Episode 20: Memories of Baguio (Part 3) – Of reunions, soul food, and high heels

…or should I say, “Thou shalt not make a woman walk around Session Road while on her high heels.” But that’s too long.
I met up with an old friend from college during one of my trips to Baguio. It’s been God knows how many years since we last got together, so when she agreed to meet up with me at Session Road, I was naturally excited to see her again, and how.
So there she was, sitting near a table by the window at Ionic Cafe one chilly Sunday afternoon… Okay, I better move on before this turns into a cheesefest.

Jad is one of the most sensible friends I’ve met in college. Hard-headed, serious and whimsical at the same time, she’s also simple and down to earth. She’s someone you can confide to or talk with about anything under the sun. She’s open-minded and tolerable of others, but if you get to her bad side she’ll whack you with everything and the kitchen sink. (I guess, I never tried.)  In spite of her quirks, she is one of the few people I look up to and respect.

After hanging out for some time at Ionic Cafe, we walked around Session Road and Burnham Park, just enjoying the scenery. Much of the time she had to hang on to my arm. Yup, she’s wearing high heels – I never bothered to asked how high, but yeah.

Jad updated me on several things about Baguio. For example, UP Baguio is now encased in walls. Most of the buildings there have changed. a few of the people from the Guidance Office (where we worked as Peer Facilitators) are still there, although one of our guidance counselors has left. Some of the so-called couples among the Peer Facilitators have split.

Baguio itself hasn’t changed much though. The volume of people (especially Koreans) has increased and new establishments have sprouted up through the years, but thankfully things are looking up.

Burnham Park barely changed through the years, she said. The skating rink is now covered. There are more boats plying at Burnham Lake. The park’s cleaner than before. The football field has been rehabilitated; it’s no longer muddy and rocky, and football players can now practice there.

Next thing we knew, we were on our way to Cafe By The Ruins.

Cafe By The Ruins is one of Baguio’s most unique restaurants. The cafe stands on the ruins of the house of Phelps Whitmarsh, the first governor of Benguet. Bamboo walls, wooden planks and poles complement what’s left of the old house. The soft lights and music enhances the cafe’s homey, relaxing feel. One can savor Baguio’s clean, crisp air amidst the hanging plants, trees and vines. The place offers a great view of the city.

The cafe serves a variety of Filipino, Asian Fusion, and vegetarian dishes. The food is home-cooked and made from local organic produce and other fresh ingredients, a homage to traditional cuisine and a reflection of the Cordilleran’s penchant for healthy food.

Cafe By The Ruins is a sanctuary for Baguio’s artists. Artworks and turn of the century items showcase the cafe’s vibrant and artistic environment. The cafe is also a popular meeting place, the venue of many canaos (native rituals to appease the gods), poetry readings, art exhibits and dance performances. All in all, Cafe By The Ruins is a place to feed the body, the heart, and the soul.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t remember much of Cafe By The Ruins, probably because I don’t visit the place frequently when I still lived in Baguio. I do remember drinking tapuy (native rice wine) there once in a while. And then this was where I joined my first poetry reading, a Valentine’s Day event, back in college.
Anyway, snacktime.

Cafe By The Ruins is offering strawberry-based dishes for a limited time, one of which is the Strawberries with Chocolate Fondue. The chocolate dip’s not so sweet, but the strawberries are.

Also on the table is Olenick’s Open Face Tuna Sandwich. It is said that National Artist Nick Joaquin himself scribbled the following recipe: “Butter the bread, spread flaked tuna evenly over the buttered surface, dip in beaten egg, and fry in MORE butter.” Imagine your open face tuna sandwich in all its crisp, flaky, buttery goodness. (Bonus points for the mustard.)

The snacks we washed down with  civet cat coffee (also known as kape motit) and Moroccan mint tea. Now, this is the first time I tasted civet cat coffee, and I realized this is way unlike your usual brewed coffee. Even when drunk on its own, it’s warm and flavorful, it smells like hazelnuts, it has a mild aftertaste and it doesn’t give you that strong, palpitation-causing kick you get from kapeng barako. The mint tea I will try some other time.

