As the waiter sets down my hot chocolate, I can’t help but notice that the cup looks so familiar ”“ the off-white with the green trim around the rim. My lolo (grandfather) had the exact same cups which I’d use whenever I’d visit him in Pampanga. That was years ago. I stare transfixed at the heavy mug, feeling a wave of déjÃ vu. Noting my fascination with the cup, my Bin leaned over and said, “You know, my lolo used to have the same cups too.” Unbelievable.
Having just arrived in Baguio, we stop for breakfast at Star Café. An old restaurant that’s been around since 1940, it’s a typical Filipino panaderia (bakery): the bread is stacked out front as soon as it comes out from the oven at the back, there’s an old TV set blaring away whatever the owners feel like watching that morning as they scurry around filling orders, and people come in to buy a roll or two, or if time permits, sit down for coffee and pandesal (bread roll) along with the morning daily.
Usual panaderia staples include cinnamon rolls formed in a circle, and ensaymada (Filipino brioche) ”“ thick and dense, predecessors to the fluffier ones of today; cheese bread (tubular rolls with a condensed milk and cheese filling); the aforementioned pandesal; and what Star Café is famous for: beef empanadas.
A revelation in themselves, beefy with a touch of curry, the mixture is enclosed in a heavy, crumbly pastry that makes a mess out of my mouth with each bite. Heavy in hand and stomach, we arrive in Star Café just as these babies come out of the oven. Forget butter, forget margarine, this is the real stuff made with good ol’ lard. Yep, lard. The taste? Unforgettable.
In the 14°C blistering cold that is Baguio (I’m from the tropics, remember?) my Bin orders some bone-warming chicken mami (noodle soup). This is the old-style chicken mami with pallid soup and soggy noodles. Its appearance will win no beauty contest, but its restorative powers cannot be denied.
As for the hot chocolate that I drink during that breakfast, it’s actually hot Milo. Milo was the only hot chocolate, the best hot chocolate I knew when I was a kid – granular brown crystals that came in a distinctive green can, marketed as the energy drink of champions. Dissolved in hot water, I’d put in generous teaspoons of sugar and more than just a splash of evaporated milk. I’d sip my hot Milo slowly in that very same off-white mug with the green trim around the rim, pretending that I was a grown-up drinking coffee.
These days, I don’t see Milo in the supermarket anymore ”“ or maybe I just haven’t looked. This breakfast at Star Café makes me see that maybe I should look for it once more. Everything old is new again, or maybe things never change.
Star Café and Restaurant
39 Session Road, Baguio City
442-3148 / 442-4041
Related Baguio posts:
The best cassava cake is in … Baguio
Baguio: A Food Trip in Pictures
My Favorite Starbucks Branch (is inBaguio)
Baguio Food Trip: My favorite things
Baguio Food Trip: Coffee at PNKY
What’s To Eat: Christmas in Baguio