Arts & Leisure


A culinary tour of coconut country

Posted on February 23, 2012

Quezon province is seldom a first choice as a tourist destination -- aside from its famous Pahiyas festival -- but a food and cultural trail tour offers city dwellers and wanderers alike a chance to rediscover the province beyond its famed festival.

Sights: old furniture adds charm to Patis Tito Garden Café

Dubbed “Kulinarya Tagala,� the tour visits selected food destinations and popular landmarks. The tour is fully customizable and also covers southern Tagalog provinces like Laguna, aside from Quezon.

Notably, it features food that is not likely to be available in big cities like Metro Manila.

Last Tuesday, “Kulinarya Tagala� partnered with the San Miguel Purefoods Culinary Center for a gustatory adventure with the media in Quezon province.

Featured in the whole-day tour was a short detour at San Pablo City, Laguna for brunch at the famed stopover Patis Tito Garden Café, and lunch and dinner landmark stops at Sariaya and Tayabas, Quezon.

Patis tito garden café

Patis Tito Garden Café (formerly Kusina Salud) is part of an ancestral house procured by couturier Maria Beatriz Pamintuan Tesoro, better known as Patis Tesoro, and her husband Tito, which has been transformed into a cafe-restaurant.

It started out as a souvenir shop, selling handmade crafts and sculptures to bypassers.

Surrounded by tall trees and lush greenery, the café is in an open area filled with mismatched tables and chairs adding to its homey feel. Displayed around the café are weathered and handcrafted wooden furniture and sculptures.

Focusing on Filipino cuisine, all the dishes are only cooked as they are ordered and made in the traditional way. “Kulinarya Tagala� tour guide Tina Diasanta-Decal commented that the reason why the food is good is that the café does not scrimp on ingredients nor time. “The secret to good Filipino cuisine is it’s cooked as it should be, no matter how long.�

Brunch consisted of hot chocolate made from cocoa tablets, garlic rice (done the Filipino way), pork adobo (pork stewed in vinegar), crispy dilis (long-jawed anchovy), Laguna longanisa (sausage), kesong puti (white cheese) and toasted pandesal (a salt bun), scrambled eggs, and turon (a crispy roll filled with banana).

The pork adobo, noted Ms. Diasanta-Decal, is made with strips of coconut meat and coconut milk, adding that the tour showcases the southern provinces as a coconut region.

The in-house chef demonstrated how to cook a local favorite, pancit buko, using strips of young coconut meat as a substitute for the noodles. “It uses malakanin [rice-like] buko strips. Coconut harvesters can tell when its malakanin because the bolo knife used to cut into coconut bounces back. That’s something you can’t learn in cooking school.�

Quezon Province

The first Quezon stop was the biggest bahay na bato (old-style stone house) at Sariaya where guests have the chance to try on period costumes and relive the Commonwealth Era.

Previously owned by Catalino and Luisa Rodriguez, the house was built in 1922. It served as a venue for important occasions in the town, like political victory party celebrations in honor of President Manuel Quezon and renowned nationalist Claro M. Recto.

Carpenters and craftsmen from Batangas and Pampanga built the house using Philippine woods while the original appointments were imported from Europe and the United States. It was restored in the 1990s and retains the original exterior and interior.

Lunch enjoyed inside the house is catered by different local caterers on each tour. Last Tuesday, the spread was by Luisa and Daughter, a 23-year-old restaurant and catering service. The original restaurant was in Pagbilao, Quezon but it has been closed in favor of its Lucena branch.

Served for lunch was beef minanok (chicken-style), bulanglang na ubod (vegetable stew with banana heart) with tomato liver sauce, fish with mayonnaise dressing, chicken pastel, pinais na alimasag, lengua estofado (stewed tongue), bukayo (a coconut-based dessert), and caramel gulaman (jelly).

Ma. Carmen “Chuchay� Marasigan, owner of Luisa and Daughter, explained that beef minanok is named as such because “it’s basically cooked and tastes like tinola (chicken soup) but instead of chicken, we use beef.�

The tomato liver paste, which was a favorite among the guests, is made with coconut milk and tomatoes, she said. Meanwhile the pinais na alimango is a twist on the original pinais which is seasoned coconut meat and freshwater shrimp cooked in coconut juice while wrapped in a kamamba leaf (found in the foothills of Mt. Banahaw).

Topping the meal off, the desserts served were “sinaunang kakanin (ancient snacks),� said Ms. Marasigan, especially the caramel gulaman.

The dinner stop of the tour was the Memphis Garden Cafe at the Graceland Estates and Country Club in the town of Tayabas, which serves a mix of local Quezon favorites and well-loved Filipino dishes.

On the buffet table were fresh spring rolls with peanut sauce, milk fish kinilaw (ceviche), Doña Aurora, hardinera, adobong baka sa gata (beef stewed in coconut milk) with papaya and chili leaves, malunggay (moringga) noodles, boneless barbecued chicken thighs, and sinigang na hipon sa buko (shrimp sour soup with young coconut).

Jerino Macalipay, executive chef of Memphis Garden Cafe, compared Quezon cuisine as similar to Bicol’s. “We use a lot of coconut and coconut milk, but it’s just not as spicy like in Bicol.�

Although it was not served, according to the chef the most popular Quezon dish is pancit Lucban or pancit habhab. Habhab’s popularity, he recounted, is due to the fact that the noodle dish is widely available in Quezon, traditionally wrapped in leaves and sold by street hawkers. “The pancit Lucban is the same as habhab, the only difference is it’s served on a plate,� the chef quipped.

Typical Quezon dishes in the dinner spread were Doña Aurora, egg stuffed with minced seasoned pork and coated with more egg; a variation on a meatloaf called hardinera; sinigang na hipon; and adobong baka.

The egg dish was named after President Quezon’s wife Doña Aurora because it was claimed to be her favorite. Hardinera is a play on the Spanish word “hardin� (garden), which is why the meatloaf is garnished with colorful vegetables to make it look like a lush garden.

The sinigang, said Mr. Macalipay, is not an ordinary sour soup. “In Quezon, instead of using water, we use coconut juice with tamarind.�

Desserts served were local delicacies such as espasol, pilipit, coconut cream puff and lambanog chocolate balls. Interestingly, the pilipit, although dough like, is made from pumpkin and glutinous rice.

Capping the tour was a demonstration of Quezon’s tagay (one shot of liquor) ritual, which according to Ms. Diasanta-Decal is dying away.

Certain skills are needed by a tangero, particularly being accurate. She said that a well seasoned tangero can gauge how to dole out the contents of a bottle of lambanog (a fiery coconut liquor) equally among all the drinkers present around a table.

“Tagayan has garnered a negative connotation but it’s actually a wonderful ritual,� she said.

For Kulinarya Tagala inquiries, call Fantasia Travel and Tours at 519-6145.