peppers. I recall how Minda’s Eatery owners in Slaughterhouse compound described the Cordilleran as carnivorous and hardly seeks vegetables. At Pet’s, wombok and onion leeks come in slivers just enough to give the food a little crunch and a brief palate cleaning while chewing on the meat.
Our choices for the day were bulalo, pinapaitan, silet and liver, and sungo. As my eating partner, Michael, describes as “dangerous food” for arthritis and gout, we cheated on our “healthy” diets for lunch and just dug in.
The beef bone soup or bulalo will miss the bones but not the meat that clings to the bones. The best loved broth from bones boiled for hours in a large cauldron will not be missed. It’s warm comfort on these rainy days with just leeks to garnish and flavor, this popular soup doesn’t disappoint even on a laborers budget. The rice portion is enough to fill and there’s free extra soup if you want more. I failed to say, your arteries will not get clogged, promise.
We reserved tummy space for bile soup called pinapaitan, too. This is actually a gauge in my palate for authentic beef tripe and innards patiently stewed to tenderness with bile and a sour twist of calamansi or vinegar to subdue the musky odor of the meat to call this soup delicious and the restaurant worth the curious gastronomic stop. (Are you out of breath?) My compliments to the cook once more for this comfort food on a cold afternoon. I tip my hat off to the managers who put some class into the ordinary man’s table when they served their soups in black Japanese earthenware. In all practicality, it has a lid that doubles as a tray for the bowl of piping hot soup and doesn’t break as easily as the regular ceramic bowls. Thanks again to them, they didn’t treat me as cheap with plasticware.
Silet is a generic term for intestines. In the boondocks, it is pork intestines. Liver is seldom paired with silet except for here. My memories of Bontoc, Mountain Province come to life when I see the term because I tasted the best so far at a restaurant there. So, my standard is well cleaned tender fried intestines and the gritty bitter flavor and texture of liver stir fried together. Delighted with what I tasted and saw served in a sizzling plate, I know now where to satisfy my craving for werewolf diet – blood, intestines and liver. The salty bitter flavors with garlic, onions and some wombok sizzling as served, who could expect more!
I wanted to sample all my rustic food favorites in one go and had to have sungo or pork snout. I imagined it to be served like a restaurant we used to call “Cambodia” in the market, boiled and served on a chopping board with chili peppers, soy sauce and calamansi on the side. Pet’s took their pork snout a step further -sliced it in narrow strips, stir fried it with wombok, onions, garlic, and leeks then served it on a hot plate with a raw egg topping. Yes, like sisig or finely chopped boiled pork cheek and ear sauteed with garlic and onions and topped with a raw egg on a hot plate. The only difference is the part of the pig used in sungo. What a ransom to finish the meal with a cold bottle of beer.
I felt like I ate my portion of earth’s bounty for five meals in less than one hour. But this was bliss and gluttony to remind me that life is delicious. How we wished we could have enjoyed the languor after a good meal but no. We pitied the next guys who hungrily stood it out in the line to fill the two seats we would vacate out of the nine. I will happily wait again for another time to sit in one of the nine benches here.