My youngest sister married her high school sweetheart in Baguio last Saturday. The week leading up to it saw a flurry of her visitors jetting in from Vancouver, California, Shanghai, and Paris. Anyone who’s planned a wedding knows that a local wedding is already hectic, but when that wedding is transported out of town — (destination weddings are so de rigueur these days) – the wedding preps become doubly hectic. Everyone in the family took on a multitude of roles from driver to tour guide to host for the various guests that needed to be housed.
Once up in Baguio, I took some of my sister’s visitors to the market (two of whom had never been to Asia before). With wide-eyed enthusiasm, we sailed through the stores selling silver jewelry, blankets, woodcrafts, and had a good giggle over the Baguio “barrel man,” he of the stick figure with an … ahem … appendage hidden by a barrel.
In between stops at the ukay-ukay, we passed a man selling caramelized sweet potatoes and plaintains skewered onto sticks. Filipinos more commonly know this street side snack as camote-q and banana-q, (my spelling of which may be different from the norm). While explaining what the deep-fried delectables were, I realized that it was difficult to truly describe and define something that I took so much for granted. The aforementioned “caramelized sweet potatoes and plaintains skewered onto sticks” sounded too hoity-toity, and “fritters” didn’t quite capture the genuine joy and satisfaction derived from biting down into a fresh-out-of-the-fryer “q,” whether that be banana or camote or what-have-you. In the end, I bought a few sticks of both and invited my visitors to try it. Eating is believing, after all.
They enjoyed the “q’s,” and it was the same with the ube jam and peanut brittle that I bought a few bottles of so that they could truly appreciate them. Kellee, my sister’s American friend who’s based in Paris, was having a hard time understanding how a root crop (ube) could be turned into jam. Upon savoring a spoonful of it, her hazel eyes opened in comprehension and delight. “This is delicious!” She squealed, and promptly purchased two large bottles. Francois, her French fiancÃ©, immediately began to fret about where they would put it in their already stuffed luggage.
Moving on to the farther side of the market in search of the coffee stalls, we didn’t have to look for long before the intoxicating aroma of freshly-roasted coffee beans beckoned us closer. While Batangas is top-of-mind for most Filipinos when coffee is mentioned, it’s in the higher altitudes of the Mountain Provinces where coffee grows best. Bedazzled by the variety of light, dark, and medium roasts, I stuck my head into each coffee container and inhaled deeply, the heady fragrance filling my lungs. Since most of the coffee beans I already have are dark roasted, I decided on an Arabica Sagada medium roast (P240/kilo).
Upon seeing the poster for Coffee Alamid (P750/250 grams), I overhear my Bin telling my Canada-based cousin, Gabby, “Hey, did you know those coffee beans come out in the s**t of cats?” Gabby’s resulting expression of incredulity/disgust made me chuckle.
I spied some stalls selling plastic wrapped bars of a white substance. Upon realizing what they were, I ran up to one vendor and asked, “Ano po ‘to?” “Mantika,” was the reply. “It’s lard!” I shrieked in joy. “I love lard!” Visions of lard-based pie crusts, flaky beyond belief danced in my head. Gabby turned around and with that same incredulous/disgusted expression he said, “You love lard?! Gads, that’s scary to hear, Lori.” He winked jokingly. “Lard makes the best pie crusts and biscuits, you know,” I shot back, sticking my tongue out at him.
On our way out of the market, I thought about how enlightening it was to see Baguio, a part of my country, through these visitors’ eyes. How do you describe the crunch of a camote-q’s sugar surface and its seductively smooth interior? How does ube transform into a jam that mesmerizes the palate? How can I express the wonder that I had when I finally tried Coffee Alamid, its wine-like taste and chocolaty undernote? Truly, the descriptions are not enough, it’s basking in the knowledge and pride that they’re all part of my country.