Strawberry fields forever.
Strawberry Farm in La Trinidad, Benguet
“At least now you’ll know that you don’t pick strawberries from trees,” my sister is telling her two sons as we motor to La Trinidad, Benguet. We’ve already been told by the Baguio locals that “…strawberries are like gold now…” because of the effects of La Niña. Heavy rains have flooded the strawberry fields making the precious scarlet fruit a rarity in the market. The current market price is P300/kilo, and that’s only if one can find them. I’m saddened by that – strawberries are an inherent part of holidays in Baguio.
We drive into the Strawberry Farm and survey the fields. “Oh! What happened? There were so many strawberries last time and there were even stalls that were selling honey,” my sister laments. I’m not sure what I’m expecting but it looks like a regular field to me. We’re approached by a woman selling little wooden baskets of berries. She’s selling them for P250/kilo, just P50 lower than the going market rate. We already think that’s high so we’re totally floored when we’re informed that strawberry picking will cost us P500/kilo! We go for it anyway since we want our kids to experience this.
I imagine that a strawberry field in full bloom is a stunning sight. Each plant is a small, short shrub that one has to bend over in order to grasp the fruit. Some berries are big, most are small. There are few of the fruit today, but the ones that peek from their leafy covers are provocative – stains of red on glades of green.
The farmer whose field we are “harvesting,” pleads with the kids to exercise caution. My rambunctious 5-year-old nephew is practically plucking every fruit he can find, whether red or green, while my Boo – girly girl that she is – is walking gingerly through the narrow footpaths, cradling each heart-shaped treasure before pulling and mindfully depositing it into her box.
In the end, the kids’ strawberry stash amounts to a little under a half kilo so my sister and I augment that by buying a kilo of fruit from the vendor. In the car on the way home, the berries’ scent intoxicates so we each nibble on a few berries. They’re sweet and satisfying.
Strawberry Farm in La Trinidad, Benguet
Km. 7 near Benguet State University
For directions on how to get there, click here.
Best time to go is from November to May.
My Bin and I “found” this restaurant about two years ago while trekking into the nether. We were lost beyond belief while looking for another Korean restaurant that my Bin had thought he saw along the way. Again, a disclaimer that Wood Nymph is not new. So elated am I when I first eat here that I tell everyone I know about it, gleeful of my new discovery. Little do I know that so many other people have also discovered the joys of this place.
Just like Little Korea behind Rockwell in Makati City, the Koreans have invaded Baguio City bringing with them their food. Wood Nymph reminds me of a large hut ventilated only by the wind. It’s large and separated into partitions.
My favorite dish here is what I call black spaghetti, on the menu it’s called janchajang or jajjangmyeon (P150); noodles stir-fried with black bean paste. Despite its rather startling appearance, its flavor is quite benign, a cross between light soy sauce and dark soy sauce – think, salty and smoky. The paste is sautéed with onions and some type of ground meat (the dish is too dark to discern) and the chewy nature of the noodles makes this a memorable dish for me. Unfortunately, there are those I’ve introduced this dish to that don’t take to it.
I also like the tokboki, traditional Korean rice cakes (cylinders, really) mixed in gochujang, Korean chili paste. The addition of potato (also called glass) noodles sends this dish over the top, enhancing the chewy-slippery-spicy succession of sensations. I wish they had this dish in Manila.
Of course no self-respecting Korean restaurant would be without some kind of Korean barbecue. I recommend the samgyupsal (P250), Korean-style bacon fried at table. I prefer mine soft and cooked just ‘til opaque, but the majority prefer it fried to a crisp. Afterwards, embark on a choose-your-own-adventure by enclosing the bacon in a lettuce leaf, embellishing it with the various pastes and vegetables (kimchi, spring onions, and gochujang is nice), fold, and eat up. I love it when I can cook and eat at the table.
My sister has a boundless love for haemul pajeon (P190), the onion pancake with seafood. It’s flat as a sheet, its surface an allusion to an abstract painting. The accompanying vinegar sauce slices through the pancake’s eggy-ness, pointing up the onion’s pungency.
