Monday 30 January 2012

Spices: Good Old Home Cooking in SAGADA, MOUNTAIN PROVINCE

A place with fertile soil and cold weather, Sagada produces one of the freshest and sweetest tasting vegetables found in the country.

Sagada's Plump and Juicy Red Tomatoes

Sagada Vegetables

Upon strolling around the area, I notice that most of the places to dine at are actual homes of the locals. They allot a small dining area for visitors and tourists. Our first stop was Yoghurt House, what was once a one floor dining place has grown and expanded to two floors. I was excited to try this place out since it is one of the favorites among tourists.

Yoghurt House

I was looking forward for the Pasta with Red Sauce, thinking that they used the big and plump tomatoes I saw in the market. It was a big disappointment, the sauce tasted exactly like it came from the ready made sauces that's sold in supermarkets.

Pasta with Red Sauce
I've heard a great deal of the Herb Rice, the place even smells of it when we entered. But upon first bite, I was utterly dumbfounded. It was just ordinary garlic rice with curry powder.

Herb Rice
The redeeming dish that tasted satisfactory was the Vegetable Tempura. Crunchy slices of eggplant,  string beans and peppers.

Vegetable Tempura
Finally, I found something that I really liked in this resto.The dessert that people are raving about and I definitely agree with them. This is no fro-yo or store bought yogurt in cups, this was the real thing. Thick, creamy and sour homemade cultured milk. I preferred my yogurt with a sweet fruit topping to balance the sourness of it.

Plain Yogurt

Yogurt with Strawberry Preserves

If there was one home/resto I was so excited to dine in was at The Log Cabin. It is specifically known for the Saturday Night Buffet. On this day the owner Chef Philip or locally known as Chef Aklay (this is his Igorot name) prepares the spread himself. The menu varies depending on his mood and the availability of the ingredients during that day.

The Dinner Spread

No ordinary person can set up shop in Sagada, one has to be a Kankanay Igorot to start a business. Chef Akaly is married to one thus they open their beautiful home for dinners.

Chef Aklay's Kitchen and The Buffet Spread

Dining Area

I started my meal with the homemade Dark Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread.  Though I wanted my bread warm, the bread was really nice, the crust was crunchy and it has a soft-chewy center.

Dark Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

The Pork and Chicken Consomme with Cheese Cougene was flavorful and hearty. It was the perfect company for the cold weather outside.

Pork and Chicken Consomme with Cheese Cougene

The Sagada Greens with Wild Mushroom consists of different leaves that I'm not familiar with. It tasted so fresh, the vinaigrette didn't overpower the flavor of the veggies. This is one of the best salads I ever had.

Sagada Greens with Wild Mushroom with Chinese Dark Vinegar and Olive Oil Dressing

Log Cabin's Chopsuey (Mixed Vegetables) tasted really simple.Yet again, it was the fresh vegetables that made this dish exquisite.

Chopsuey (Mixed Vegetables)

The Roast Pork tasted ok, it was tender and moist.

Roast Pork

If there was one dish that everyone was raving about, it was The Sausage with a Mint Hollandaise Sauce. The sausage was delicately flavored and spiced and the sauce perfectly complimented it. I might have eaten a dozen slices of these.

Whole Sausage freshly out of the oven

Sausage with Mint Hollandaise Sauce

There were two desserts that was served that evening, I wasn't really too excited on these since I'm really not much of a dessert person. This was until, I took a bite of the Chocolate-Calamansi Moscovado cake with the Lemon-Honey Light Hollandaise Sauce. The small squares has a fudge-y chocolate-y bottom with a creamy Calamansi moscovado mousse on top.

Chocolate Calamansi Moscovado Cake

The Lemon and Native Black Sesame Seed Cake has a texture of bread pudding. What made both desserts divine was the lemon-honey hollandaise sauce. The combination of the tangy, slightly sweet sour sauce and the sweet desserts was a match made in heaven.

Lemon and Native Black Sesame Seed Cake

I've tasted different local coffee and Sagada's coffee has became one of my favorite. The beans were slowly boiled and brewed in a steel pot. It was a strong, bold and smooth cup of coffee. The coffee was the perfect ending for a great tasting and filling buffet that costed only Php 499.

