Baguio as melting pot of flavors

Maria Elena Catajan

THERE was a time when Cordilleran cuisine was unheard of in mainstream restaurants, saying the food selection of the highlands was too bland and gory to highlight with the staple pinikpikan and blood sausages not appetizing.

Today, the Summer Capital has become a food haven of sorts from the fusion of Cordilleran provinces which champions a gastronomic experience like no other, with flavors of Apayao, Ifugao, the Mountain Province, Benguet and Kalinga coming together to from the makings of a unique cuisine.

Department of Tourism regional director Venus Tan has spearheaded efforts to put the Cordilleran cuisine into the limelight.

“These are exciting times for Cordillera Gastronomy. Still in its experimental stages vis à vis other regional cuisine who have gone far in their acceptance both here and abroad. We nonetheless are confident that the next trendy cuisine will be Cordilleran,” said Tan.

Tan added the Baguio is gaining ground on putting premium to Cordillera cuisine.

“Efforts are paying off slowly a noticeable appreciation of traditional cuisine and traditional ingredients like the pinikpikan and the etag have gained acceptance by local chefs, gourmet magazines and gastronomy enthusiasts,” Tan continued. “All these as a result of DOT CAR's initiative to bring top restaurant chefs from Manila and Baguio to study and experience firsthand how traditional dishes are prepared and cooked directly in the areas where these dishes originated.”

Tan said the next step to bring all these chefs back and do hands on interactive demonstration cooking of techniques and presentations of stylized dishes without totally deviating from the traditional integrity of Cordillera cuisine.

For the academe, University of the Cordilleras took on the challenge to infuse local cuisine into the mainstream packaged in the Locavore Loca festival which is tagged to be a journey to the flavors of the region dubbed “Taste your way around the Cordilleras.”

A locavore is a person whose diet consists only or principally of locally grown or produced food. The school event was inspired by community markets which goes beyond the usual weekend market favorites, featuring casual snacks to heirloom recipes.

The UC CHTM Locavore Loca Festival has engaged students to learn and apply what are the tools required in running such event like the basic planning, organizing and managing.

“The students were challenged with the dishes, not veering away from tradition, they were able to innovate, introducing now a new gastronomic panorama of what the Cordillera has to offer,” Professor Charlene Macalalag said.

During the festival food ranged from braised beef shanks with pinuneg, finished in savory chocolate sauce, kiniing pork braised with peppered strawberry reduction over dirty mashed potatoes, a confit of pinikpikan with tomato fondue over pandesal crostini, sinursur-style river tilapia with a kamote fritter and kiniing pork marinated tomatoes.

Dean Laarni Andam of the University of the Cordilleras College of Hospitality And Tourism Management said the local cuisine is a manifestation of the preservation of culture.

Andam said local cuisine needs no enhancement but what the industry can do is to take inspiration from the cooking methods, ingredients and flavors to create a dish which will be in homage to the native dishes.
The UC - CHTM plans to hold the locavore local annually.