Think you know where to eat in Baguio? Here are some new places to add to your list.
I may have lost my love for Baguio which is why I only make it up there just once a year now. Whatever the reasons, I’m glad that there are new places to eat in and make new memories.
S.O.U.L. Café (Soul Café)
This isn’t in Baguio and it isn’t really new – it’s been around for almost seven years but I’ve only been coming here for the past two. A structure that looks like a house adjacent to a gasoline station, it’s my favorite stop before hurdling the zigzag that takes us to Baguio.
S.O.U.L. stands for Spice of Urban Life. Their tagline: “Gourmet coffee, pasta, pastries and more.” Though their menu has something for every weary, sleep-deprived customer, I feel that what they do best here are the coffee and the Filipino “silog” meals, none of which are over P200. Soul Café is also a major distributor of Arengga’s Coffee Alamid (civet coffee), thus the prominent display of coffee paraphernalia.
Here is the American Breakfast, Boo’s favorite and my nephews’ too: simplicity and satiety in slices of bacon, moist garlic rice, and a fried egg. Though the kids blanch at the sight of green, I find the garnish of a lettuce leaf, cucumber slices, and a tomato oddly pleasing. I appreciate those little efforts to pretty up a plate.
The staff is proud of the salpicao but it seems a bit much so early in the morning, so the others “downgrade” to a beef tapa. It’s soft and served with a surfeit of garlic, the mountain of rice beside it hoisting a sign on a toothpick proclaiming, “A man’s character is his fate. – Heraclitus” Another serving of tapa exhorts, “Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most.” These are little touches of the café’s character seen alongside the woven paper placemats, the dashingly decorated interior – “Why did they paint the aircon?” My five year old nephew asks – and the bric-a –brac that’s so kitschy it’s cool.
I’m usually not a fan of longanisa but I find the ones at Soul Café irresistible. It’s probably because of La Union’s proximity to Baguio where I find myself making up for my longanisa deficit. (The air is just different up there, I guess). Boiled in water prior to being cooked in its own fat, the little wieners surrender their stuffing in the intense heat, revealing their garlic-pocked, fat-studded insides. Eaten with garlic rice lubricated with an oozing egg yolk and spoonfuls of vinegar, this is one meal that makes for explosive, odoriferous burps; not quite ideal yes, for a long drive in an enclosed space. Less perfumed but no less satisfying options are the boneless bangus (outside fried ‘til crispy, tender insides), or the pancakes (squat and fluffy, smeared with butter).
I’d like to think that I look and act normal even before my first coffee of the day. When driving up to Baguio however, my craving for caffeine is immense. Thankfully, Soul Café’s Americano drank straight up soothes my nerves, and I actually feel normal again. Today, it’s a brew that’s bright and slightly tangy with a pleasing bouquet. The kids are equally pleased with their hot chocolate (milk with chocolate syrup), beverages that come with the meals described above. They emit gleeful cries at the whimsical displays of foam art, choosing their cup based on design. Soul Café also serves tsokolate, a thick brew that’s black and sweet; it fortifies for the drive ahead.
Camp One, Rosario
La Union 2506 Philippines
I know this place is new because it only opened last September. Sonoko Taguchi is a Japanese married to a Filipino and has lived in Baguio for the past 12 years. She speaks English with nary an accent betraying her country of origin, but like all Japanese, she’s super efficient and gracious. When I call to make a reservation, she encourages me to pre-order some appetizers because, “It takes us some time to cook the main meals.” Upon her consultation, we agree on two plates of sashimi (P960 total), chicken teriyaki salad (P250), and California maki (P380).
Chaya serves self-described contemporary Japanese food. I hesitate to call it a restaurant because it’s a house, and a very charming one at that – mahogany wood, yellow light, and a plasma TV and piano behind me. There are only four tables, each of a differing size. Sonoko does all the serving herself, although I do occasionally see a man in chef’s whites assisting. When there isn’t a soul to be seen serving, it feels appropriate to head to the kitchen banked by a large wooden frame to ask for glasses of water, extra bowls of rice, etc. The small staff is busy cooking in there.
“Ooh, this sashimi piece is cold!” My sister exclaims, attempting to bite into a slice of tuna. Thankfully, the rest of the dish isn’t like that, and the errant piece thaws out quickly. The chicken teriyaki salad possesses shots of citrus zinging through the cool greens, the chicken’s glaze is slightly sweet and sour. The California maki is a canvas to gaze upon, opaque layers of rolled rice gilded in glowing orange, the reverie broken by the striking silhouette of what appears to be a kinome, ( Japanese pepper leaf).