Jad is now a lawyer, although she insists she became one “by virtue of force majeure”. She’s usually busy handling her cases and it looks like she’s doing well. And she has no plans to enter politics, or so she says. (Her dad’s a politician.)

She changed quite much from the past years. Not only did she grow her hair long, she also developed her love for fashion. And yeah, high heels. She still loves her old music, poetry, and thinking of stuff that make people pull their hair in frustration (like keeping your sanity).

Among the things I treasure in Baguio are the relationships I built over the years. Many of my friends are born there; some are from other parts of the Cordilleras, while others are lowlanders like me. Despite our differences in background and mentality, my friends there were the best I’ve ever had.

Now I’m based here again in Metro Manila, and most of my friends are gone. Some are already staying overseas, others are somewhere around the country, while some are probably nearby though I don’t know how to get to them (except through Facebook).

Going back to Baguio reminded me to look back at all of the ties I’ve made and kept there. My friends were there for me in both good and bad times. Thanks to them I learned how to appreciate my life, things both mundane and profound, solitude, and the occasional company of others.

I regret that I haven’t done much for my friends, and I’m not good at showing appreciation. Still, suffice it to say that my prayers are always with them. Then again, it would be nice if I could see them all again and catch up with old times.

I love my friends. You too, Jad.


Up next: Poetry, coffee cat blues and film noir fantasies.


Cafe By The Ruins

23 Chuntug Street
Baguio City
Email: cafebytheruins@gmail.com

Phone: (+6374) 4424010


Aikyatchi: Chefs on Parade 2011!

The Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines (HRAP) brings back Chefs on Parade, the Philippines’ most prestigious and much awaited culinary competition.

Chefs on Parade is an annual event featuring the country’s most avid culinary enthusiasts. First launched in 1974, it showcases creative skills and talents of globally competitive professionals and students as well as to showcase equally global products and services of the Hotel and Restaurant Industry in the Philippines.

Chefs on Parade 2011’s theme is “ULTIMATE ASIAN SHOWDOWN.” One of the major highlights of the event is the Asian Market Basket Competition, a showdown of chefs from other Asian countries featuring Asian Cuisine.

There will also be several cooking demonstrations, the launch of a coffee table book featuring the history of Chefs on Parade, and free workshops on topics such as cake decorating, wine appreciation, and food writing.

Other highlights will be the presentation of the Larry J. Cruz Culinary Award to an individual who has made a great contribution to the food industry, and an ASEAN-Filipino Culinary Journey featuring historical cuisine and savory dishes from the Southeast Asian countries.

The three-day event will be held at the SMX Convention Center on February 10-12, 2011. Non-HRAP members and the public may visit the site with a minimal entrance fee of P150 for day pass and P300 for season pass. Students and HRAP members are given discounts. Advertisers are also welcome..

Here are the schedules of the workshops and competitions:

For inquiries, you may contact:


RM 4016 Golden Rock Bldg.
168 Salcedo St. Legaspi Village
Makati City, 1229 Philippines

