5 celebrated Pinoy desserts

5 celebrated Pinoy desserts

Our friends from Let’s Eat Pare tell us the all time fave sweets Filipinos love to serve in any given holiday.

Ube Halaya

Ube Halaya or purple yam to the rest of the world. It’s something the world just discovered yet we’ve been snacking on it for decades. Photo by Mon David Pakingan

The world is at least a century late on having discovered the wonderful flavor of the humble purple yam or ube. It’s sweet; has a bit of a gritty texture (in a good way); and goes well with virtually any dessert, especially with the next item on this list.

To enjoy this delicious treat, it’s best served on a plate drizzled with either condensed milk, coconut milk with a bit of sugar, or cheese.

Halo halo

The king of all Pinoy desserts, the halo-halo. By Jocas See

Widely considered the quintessential Filipino dessert because it has it all. It’s like the Japanese shaved ice dessert kakigori but with more to it than ice. You’ve got beans of nearly every size and shape, green and red gelatin (or really any color you want), strips of macapuno, jackfruit, or maybe some bananas. Some throw in corn kernels to the mix. Have it topped with some ube, a scoop of ice cream, and the next item on this list.

Leche Flan

A new twist to the leche flan: a LeCheesecake. It’s a (mini) cheesecake with leche flan on top. Photo by Niki Alfaro

A staple in every Filipino celebration that involves food, the leche flan looks like a simple custard but it’s more than that. It has that distinct combination of sweet and creamy, making it an ultra sinful, hard-to-resist dessert. Its many forms include the LeCheesecake from Nikita’s Pastries.

Buko Pandan

Two things combine in this ridiculously simple (yet delicious) dessert: glistening green pandan-flavored gelatin and the ever-refreshing and popular strips of coconut. Take these two and combine them with all-purpose cream and sweetened milk and you have yourself something that is a sure hit at any party table.

Tibok tibok

A dessert hailing from Philippine gastronomy capital, Pampanga in the North, that has graced many holiday buffet tables in Central Luzon and Metro Manila. The taste is akin to a spoonful of the widely-known maja blanca—soft, delicate, almost melt-in-your-mouth—but this one is a tad bit salty, thanks to the use of carabao’s milk.

Words by Andronico Del Rosario, with information from members of Let’s Eat Pare®

5 iconic Filipino food

5 iconic Filipino food

Know about these tummy fillers that are at the core of the Philippine culinary scene. Did you know why food from Pampanga have so much semblance to Spanish cooking? Why there’s more to buying heirloom rice than just being healthy? And how lechon is life to Cebuanos?

Kapampangan food: Spanish roots + exotic eats

Although many destinations claim to be the Philippines’ food capital, Pampanga remains to be an active contender.

Photo by Edgar Allan Zeta-Yap

Pampanga’s dining scene is wide and all-encompassing. There you can go on a seafood journey in Guagua, tease your palate with Candaba’s burong isda and burong hipon
(fermented fish and shrimp), sample rice-based delicacies like tamalis and suman in Bacolor, or munch on Angeles City’s sisig (crisp grilled then chopped pork head) along with beer.

According to Poch Jorolan, a local and owner of the famous Everybody’s Café, Pampanga owes its status as the country’s culinary capital to the influences of foreign invaders who set foot in the province.

When the encomienda system was implemented in Pampanga during the Spanish colonization era, the rich encomienderos hired the Kapampangans as house helpers. At that time, a Kapampangan helper had to work with an encomiendero’s resident chef, inevitably passing on to the former Spanish cooking knowhow.

Photo by Poch Jorolan

But because Kapampangans tend to rely on whatever resources were available in the area, they tweaked what they learned; thus, bringhe became the localized paella, and morcon the Kapampangan version of embutido.

Another Kapampangan food signature is its exotic dishes. Since Pampanga is a landlocked province with no access to the seas, Kapampangans make do with what they have in their plantations. Farmers had to rely on what’s on hand. Frogs are plentiful—and tasty thus it became the chicken they deep fry or for cooking their adobo or sinigang.

Poch says mole crickets thrive in rice fields so farmers have no trouble collecting them. When the rice field is plowed in time for the planting season, they’d surface from the soil. “There’s only one good way to cook camaru, and that’s adobo-style; but we like to sauté it first in tomatoes and onions. It’s very crunchy but tastes like a real adobo,” he shares.

Bicolano Food: The coconut milk and chili love affair

There’s no point in arguing that the best spicy and coconut milk-infused cuisines in the country are in Bicol because it seems that nature has prompted this southern Luzon region to perfect such dishes in time.

Photos by Jocas See

Sili, specifically the small but brutally hot labuyo or bird’s eye chili, and coconut cream are the heart and soul of Bicolano cooking. It’s not a proper Bicolano meal if these two ingredients are missing. However, the degrees to which these two main ingredients are used vary per province, and Albay locals are known for preparing the spiciest and creamiest flavors.

“There is no definite explanation as to why Bicolanos love spicy flavors but the elders attribute it to the cold temperature that the inhabitants would frequently experience for they live close to Mayon Volcano,” shares Renato “BM” Jao, project head of Culinaria Albay. “They needed something with strong flavor to awaken their senses in cold mornings.” The pleasure of adding chili in cooking has been passed on from generation to generation until it became the norm.