When eating at Chaya, it would be wise to release any assumptions one may have about Japanese food. For instance, there’s no all-shrimp tempura, only a mixed tempura (P300). It has two shrimp pieces that are promptly nabbed by my nephew, the rest of which are a medley of root crops and leafy vegetables. The adults like it very much because the tempura is properly fried, its gossamer coating just a batter of flour and iced water. Also, the chirashi sushi (P280) isn’t made with sushi rice (that is, cool and vinegary) but regular Japanese rice topped with the raw fish. Looking back, all the rice tonight is on the wet side but I don’t begrudge the restaurant for it.
When dining here, consider the tofu hot pot (P200), where tofu, mushrooms, and vegetables repose in a simmering konbu (Japanese seaweed) broth that’s brought to table. It warms the soul and makes me feel virtuous.
So goes the sukiyaki (P280), also served in a hot pot, its brown hues broken by the blaze of a raw egg yolk. It revivifies and the meat is tender, similar to the gyudon (P270). I also like that the sukiyaki broth isn’t too sweet.
It’s quite the surprise to find that the pork cutlet strips in the tonkatsu and katsudon carry nuances of nutmeg. I’ve not encountered this spice before in this manner but the savory application here is clever, boosting the umami factor of the pork coating.
Chaya serves the best gyoza I’ve had outside of Tokyo. Fried just so its edges are crispy, it reveals a pocket of pork, seasoned and ground. Exceptional.
Dessert is cold and complimentary: homemade green tea ice cream garnished with a trail of sweetened red beans. The tannic nature of the green tea coupled with the creaminess of the cold custard cleans our palates, calms us down. Being in Baguio during peak season is stressful but at Chaya, tranquility is ours even for just a few hours.
Chaya , Contemporary Japanese Cuisine
72 Legarda Road, Baguio City
(74) 424 4726 / (0916) 439 4141
I don’t sway easily to public opinion, my tastes rove contrary to the popular. The general consensus is that the raisin bread at the Baguio Country Club (BCC) is without rival, the ballyhooed yardstick by which similar breads and their ilk are judged. Personally, I find it dry and scanty of raisins; and one has to be a member of the BCC to procure a dozen loaves or two. So, no.
If you ask Baguio locals, it’s the raisin bread from the Palaganas Bakery that deserves everlasting acclaim. It’s cheaper, softer, boasts more raisins, and there’s no need to flash a flashy membership card. That’s a winner in my book.
Palaganas Bakery is located some distance from Forest House on Loakan Road, about 50 meters from the Loakan entrance of Camp John Hay. It has no sign but it’s not difficult to find. They open at 5:30am but those in the know know that it’s best to go at 11am when the display case is laden with doughy delights.
On my first visit here at 8am, I’m greeted with nothing but cream puffs and banana cake, stretches of stainless steel gaping sad and empty. The pandesal is long gone, sold out by 6.30’ish. What a disparate sight greets me when I return at 3.30pm, hopeful for a bready merienda!
- from extreme left and clockwise: donut, long john, raisin bread, toasted siopao, pan de coco
- the “innards” of a toasted siopao
Old-fashioned donuts slightly oily and sporting smears of powdered sugar sit beside pan de coco rounds. Around the bend wrapped in parchment are a Palaganas Bakery specialty – something they call toasted siopao. “Oh, like siopao but fried?” I inquire in Tagalog. “No, baked,” is the reply. It turns out to be a soft roll ensconcing a moistened pork filling. There are also these naughtily-named cheese rolls called Long Johns, doughy cylinders with a finger of cheese in the middle. And of course there’s the heartily hailed raisin bread, sitting unassumingly off to the left. I pay for my yeasty stash (P180 for too much bread) and hie myself back to the condo.
Rumor has it that the head baker at Palaganas Bakery used to work at the BCC. He tinkered with the raisin bread recipe and made the Palaganas Bakery version what every raisin bread rightfully deserves to be: soft and supple with raisins sallying forth in a cinnamon-shot spiral. Try this version and see if you don’t drop BCC’s raisin bread faster than you can say, “public opinion.”
99 Scout Barrio
(I think that a loaf of raisin bread is approximately P80 but I can’t be sure. I was too exhilarated with my treasures of bread to itemize everything).
Other Baguio Posts:
The Baguio Market: Through A Visitor’s Eyes
What’s To Eat? (Christmas in Baguio)
The best cassava cake is in … Baguio
Back from Baguio: A Food Trip in Pictures
My Favorite Starbucks Branch (is in Baguio)
Baguio Food Trip: Coffee at PNKY
Star Cafe: Coming Full Circle
Baguio Food Trip: My Favorite Things