Tel: (632) 816.2421
Fax: (632) 816.2419

Episode 20: Memories of Baguio (Part 2) – The Legend of Jack’s Rice


Once upon a time, there was a businessman named Jack who would have his lunch at his restaurant in La Trinidad, Benguet. His meal consists of chicken, chopsuey, lechon, egg, and rice. All of these are served in individual plates paraded to his table.
One day (in 1965, so the story says), Jack decided he’s had enough of seeing so many plates on his table. Being a practical man, he suggested to his chef, Cook Baruga, to arrange all of the viands into one plate. This, he said, would save preparation time and lessen the plates to be washed. Since then, Jack’s meal would be served in this manner.
Some time later, a customer saw Jack’s personalized meal and insisted that he be served the same thing. The customer was served what he found to be a complete and hearty meal.
And so it came to pass that Jack’s meal would be known as an innovation and a hit among patrons in the Cordillera Region. Thus, “Jack’s Rice” was born.
“Jack’s Rice” is the trademark meal of Jack’s Restaurant, owned by Igorot businessman Jack Dulnuan. This meal catapulted Dulnuan’s name in the Cordillera Region’s restaurant industry.
Jack’s Restaurant started as a sari-sari store in La Trinidad, which expanded into a bakery, and then into what it is today.
Dulnuan himself has a simple story. He started his business using his P1,000 savings, which he earned from working as a houseboy and delivery boy in Baguio. Soon he built his own farms (which supplies the vegetables and meat for his restaurants), a repair shop, and a vocational and technical school. A few years ago he acquired the rights to a Cordillera-based bus company, whose company shares he opened to the public.
Dulnuan follows a few but very sound business tips – live simply, learn to save and avoid unnecessary spending. Hard work, perseverance, and practicality helped Dulnuan expand his ventures. Thanks to Dulnuan’s sound business sense, “Jack’s Rice” is now a household name and his legacy to Igorots everywhere.
My family and I had dinner at Jack’s Restaurant at Session Road during a recent visit to Baguio. Back then, the largest Jack’s Restaurant branch was in a building in La Trinidad; now there’s a similar one (albeit smaller) at the center of Baguio, and a few others around the city.
Jack’s Restaurant’s menu hasn’t changed much over the years. The restaurant still targets families and big groups, and so do their dishes, some of which have medium and large sizes. The single-serving meals are the same as before, still big enough to fill big appetites (extra rice is optional :P).
The famous “Jack’s Rice” remains the top-grosser of what the restaurant calls “Jack’s Highland Toppings.” In college I was addicted to the Cordilleran lechon, lightly fried pork bursting with fat and topped with a thin, crispy layer of skin. This is not quite like lechon kawali (pan-fried lechon slices), it’s juicier and not as oily. Add to this the roasted chicken, the fried egg, and the freshly cooked chopsuey and you have a complete, filling meal.
One of the newest favorites here is the Lechon Pechay, lechon slices with sauteed pechay. The pechay retains its fresh taste, while the lechon stays juicy and crispy even while swimming in the thick vegetable broth.
I don’t remember having any of these crispy noodles before, but my sister says this is one of the better-tasting stuff in Jack’s Restaurant. True enough, the crispy noodles are, well, crispy, but they’re also tasty. The vegetables on top are fresh as well, and the chopsuey broth adds to the flavor without making the noodles soggy.
One of my favorite meals in college was “Jack’s Rice”. Back then, one serving would cost P50 each (P50? P55? P60? The price went up through the years). Of course, “Jack’s Rice” is a complete meal in its own, with all of my favorite meat dishes in one plate. For a budget conscious student like me, Jack’s Rice for lunch/dinner was a blessing.

When I started working as a provincial beat reporter, I usually go to La Trinidad. I end up eating at the Jack’s Restaurant branch there whenever I’m nearby. Sometimes, my colleagues and I would meet there before going to an event out of town. I even notice some local personalities dining there with their families. That’s because the place is welcoming and homey in it, and it looks like a relaxing place for people to gather. (Bonus points for the coutryside feel and the music.)

I tend to think about how my life in Baguio turned out. I started living in Baguio on my own, albeit with some support from my family back in Metro Manila. Walking to and from school, saving up and stretching the budget, studying and following a strict schedule were some of the things I learned to appreciate.

Among the things I learned is that I was somehow able to adapt to Cordilleran culture (or at least some of it). Sure, I was unable to speak the local dialect, though in my years in college I had the chance to learn about a culture that’s not my own (UP Baguio is a melting pot of cultures, after all). I gained friends from the local community and other places, and then some.

I’ve learned that Igorots are hardworking and strong-willed people. They lead simple lives. They hold their families in high regard, and make time for them despite their busy schedules. They care for their friends. They are peaceul but brave at the same time,  and they stand for their beliefs and rights. They have a high respect for their culture and the environment.

Most of all, I learned that Igorots deeply value the good things in life. They celebrate life’s occasions in the liveliest ways possible. They find great pleasure in the weather, music (which explains the popularity of country music), food (and wine), family and good company, and just appreciating everything around them.

Dining at Jack’s Restaurant reminds me to appreciate the good things in life. I mean, it’s nice to have a good meal that’s within my means, with every single one of my favorite viands on the plate. And by extension, living in Baguio and enjoying life in all its simplicity is something to be greatly thankful for.


Up next: Reuniting with a long-lost friend… and revisiting an old and famous hang-out place.