Wood Nymph does an outstanding chapchae unlike other Korean restaurants where the translucent noodles are hidden under a cache of shredded lettuce and carrots. Here, the noodles shine (literally!) slipping and sliding on a white plate on a one-way wander into a waiting mouth.
I’ve tasted better bibimbaps (on the menu: dolsotbibibbab P230) elsewhere, this popular boiled rice dish as well as beef stew than those they serve at Wood Nymph but they please the others in my family, so have at it.
Wood Nymph Korean Restaurant
36 Military Cut-Off Road,
Baguio City 2600
Hill Station and Mt. Cloud
Casa Vallejo is a white wooden inn on Upper Session Road. One of Baguio’s oldest inns, it was renovated last year and a restaurant was opened adjacent to it. Called Hill Station, it’s run by the family that owns Mario’s. A beautiful restaurant it is with wooden beams, and large French windows flanked by loosely tied gauze curtains that allow the sunlight to filter in, making all the patrons look lovely. Shelves off to the side display pottery for sale in addition to house-made bottled goods — Filipino caviar, salad dressings, mango chutney, whole guava jam.
As befits its un-rushed atmosphere, Hill Station specializes in slow food with an emphasis on international flavors. The waiter is quick to recommend the Cambodian Coriander and Garlic Chicken (P360), the herb’s distinctive liveliness a foil to the soft chicken, only to be wakened again by the side dish of pickled cucumber. The Crispy Duck Flakes (P360) meanwhile, hides a heap of laing, an unlikely combination that plays well off of the duck, like a crispy coconut curry.
The Baked Spinach & Artichoke Dip (P125) served with Melba Toasts is just what one would expect it to be, no surprise here. I’m amused that the Caesar Salad (P260) as listed on the menu, has “Romaine” appended to it – I assume to avoid ruffling the feathers of those who staunchly believe that it would be sacrilegious to make this salad with anything but. It has adequate flavor but I feel it could do with some anchovies. A better salad is the Hill Station Green Garden (P240), truly a garden with tomatoes and leaves, blueberries, white cheese, and caramelized walnuts tangled in a sesame-mirin dressing. It’s one of those dishes where you can delight in examining the results of your food forage, every forkful yielding a different combination.
Kid-like appetites will enjoy the Cheeseburger (P195), which is unquestionably small, and looks infinitely so in my dad’s large hands. But he likes it, says it has that “Filipino flavor.” The Steak & Prawn Peri-Peri (P595) may be a costly mistake. It lacks that characteristic pepper punch present in a proper peri-peri, the endnote of which should be highlighted by a punch of citrus. This one tastes like an ordinary steak and shrimp, a surf and turf if you will.
Hill Station is elegant and romantic at the same time, both for families and more intimate couplings. Service is crisp but friendly with no unnecessary flourishes. Like Chaya, I feel rescued from the ruckus outside.
For dessert, one can remain in the main dining room or retire to the bakery and be resuscitated by the view of the abundant pastry case. Unfortunately, desserts fall short of the mark here, I feel. The New York Cheesecake (P110) doesn’t live up to its name, it’s more like a “torta de queso,” as my sister aptly describes it. Someone has just beaten us to the last order of the restaurant’s popular Death By Chocolate (P115), their rendering of a molten lava cake. So we settle for the Deep Dark Chocolate Cake (p120), which, while visually arresting, is quite monotonous in terms of flavor and texture.
There’s an interesting bookshop next to Hill Station called Mt. Cloud. Its distinctive feature are its tall ladders reaching up to shelves that seemingly float. The store is worthy of a peek but as a serious book lover, I don’t find much reason to stay.
Hill Station Tapas Bar and Restaurant / Mt. Cloud
Casa Vallejo Upper Session Road
Open daily, 7am-11pm
(074) 424 2734 / 423 9100 / 423 9558