Albay’s rich volcanic soil is also good for cultivating sili and vegetables. And since Bicol is rich in coconut trees, gata (coconut milk) is always combined with sili when cooking. For the best pinangat, Camalig is the town to visit while laing is the hallmark cuisine of Legazpi City. These two are both cooked in coconut milk with siling labuyo. The only difference is that the latter contains minced gabi leaves and mixed with meat, while the former are chopped meat and spices wrapped in gabi leaf strips. In neighboring province Sorsogon, laing is cooked
with gabi roots and minced leaves.

BM notes that Bicolano cooking is hardly influenced by foreign invaders.

“Gata and sili are included in the four pillars that make up Bicol’s cuisine, making the region unique,” quips BM.

Philippine coffee: 4-in-1

High-grade coffee cherries. Photo by Martin San Diego

Filipinos have long been in love with coffee. Philippine Coffee Board president Chit Juan says “there are two accounts as to how coffee was introduced to our country. The first record claims that it was brought to Lipa, Batangas in the 1700s by the Spanish friars whereas the other account traces the coffee root to the American period. It was believed that the American missionaries brought coffee to Benguet, that the 100-year-old coffee trees were said to be first planted by these Americans. In South Sulu, there’s an account that says coffee came from Indonesia or Malaysia.”

Freshly-picked coffee cherries from a coffee farm in Lipa City, Batangas. Photo by Martin San Diego

Due to the varied influences and its geographical location, the Philippines is among the few countries that produce all four coffee varieties—Arabica, Liberica, Excelsa, and Robusta. Chit says that our country has the ideal climate and appropriate elevation to grow these varieties.
Arabica only grows in higher elevation such as Benguet, Mt. Apo in Davao, Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon, while the other three should be planted in low-lying areas like Batangas and Cavite.

The start of the drying process. Photo by Martin San Diego

In terms of coffee-drinking habits, Chit believes we picked it up from the Spanish colonizers given that they stayed here for over 300 years. But it’s the Americans who gave us the
convenience of having it in the form of instant or soluble coffee.

When asked how coffee became a Filipino’s start-of-day affair, Chit says that back in the days, fishermen and farmers had a habit of drinking coffee to fuel them up before sailing
out to the sea or farm before sunrise. “It’s frequently consumed with pan de sal, a bread introduced to us by the Spaniards.”

Heirloom rice: A grain of culture

Possibly that one thing a regular Filipino household will never ever not have is rice. As big as its demand is the irony of the fact that fewer people know of how patronizing its organic version is key in keeping an important culture and way of life alive.

Photo by Christian Lucas Sangoyo

“Heirloom rice is the general description of the rice varieties that have been handed down by our forefathers to the succeeding generations,” sustainable food proponent Chit Juan says. “These native seeds are preserved by way of continuously growing them. Farmers who cultivate heirloom variety would store a portion of the seeds once the harvest season begins
and plant it in the next season.”

As opposed to the modern varieties, heirloom rice is grown organically. In some provinces, ducks are left on paddy fields to prey on pests that threaten the rice crops.

Bundling up the sundried rice. Photo by Ferds Decena

In Ifugao province in North Luzon, upland farmers who plant rice on their terraced rice paddies use zero modern mechanisms. They follow old farming traditions inherited from their ancestors. It is for this reason that they only harvest once a year, which is why their rice variety is called tinawon, which means “yearly” in their vernacular. Farmers know how
much they should plant to feed their family for a whole year given that heirloom rice is primarily cultivated for household consumption.

At one of the last strongholds of heirloom rice—Ifugao. Photo by Ferds Decena

Chit shares that the only time that they’re able to buy heirloom rice for her sustainable-centered ECHOstore is when these farmers have excess in their harvest. But to her, heirloom
rice is more than just sustenance. She says “it represents a culture, a tradition, and the organic way of life that we once had before all these fertilizers, pesticides, and modern mechanisms were introduced to us. The only way to keep these heirloom varieties is to promote their preservation and consumption so that the farmers would continuously cultivate them in a sustainable manner.”

Lechon: The scene stealer

No feast is complete without this. Photo by Christian Lucas Sangoyo

To many Filipinos, a festivity may not be that festive if there’s no lechon, whole pig roast on a spit over charcoal. It’s often the centerpiece to many major celebrations—birthdays, fiestas, noche buenas, even politicos’ winnings.

The Filipinos were already roasting pigs even way before the Spaniards first set foot on Philippine soil in 1521. The story has it that explorer Ferdinand Magellan, whose arrival in
the Philippines marked the Spanish occupation era, would partake of this scrumptious delicacy.

Photo by Christian Lucas Sangoyo

Cebu in the Visayas is renowned for lechon. According to Cebuano Joel Binamira, the man behind Market Manila blog, the difference between Cebu’s lechon and those from Luzon
is that the former’s is stuffed with aromatic ingredients, while the latter’s is typically cooked unstuffed, hence the popularity of liver gravy as a classic accompaniment.

