Homage to a Favorite Cafe

Cafe by the Ruins in Baguio City never loses its charm on me. This is one cafe I will never think of divorcing from. Here one falls in love with local history and with the Northern region itself. The cafe is built in the ruins of the house of Phelps Whitmarsh, the first governor of Baguio. His wife was a local, an Ibaloi. She introduced flowering plants and strawberries, one product Baguio’s known for. The bougainvilleas that greet visitors adorned the family home in the past. Now it decorates the entrance to the cafe.

We also fall in love with the region. Its menu reflects the culture and the produce of the mountain region. Vegetables and fruits used are all fresh from the uplands. Its interiors pay tribute to local arts and artists. The pictures here display the works of the Simsim brothers.

It is just high time that we Filipinos begin to love our own. And here, you are not coerced to love the country God gave us; here, you just fall in love. It flows like the rivers that nourish the ingredients on your plate.

Take the kesong puti salad. With breaded carabao cottage cheese, on watercress and mountain ferns. The dressing is also from the uplands: sesame seeds, lemon juice, patis, and crushed black pepper.

Take the Tagalog sinigang cooked with a Northern twist. Boiled pork belly in tomatoes, sitaw and gabi. Its souring ingredient is the rattan fruit that is usually hawked on sidewalks and served with rock salt or a vinegar-soy sauce. It is deliriously sour.

Take my favorite: Cafe By the Ruin’s original lemon grass iced tea, sweetened with honey (though I usually forgo the honey. It is not good for a diabetic).

Sometimes I wish I were a Sibika at Kultura teacher in grade school. I will introduce culture through food. And why so? Because even faith is introduced and deepened by eating. The mass is a meal. The body and blood of Christ are food for our spirit. And the result is a community.

When I savor local fare, I feel very much Filipino. What we eat, individuates and shapes our lives. No wonder, my sister who lives in the US, would rather empty her bags of her clothes to make way for a bottled Bicol Express to bring to a foreign land.

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