December 5, 2023
HOMEGROWN FOOD — Since the 1950s, Luisa’s Cafe in Baguio City has been serving residents and tourists with quality Chinese food with its signature special mami and siopao which recently piqued the curiosity of tourists during the Holy Week due to the YouTube video of travel blogger Erwan Heussaff who featured the restaurant. What makes the cafe’s mami special is its noodles, which was a traditional Chinese recipe passed to the cafe owners and are made by hand fresh everyday. — Ofelia Empian

Baguio City’s enduring homegrown establishment, Luisas’s Café along Session Road, served 50 bowls of special mami in one day during the Holy Week, owing to the viral post of food vlogger Erwan Heussaff who featured the restaurant in his YouTube channel.

Brenda Bongasngas, one of the waitresses assigned to the second floor of the establishment, said tourists started pouring in at the restaurant during the Holy Week break and asking for the meal that Heussaff ate.

“The tourists asked us: ‘What was the meal that Erwan Heusaff ate? Where did he sit down? Was he handsome?’ These questions were repeated when another group came to dine in,” Bongasngas said.

The Erwan Heusaff meal was Luisa’s Cafe special mami – made of lechon, pork stomach, beef, chicken, siomai, asado, vegetable and the restaurant’s signature fresh noodles – and siopao bola-bola made of ground pork.

With this, the restaurant served 50 bowls of the special mami on April 7 alone while the establishment had to close the second floor for an hour sometime in the night because they needed to dish out and rest before entertaining the endless batch of curious tourists. There were also tourists lining at the door just to get in and satisfy their curiosity.

She said, in between busing out dishes, they had their “penitence” during that week.

This was echoed by Bridgitte Badando, the other waitress who was with Bongasngas during the hectic and historic Holy Week.

Badando said this was the first time that a large number of people swarmed Luisa’s Cafe. 

“There was even a group of seven men who ordered one bowl of special mami each, not knowing that the serving was good for two. They were surprised to see the size of the bowl, but they were able to finish it off. It’s good they are guys,” Badando said with a laugh.

Because of the demand during that week, the restaurant decided to only serve a single serving of beef, chicken, wanton, siomai mami and not Luisa’s special mami (which had all the ingredients). 

Journalists who frequent their watering hole, which existed since the 1950s, mused that the Luisa’s special mami and bola-bola siopao might just as well be called the Erwann Heusaff meal, and would probably be known so in the days to come. 

This effect was reminiscent of the late food travel blogger chef Anthony Bourdain’s effect on the tourism of hole in the wall places around the world. It worked because Bourdain advocated for responsible tourism, meaning enjoying a country by going to where locals eat and drink and not only to places that are already heavily promoted through social media.

In this way, the economy of the locals – homegrown establishments often operated by families and locals – would be uplifted and not only of popular Franchise-restaurants or elite-owned dining places. 

The video titled “The Best of Baguio food with Erwan Heussaff” in YouTube channel Featr, gained 489,576 views and 9,900 likes since being posted on March 27. The video was praised by the Baguio locals for its well-researched content and for promoting Baguio’s local food.

The 23-minute video featured not only Luisa’s Cafe but also Good Taste Restaurant, The Farmer’s Daughter Restaurant, Mang Ed’s Bakareta, Ili-Likha Artists watering hole and the Katipunan Inn and Restaurant. 

It could only be hoped the people’s interest in homegrown restaurants such as Luisa’s Cafe through well-researched travel and food blogs would sustain these establishments’ existence for the coming generations to enjoy and eat Filipino comfort food, the Baguio way. – Ofelia C. Empian