Saturday, April 4, 2015


I first set foot in Baguio when I was seven and I was told scared by older cousins that I'd have to kiss the 40-foot lion along Kennon Road, waiting for first-timers who want enter the city. Those who do not kiss the beast shall be eaten alive. This, naturally, in my fairy-tale addled mind, left me terribly troubled during the whole trip. It did not help that I was being teased tortured by my cousins  for six hours.  It was such a big relief to find out that the lion was made of stone and that I would live beyond my meager seven years on earth.

Often, first timers are told the same 'tradition' which I think started even way before the actual landmark was sculpted by Reynaldo Lopez Nanyac between 1968-1972. Where the tourist attraction now lies was a limestone rock naturally shaped like a male lion's head, a remnant of the 1905 American government road project led by Maj. Lyman W. Kennon. Its looming presence, like a guardian of the mountain city, probably started all that "kiss-or-be-eaten" tradition.
Image courtesy of Baguio City Host Lions Club
Earlier this year in my recent trip to the 'City of Pines', I had another first time.  Whenever I'm in Baguio, I make a trip to "Cafe By The Ruins" along Shuntug street. However,  it was the week before the  Panagbenga flower festival and the restaurant could not accommodate our party of four. We were directed to its new branch, "Cafe By The Ruins Dua" along Upper Session Road (right beside another Baguio old timer, Mario's).
The facade was less artsy than the original, and the interiors more utilitarian and urban.
But it did have signature touches like wooden bul-ul sculptures and the bamboo and paper lamps.

There are two floors for dining, with the first floor partially occupied by the kitchen and the bakery. I understand, the big kitchen here now serves as the commissary for their baked goodies which are displayed on a station and can be had for take-away.

For starters, we had, the classic kamote  (sweet potato) bread and liver pate platter. The bread has a natural sweetness which goes well with the slightly bitter and buttery taste of the chicken liver pate, flavored with rosemary, thyme, sage and laurel.

We also had two kinds of salad: the Kesong Puti Salad  (fresh greens topped with fried carabao cheese) and the Chicharon Salad.
Kesong Puti Salad
Chicharon Salad
We also shared the traditional Pinipikan, which is described in the menu as "Cordillera ritual chicken soup with etag (salted pork) and ginger." This simple looking soup is controversial as it involves lightly beating a chicken to let the blood permeate the flesh so that when it is cut open, no blood will spill.  Before you start barfing and call this dish barbaric, remember that it is steeped in the indigenous belief of fate given by gods or spirits that inhabit living things.  
Since I am not familiar with the cooking process, I watched some videos on YouTube and read some blogs. I found an account by one Nico Cawed in  where he describes the ritual:

"Remove the chicken head and set aside for cooking. Slice the skin to dislocate the thighs, then slice under the neck to remove the innards (stomach, intestines and gizzard). Guide the knife to slice under the shoulder blade to separate the rib cage from the chest. Remove the chest, leaving the rib cage intact with the internal organs (heart, liver, lungs). 

The tribal priest is then called to read the bile and liver. Calub is when the liver is covering the bile, and Cherwey is when the bile is completely visible, which is a sign of good luck. This then determines the tribe's course of action (i.e. hunting, planting, etc.). If the prognosis is Calub, the whole process is repeated, and other chickens cooked this way, until Cherwey is achieved."

When described by someone who is intimate with the ritual, the whole process sounds spiritual.

Everything is used, even the singed feathers are used to give the soup a smoked flavor.  The beating process is called "pikpik," thus the name of the dish.

You will find the meat a bit dark and gamey as native chicken is used and the blood has been integrated into the flesh. With etag as its other flavoring, it  tastes like a saltier version of tinola.

Another highlight of the dinner was the Bagnet, served with bagoong isda (fermented fish), tomato  salad and red mountain rice. On its own, the deep fried pork is not salted, which is why you have to take a slice of the bagnet  (meat + fatty bits + crispy skin)  and a sliver of the fermented fish for saltiness and some tomatoes for the acidity. The starchiness of the rice neutralizes the salt and fat. You'll lick the plate clean with this one.
Address: Upper Session Road, Baguio City
Telephone: (074) 442 4010

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