Jack’s Restaurant (Baguio Branch)

#102 Manahan Bldg.,
Session Road, Baguio City
Telephone Number: (074) 4449888

Episode 20: Memories of Baguio (Part 1) – Remembering the old days at 50’s Diner!

Among my favorite restaurants in Baguio was 50’s Diner. For me, it was one of the places where I could hang out after school or work, despite being far from home or Session Road.

Visiting 50’s Diner was part of my life in Baguio. It helps that the place was a relaxing place to be in, and that they served (what I consider back then as) some of the biggest and best burgers in town.

This place was one of the places I missed terribly when I left Baguio. I did make it a point to dine there again when I got back. But when I got a chance to see it again, well… Much has changed.

50’s Diner is a retro-style diner, complete with oldies music, waitresses on rollerblades, a jukebox, ’50s style movie posters, and one of those old soda fountains. The restaurant incorporates American fastfood cuisine with the charm of the ’50s.

The diner brings to mind scenes in Hollywood movies where you walk into a restaurant in your leather jacket and jeans, order a milkshake or a burger with fries, and listen to rock-and-roll music while hanging out with your gang. I’m an 80’s person but I can’t help but feel nostalgia in places like these.


50’s Diner is smaller now, but it somehow retained its old ambience. The old movie posters are still on its walls. The pictures of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Elvis Presley, and other icons from that decade still adorn the restaurant. The jukebox still had a dedicated corner. 50’s music still plays regularly. The bar was visibly smaller and not as eye-catching as it was before, but the old vibe was still there.

My siblings and I (along with my sister’s family) had our first night-out for the new year at 50’s Diner. It’s been a long time since we last had dinner together, and this would (probably) be the first time we visited that place after a long time.

The place was jam-packed with visitors when we got there. Thankfully, we only had to wait for just a few minutes to be seated. The service is fast and friendly as well.
The menu hasn’t changed much; the burgers and other sandwiches were there; the spaghetti and milkshakes were there; the set meals and steaks were there; the ice cream and desserts that I remember as there too. The food is affordable and worth every centavo, and your order gets out fast.

The Pizza Burger was my favorite at 50’s Diner back then, and it still is now. The burger’s bigger than it looks like. The fries are not too salty but tasty and crispy. The patty is not as juicy as it was before, though. It’s still filling and heavy on the belly; a few bites and you’re sated.

My sister and my nieces ordered the Mamma’s Kid, a set meal with fried chicken with rice, egg, fries, pasta, and potato salad. Carbo loading much? It’s a kid’s meal, but it’s heavy enough for the little ones.

My brother ordered the Gangsta-Gangsta, a marvelously heavy and appetizing meal with fried chicken, grilled porkchop, chicken rolls, egg, vegetables in oyster sauce, and rice. Good choice.

My brother-in-law’s meal was the Swimmers, basically a seafood platter on oyster sauce with rice. Basic as it looks like, it’s light but surprisingly flavorful.

Who could forget the millkshakes? (By the way, I noticed that they serve cocktails now; I remember that they served beer, but not cocktails. And yeah, we didn’t get ice cream. Next time, next time.)

One of my biggest challenges as a newcomer in the City of Pines was eating out. I was unfamiliar with the city’s food spots,and I didn’t have the budget to eat out anyway. When I do go out, I had to travel far just to find that filling, affordable meal.

Back in college, eating at 50’s Diner was equivalent to splurging. A meal would cost me P80 or more, and my allowance isn’t that big. So when I finish an important assignment in school, I look forward to treating myself there. (Otherwise, I would just go there to drink beer. Works the same.)

(FYI, the price range here is actually around P65-230 per person.)

I got a job soon after, so it was easier to spend on dining out. I continued visiting 50’s Diner, this time with media colleagues and friends. Sometimes I would have dates there. Most of the time, I was alone.

Occasionally, my co-teachers (I worked in a Korean school) and I would dine and hang out at the diner’s second floor (the old 50’s Diner had one). That area had a billiards table and dartboards, and it was made for bigger crowds.