The Log Cabin

Before heading for the caves, we had lunch at Salt and Pepper Diner. Just like The Log Cabin, this was an actual home with a small dining area for tourists. The food here are decent home cooked meals, my only gripe is I find the prices too steep.

Salt and Pepper Diner

The Lechon Kawali ( Pan-Fried Pork) meal tasted ok. It came with rice and a side of mixed vegetables.

Lechon Kawali Meal

The Vegetable Curry was nothing extraordinary, it was just sauteed vegetables mixed with curry powder.

Vegetable Curry

If there is one dish that is a must try in Sagada, it would be the Pinikpikan. The Pinikpikan is basically chicken soup but prepared differently. It is prepared by beating a live chicken with a stick, it is supposed to bring out more flavor out of the chicken when cooked.


Most restos in Sagada doesn't readily serve the soup dish, you have to order it beforehand so that they'll be able to prepare it. Luckily for us when we went to Pinikpikan House, the owner made a batch for the day.

Pinikpikan House

The Pinikpikan Soup tasted like no other soup I had before. Aside from the chicken, it has slices of pork, vegetables and to my surprise...feathers. I asked the owner on the process of making the soup, she explained that after the chicken beating, they roast the chicken whole with feathers on. After of which they chopped the chicken down and proceed on making the soup. Roasting instilled a very smoky flavor in the broth, I was taken aback at first but as I took another sip I started to like it.


The slices of pork in the broth turned out to be one of Sagada's indigenous food. It was called Etag, a thick slab of pork cured with salt then smoked.


Etag for Sale

In stores, I always see bottles of fruit wines for sale. Since we were having an indigenous meal I decided to go all the way and ordered a bottle of the Piitik pear flavored rice wine. The wine smells of pear and it tasted really interesting, at first sip it was sour then the sweetness undertone follows. It kind of reminded me how good quality vinegar tastes like.

Pear Flavored Rice Wine

After our drinking session that evening, we needed something to perk us up the morning after. We headed to Bana's Cafe to have the famed Amunin or Kopi Luak Coffee.

Bana's Cafe
When we arrived, we noticed that there were beans being sun dried right on the street. There were also a group of locals picking beans from a bilao (winnowing basket) while chatting. This shows how fresh Bana's coffee beans are since they do this every morning.

Coffee Beans being Sun-Dried

Fresh Coffee Beans

I've tried Kopi Luak before and Bana's version tasted similar to what I had. It was smooth and has no bitter after taste though I was looking for a strong and bold flavor from it. I was kind of disappointed about it.

Amunin or Kopi Luak

Amunin Pack for Sale

The regular brewed coffee was a winner. Upon seeing the crema on top and smelling the intoxicating aroma, I knew that I was about to have a great cup of coffee. The coffee tasted beautifully!

Brewed Coffee

One of the most talk about dessert in Sagada is the lemon pie in The Lemon Pie House. Just like the Yoghurt House, the bright yellow colored resto has expanded to accommodate the growing number of clients.

Lemon Pie House

Inside Lemon Pie House

Using locally grown lemons to make the pie, it was simple and addictive. The crust was perfect, soft and crumbly. On top of the filling was a spongy cloud like meringue. The filling has a zesty, sweet, sour and minty cool feel. All the elements complimented each other so well. I just had to devour another slice after I had one.

Lemon Pie

Having Lemon Tea with the Lemon Pie would seem too much of a lemon rush but the hot tea washed down the pie really well.

Lemon Pie with Hot Lemon Tea

If there is one bakery in Sagada that's worth the visit, it's Navales Bakeshop. They are known for the sweet-smelling, moist and tasty cinnamon rolls.

Navales Bakeshop

Other Navales Baked Goodies

If there is a phrase to describe my Sagada food experience, it was good old home cooking. Everything was simple and cooked from the heart. I do hope that the restos would offer more indigenous cuisine rather than cooking something to cater to tourist and foreigners (there's is a Chinese and Korean resto in the area). I also felt that most of the restos charged too much for their food, I wish they'll adjust and lower it down a little.  I'll always remember Sagada for two things...the freshest vegetables and the aromatic coffee.