Today, many commercial lechon makers employ shortcuts like adding copious amounts of MSG rather than natural aromatics in the stomach and brushing the skin with soy sauce
instead of a more traditional bath in coconut water. Visayans typically enjoy their lechon with a dip of vinegar while folks from Luzon prefer a liver-based sauce.

Eating lechon is a way of life for Cebuanos. “Every Sunday, it’s common to see lechon being sold on street corners,” shares Joel.

In Negros Island, batuan (a local sour fruit), fresh banana leaves, rock salt and lemongrass are key ingredients for stuffing, while it’s green chilies with coconut oil and milk in Bicol.

In the sleepy town of Jovellar in Albay, there’s an annual parade—part of the town’s Quipia Festival—showcasing roast pigs dressed in quirky costumes—a tribute to the localities’ business of raising backyard pigs.

3 must-see places in Tangalan, Aklan in one day

3 must-see places in Tangalan, Aklan in one day

A tiered waterfall and an empty beach are what you get from this sleepy Visayan town

Tangalan, Aklan is something that will qualify for of-the-radar. It’s en route to Aklan province’s capital Kalibo and the perfect place for a bit of adventure minus the crowd.

Jawili Falls

Placid pool of Jawili Falls

Jawili Falls is a wonderful waterfall—seven natural pools formed from a series of cascades. It’s got stone steps fringing the pools, and as you climb you get to take in the view of one dark basin after the next.

These natural swimming pools are like actual pools you’d see in hotels except that they’re natural.Their sizes vary with the deepest fetching up to 10 feet deep. Locals would jump of a cliff and plunge into the water.

The apex is a small shallow stream with trees and shrubberies on both sides, feeding the cascade. It looks magical in late afternoons when light filters through still leaves.

Jawili Beach

Coconut tree -fringed Jawili Beach

A calm and empty shore—that’s Jawili Beach. No grand hotels, no restaurants, and absolutely no tourists. Huts and a few small resorts with rooms are available for rent.

The beach’s cream-colored sand isn’t powder-fine but definitely good enough. At late afternoon, walk on its expansive shore and you’ll be rewarded with fiery yellows and oranges tinting the sky at sunset.

St. John Nepomucene Church

Facade of St. John Nepomuceno Church

The St. John Nepumucene Church was built in 1889, its age evident in the tarnishing on its limestone walls built using limestone that came from the nearby Afga Beach. Its façade—arched wooden double doors, circular stone windows on both sides, a central niche with an image of Christ—is perfectly symmetrical if not for the fairly recent addition of a bell tower on its left lank. It’s smaller than most colonial churches in the Philippines but still looked regal and stately even with its diminutive form.

Get there
Fly from from Manila to Caticlan via SkyJet, which starts flights in December. From Caticlan, ride a Ceres Bus from the terminal and alight at the Tangalan Public Market. From there, ride a tricycle to Jawili Falls.

Jawili Blue Starfish Resort on Jawili Beach has modern rooms and a swimming pool. Tel +639192791577, jdjawili@yahoo.com

Green Meadows Beach Resort has rustic beachfront bungalows. Tel+ 09087844765

Tatoy’s Place, a beachfront resto-bar. Tel +639189627713

Adee’s Seafood Grill & Restaurant, a seafood restaurant along the National Highway. Tel +639395154660, Adees011613@yahoo.com

Story and photos by Christian Sangoyo

10 best mountains for serious climbers

10 best mountains for serious climbers

A sea of clouds, mysterious lakes, enchanting forests and a mountain-top active crater are some of the thrilling things you’ll see if you brave climbing some of the most exciting peaks in the Philippines. We’ve put together Davao-based mountaineer Rhonson Ng’s and UP Mountaineers president Ed Magdaluyo Jr.’s list of their favorite mountains that should be explored by any serious hiker at least once. 

12 coolest eco-tours in Coron

12 coolest eco-tours in Coron

A true blue Coronon Al Linsangan, poster boy of sustainable tourism in Coron, personally tours Dash around his beloved hometown and together we come up with an eco-adventure hotlist that better be on your bucketlist. It includes a dip in a natural hot springs, snorkeling in a limited-access coral garden, immersing with a tribe when no one else could, and more.

Hike Mt Tapyas for that perfect sunset


On top of the world…errr…Mt. Tapyas

A grueling 734-step climb and you’re on top of Mt Tapyas.

“Mt Tapyas is ideal for sunset spotting. The sea is also calmest at this time, adding a bit of drama to the view. And once the natural light fades, the harbor lights start to bathe the town’s baywalk and this is best viewed from the peak,” says Al.

But the sunset is not the only crowd-drawer of Mt Tapyas. Stand at its peak and admire the 360-degree sight of the whole Coron town and Mt Dalara, the highest mountain in the Calamian. Also seen from the horizon is Coron Island shaped like a sleeping giant. The Tagbanwa believe that the sleeping giant is Dumarakul, an ancient hero said to have protected them from the onslaught of Moro invaders. The giant cross erected at the peak is a pilgrimage site during Holy Week.

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