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?

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

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