By Gene Gonzalez
At one of our dinners, I had a discussion with Baguio residents John and Amparo Magallanes (artisanal cosmetic makers of Amparo’s Apothecary fame). The discussion centered around a push for local restaurateurs and chefs to discover and create a strong upland cuisine culture. For places like Baguio and Benguet, which are blessed with the climate, proximity, and recognition of its tribal culture, there is indeed a great potential for a cuisine of its own. The evolution and revolution of an emerging food culture is determined by a deep understanding of historical recipes which should preserve traditional cooking as the basis for the dynamism of an evolving culinary landscape.
One such restaurant brave enough to address this need to preserve and introduce traditional cooking is the family-owned resto now given the attention by many local tourists is “Farmer’s Daughter.” I like the idea of this group of very young siblings and cousins from the Cariño clan (principal landowners) that cheerily operate and serve such dishes from the Cordilleras. The atmosphere is very old style using kitchen and household implements as decor. One the messages well delivered is thewall mounted photos of old Mountain tribe people in traditional g-string and ethnic dress holding onto a laptop and an electronic pad.
The cooking is very straightforward and honest. What I like about this place despite its seemingly rustic feel is their ability to serve everything hot or in its proper temperature and without the long wait.
Our meal started with the watercress salad called tonyang. Their watercress is the fine leaf or young variety just slightly bigger than sprouts or miniature green. The sweetness of the leaves and very fine stems is balanced by the acidity of the vinegar dressing and the green and semi ripe tomato slices. One order was immediately consumed and we had to order another one.
The stir fried version of this tonyang or fine watercress was well balanced off by lightly ripening. Next was the pinikpikan or the Cordilleras’ answer to the lowland chicken tinola. The chicken, which is beaten with a bamboo stick before it is slaughtered, though cruel is parallel to medieval European of whipping pigs and cows to stimulate adrenal flow and produce more flavor. The broth of this “beaten” chicken together with itag or smoked jerky to intensify flavor with its fermented and formed amino acids for umami was indeed a delicious touch together with the very green and fresh spinach type of leaves floated on the hot soup. In fact, a huge portion of the menu is based on kinuday or the Cordillera term “smoked” whether it be chicken, pork, or beef. This acquired and prized flavor of wood smoke is ingrained in the food culture of the Cordilleras. A lot of the food mostly Ibaloi served by Farmer’s Daughter carries this pleasant, rustic tasting signature. Of course, this smoky flavor stems from the need to preserve surplus meat during periods that protein sources may be scarce due to typhoons or when farmed or hunted meat is difficult due to hard or harsh conditions.
We had kinuday jen baha, which are slivers of beef that has absorbed the sweet wood smoke and because partial fermentation occurs during this process the meat has an umami richness that is balanced off by a hearty mixing of golden light browned onions. The same is true with the other dishes like tatad or a mix of different preserved smoked meats with crisp cartilage and connective tissue.
During snack time or meryenda, the restaurant innovatively serves these smoked meats as wraps. One of the top dishes among what was served for lunch is pinuneg or smoked Ibaloi sausage. This was an eye opening dish for me when I visited the Cordillera section of the buffet in Madrid Fusion Manila 2017 but this dish served in this restaurant was an even better version because of the sweeter smokier nuances.
Another dish that has great texture and straightforward adobo flavors is pig snout braised to a light chewiness (I was fantasizing how good this would be with beancurd and turn it into a good tokwa’t baboy. Looking back at this sumptuous lunch, I recall all my Baguio friends who are already conscious of this Cordillera food surge.
The potentials are vast as very few restaurants capitalize on other Cordillera products such as the wide variety of rice, the berries or preserves that never or hardly reach the lowlands (such as dagwey and dikay), and rustic cooking and brewing methods.
In the meantime, I tip my toque to the young people that run Farmer’s Daughter and take pride in their cuisine and recipes that are being saved by the hard work of introducing to people theirheritage cuisine.
If you enjoy these selection drop me a note at email@example.com or follow my Instagram account @chefgenegonzalez
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