Monday 9 January 2012

Sights: A Picturesque Adventure in SAGADA, MOUNTAIN PROVINCE

Sagada is considered to be one the best places to go to if you want to commune with nature. Located in the Mountain Province in Luzon, the commute going there is long and it can be bumpy in some areas. There are different routes that one can choose but we chose the Manila - Baguio - Sagada route. From Baguio, we headed to the Lizardo Bus terminal early in the morning to catch the first trip. Though it was a long 5 to 6 hour trip, the views around was astonishing.

On the way to Sagada

Upon arrival, visit the Tourist Information Center to select which itinerary you prefer. The receptionist would assign a local guide and a time to meet up with him. Check this site out for the rates.

Sagada Tourist Information Center

Upon settling down, we decided to start our Sagada experience with a trek to Echo Valley and the well-known hanging coffins.We passed by a Protestant Episcopalian Church, the church of St. Mary the Virgin. Majority of the people in Sagada are christian protestants. The church was closed but people can take a peek inside.

St. Mary the Virgin Church / Sagada Church

Inside the Church

We also passed by a cemetery, it was kind of creepy since no one one was around except for the two cows feasting on the grass.


As we head on, the breeze picked up and it got colder. The view around is breathtaking, Ive never seen so much 'green' before. As I stood at the edge of a cliff and shouted : "WOW....", the trembling sound of my voice echoed back the valley. I just stood still for a couple of minutes taking in what I was seeing and feeling.

The View around Echo valley

Echo Valley

Echo Valley

From echo valley, you can already see the hanging coffins from afar. Luckily for us, we met two local young boys along the way. They asked us if we wanted to go to the actual grounds of the hanging coffins. We happily said yes and the trek down started.

Echo Valley

Along the trek down, the boys pointed out a small cave with coffins and bones in it.

Coffins in a small Cave

An Opened Coffin with bones

The boys told us that we were taking the same burial procession path. The locals would carry the heavy coffins by hand and they would descend through the slippery foliage. It was relatively an easy trek but carrying something of that size would be extremely hard.

Sagada's Hanging Coffin

As we approached the grounds, we all fell silent to show respect to the dead bodies hanging from above. The coffins were a good 10 to 20 feet above ground. We asked the boys why and how the Igorots (locals in Sagada are called Igorot) do this. One of them proceeded to explain that being buried up there wouldn't cost anything because there's no need to purchase a patch of land. Also, the Igorots believe that being buried up there would make one's soul reach heaven faster.

Coffins 10 to 20 feet above ground

There were steel pipes drilled in the rocks and wires hold the coffins in place. The boys continued to explain that they use ladders and pulleys to haul the coffins up.

Coffins held by Steel Pipes and Wires

We were about to ask if the locals still practice the burial tradition when one of them pointed to one of the coffins and said a week ago they couldn't go near the same area because the place still reeks of a dead body.

The next day we were to scheduled to do something that I underestimated to be easy. The morning started with a short jeepney ride to the drop off point that heads to Bomod-ok Falls, popularly known as the Big Falls of Sagada. We had to trek for more than an hour to reach the falls.

On our way to Bomod-ok Falls

We had to pass by rice terraces, cliffs and even a small village. Again, the view was beautiful and amazing!

Rice Terraces

Palay (unhusked rice grain) with Rice Terraces behind

Rice seedlings

Passing thru a Small Village

Walking along a Cliff

Walking between two Bouldrers

As we were getting nearer, the thunderous sound of the falls grew louder. The refreshing mist of water that came from the falls started to touch our skin.

Bomod-ok Falls

Sagada's Big Falls

Bomod-ok falls was HUGE! Luckily for us, the water current during that time was really strong, it made the falls look more majestic and intimidating.

Sagada Bomod-ok Falls

The water was biting cold but after hiking for that long, it was nice to take a refreshing dip.

The Majestic Bomod-ok Waterfall

After our visit to Bomod-ok falls, we had a heavy lunch to power us for the spelunking adventure scheduled in the afternoon. It was my first time to try spelunking so I didn't know what to expect. It was a choice between a  two hour course in Sumaguing Cave or a four hour cave connection course from Lumiang Cave to Sumaguing Cave. Since we felt indestructible, we opted for the latter.

Travel Tip: Bring thick hand gloves to prevent rope burn.