There was a time when, after joining a police raid or two around the city, my colleagues would end the night at 50’s Diner with a bowl of arroz caldo and coffee. Oh wait – that was about the same time “50’s Diner” was renamed “My Diner”, though I can’t remember why its name changed for a while. That’s why the place served arroz caldo. (I forgot to check if the present menu still had that.)

Eating at 50’s Diner may be expensive, but I have good memories just from hanging out there. It was easy  to find pleasure in dining in a place that’s friendly, comfortable, and relaxing; not to mention something that reminds one of good things from the past. I didn’t mind eating my sandwich or sipping my coffee by myself; going to 50’s Diner was fine as long as I could spend some quiet time. (Bonus points if you’re a fan of oldies music.)

For me, 50’s Diner was equivalent to splurging on luxurious stuff. At the same time, it is a reminder of the simple things in life worth aspiring for, things that make me happy… such as food.

Speaking of food, here’s a thought: It’s not unusual for Baguio to have a place dedicated to American cuisine. Baguio was established in 1901 as an American vacation spot, after all. And it’s not unusual for our colonizers to shove their burgers and milkshakes into our throats (in a good way).

But Baguio is also a land of inspiration, so to speak, and the same could be said when it comes to cuisine. And what way to tinker with Filipino cuisine but show off something that reflects what Baguio and the Cordilleras are all about, some of which is enjoying a simple life while aspiring for everything good in one package.

Just like what a certain Igorot businessman did with his meal.


Up next: Inspiration and practicality give birth to a classic, complete Cordilleran set meal.


50’s Diner

92 Upper General Luna Road, Corner Brent Road
Baguio City, Philippines

Telephone Number: 0916-6595555

Episode 20: Memories of Baguio – The Arcadia of my Stomach (Prologue)

I visited Baguio for a short vacation last New Year. The moment I stepped off the bus, the mountain city’s cold winds ganwed my poor, formerly fractured bones, and I knew that I have returned, so to speak, to what I once called the Arcadia of my youth.

Lately I’ve been visiting Baguio more often. Going to Baguio is a bit expensive, and sitting in a bus for six hours is no joke, but it’s worth it when you want to spend time with your family and have a vacation while you can get one. Besides, relieving stress away from the hassle of the metropolis is something people can never take for granted.

For me, though, Baguio is not only about cool weather, pine trees, strawberries and mountains.

Baguio always has a special place in my heart. From the time I moved there to enter college in 1999, I learned a lot of things in life in the City of Pines. Being in another land, after all, provides room for discovery for things that are not in one’s native home.

And discovery was what I did. I visited Baguio’s tourist spots and those hidden to visitors. I walked from my boarding house to everywhere. I learned how to shop and haggle. I smoked my first cigarette and drank my first beer. I met true friends, and made enemies of my own. I found love and lost. I practically lived (a bit) the life of a poet, a vagabond, and a wandering cowboy.

The most exciting part of it all was discovering good food in this city.

Food was important in my survival in Baguio. My favorite meal in college was luncheon meat with scrambled eggs. Canteen food was great too, except for the free soup that must have been used to boil meat washed in soap. Joining Cordilleran feasts allowed me to taste indigenous cuisine, from pork cooked in salted broth to “pinuneg”, local blood sausage, to the dreaded “pinikpikan”.

Eating out was another highlight of my adventures. In a city where restaurants are small and not as “classy” as those in Manila, finding a good place to dine with a tight budget was a challenge. My search, however, was not in vain.

Of course, college life is not complete without those episodes of getting drunk and smashed. Karaoke bars, coffee shops, country music lounges, discos – I’ve seen and visited them all, with varying (mostly drunken) results.

Until I left Baguio in 2005, I was a patron (or something like that) of several noteworthy restaurants, all of which brought me great memories. Some of them closed down, others moved somewhere, a few expanded and changed altogether.

Several years later, as I returned to Baguio, I felt I have to come back and rediscover them all over again… and then some.

This series of posts is a tribute to my memories of Baguio. This city is a beautiful place in the mountains that I once called home, Northern Luzon’s own cowboy country, a paradise for the artist and romantic at heart, a wanderer’s sanctuary… Okay, there’s a lot to be said about Baguio, but who could have thought it can also be called a culinary paradise?


Up next: Memories of a favorite themed restaurant… My, how the times have changed.