Heading towards the Caves

While heading towards the entrance of Lumiang cave, our guide asked us again and again if we we're 100% sure about the cave connection course. He told us that it wasn't easy as we expect it to be, with a smile on our faces we said we were definitely sure.

As we were about to go down the cave, our guide asked us for the last time, once we were inside there was no way of turning back. With this, our thirst for excitement grew even stronger.

Lumiang Cave

What a way to greet the spelunkers, coffins lay on the mouth of Lumiang cave.

Coffins at the entrance of the Cave

It started off easy, as we climbed and passed by rocks and limestones. As we walked deeper through the caves, it grew darker and the only light source we had was from a gas lamp that one of our guides was carrying.

From Inside

Our One and Only Light Source

Our Guide with a Gas Lamp

What I underestimated easy became one adrenalin pumping extreme adventure. We had to crawl on all fours, crawl on our behind, pull ourselves up, rappel both up and down and hang on for our dear lives.

Making our way through an uneven surface walls

Literally squeaking in a small hole, I had to lay down and put my arms up in the air to fit in.

The Small Hole that we had to Fit Ourselves in
Look how Small the Hole Is...
Hanging on for dear life...the rocks on these area were slippery, we couldn't use our legs and feet to rappel down. We had to hang on the rope as we make our way down, using our arms and hands to support our body weight.

Hanging On for dear life

One of the most difficult obstacles we had to go through was what i called the Pull-up. There was a rope dangling from above and we had to step on the shoulders of one of our guides, he would stand up and we had to reach for the rope and pull ourselves up. While our guide was explaining the process... to show how far the drop is, he took a stone and threw it on the side, it took a good three to four seconds before we heard the stone hit something below.

The "Pull-Up"

When we got hold of the rope, our guide kept on shouting: "Huwag kang bibitaw, huwag kang bibitaw huwag kang bibitaw!!!!" ("Don't ever let go, don't ever let go, don't ever let go!!!)

Guide shouting: "Huwag kang bibitaw!!" ("Don't ever let go!!!")

While waiting for my turn, I tried to take a picture of what lies beneath.

What lies beneath...

Halfway through the course, it started to rain hard. The water outside started to rush inside the caves. The rocks became extra slippery and the gush of wind would grazed our soaked clothes.

Rain started to pour in the Caves

I took photos with the flash on and when I looked at the camera's screen, this appeared. It just shows how powerful the wind was inside the caves.

The Powerful Gush of Wind

We had to go through waist deep water inside.

Waist-deep Water

When we reached Sumaguing Cave, there were interesting limestone formations.

A Frog

A Mushroom

A Turtle

This looks like Theater Curtains

The last part of the spelunking adventure was climbing up a plight of rocks with bat drippings. It smelled bad but still we had to use our hands and crawl on our behind. The moist gooey feeling of bat poop in my hand and clothes was unpleasant. At this point, it was just a few steps away to freedom. When we reached outside, the whole place was pitch dark. We entered the caves at around 3:30pm and reached the end point at 7:30pm.

Climbing up a Plight of Stones with Bat Drippings

Being outside was a great and fulfilling feeling, I remembered the shirts that the souvenir store's were selling. The shirts have print saying..."I survived Sagada!!!"  And yes, I indeed survived it.

"I survived Sagada!"

When you do something dangerous like this, the connection between the people involved gets stronger. We invited our guides for dinner and drinks to unwind and celebrate our victorious conquest of the caves. One of the guides asked me if I am willing to do the cave connection again. I contemplated and thought about it, I love adventure and I can say that I'm pretty fit but this spelunking experience took a lot out of me. I was dead tired, hungry, thirsty, I was filthy and covered in mud and bat poop. With this thought, I replied.."Maybe next year or the year after or make that 3 years from now."

The next day, we were so tired that we decided not to see the sunrise at Kiltepan Point and go to Marloboro country to look at wild horses. It was also too late to go pick oranges at Rock's Inn. We decided to stroll around the peaceful and calm province and enjoy Sagada as it is. Simple, Beautiful and Amazing!

"I'll be back!!!"

After note:

The people of Sagada were so warm and friendly. I would like to introduce two adorable local kids I instantly fell in love with...6 year old Bisled and 3 year old Pink-eh.

with Bisled and Pink-eh