Local Vacation Spots for the Perpetually HungrySeptember 14, 2018
- Diana CamachoWords
If there’s one thing I love about the Philippines, it’s that good food can be found anywhere. Our great affinity for eating, along with the varied produce abounding in each region, translates into distinct specialties that we all know and love.
Because we also love to party (and because we’ll jump up at any excuse to whip up special dishes), we establish fiestas that celebrate these specialties. That, along with our renowned hospitality, means that any visitor is in for a memorable feast.
So, the next time you go on a road trip with your barkada, forget about going to the beach! The following destinations will open your eyes to the tasty delights our country has to offer (and you won’t even need to go on that swimsuit diet before paying them a visit).
January: Longganisa Festival at Vigan, Ilocos Sur
Aside from the Spanish heritage houses lining this northern town’s streets, Vigan is also known for its longganisa. These plump, brown links of spicy meat, distinctly flavored with garlic and Ilokano sugar cane vinegar, are a requisite breakfast item. The Vigan longganisa is so famed that the Ilokanos begin their year by celebrating its existence. And I don’t know about you, but a breakfast of the legendary sausage at Calle Crisologo’s picturesque cobbled streets sounds like it’s worth the 10 hour drive.
February: Suman Festival at Baler, Aurora
Suman is a sticky rice cake cooked in coconut milk, and then wrapped in either banana leaves or buri (Corypha) palm. Since it is known to symbolize shared prosperity, the townspeople of Baler use it as a ritual offering to San Isidro every February. They tie bundles of the rice cake to a piece of bamboo, and throw such from their balconies while the image of San Isidro passes by.
And if you miss the February celebration, you can always catch a similar festival in Antipolo around the month of May.
March: Kesong Puti Festival at Sta. Cruz, Laguna
Kesong Puti (white cheese) is a fresh, non-aged, soft cheese that is made from carabao (water buffalo) milk. It is wrapped and fermented in banana leaves, and is widely produced in Sta. Cruz, Laguna. The native cheese is celebrated as one of the town’s main sources of industry every March, with activities that include fun runs and kesong puti cook-offs.
April: Manggahan Festival at Guimaras, Iloilo
The Guimaras mango is widely known for its sweetness. So, it’s hardly surprising that it takes center stage whenever the province celebrates the anniversary of its independence every April. Heck, the most popular event of their fiesta is the “eat-all-the-mangoes-you-can” event. For only Php 100, locals and tourists alike can eat as much of the yellow, heart-shaped fruit within a certain time limit.
May: Bawang Festival at Sinait, Ilocos Sur
Garlic is a staple in Philippine cuisine. While the French have their sauté, we have our gisa (chopped garlic and onions simmering in a bit of oil), which is pretty much the flavor base for most of our culinary dishes.
So, forget spending Labor Day weekend in Boracay, and instead celebrate garlic in all its breathtaking glory every May 1st in Ilocos Sur.
June: Lechon Festival at Balayan, Batangas
Who doesn’t love lechon? Anthony Bourdain is just one of the recent converts to our widespread appreciation of this roasted suckling pig. The heart-attack-inducing treat is such a local icon that it’s celebrated in several places throughout the year. You can have your fill of this beloved pig in Bacolod in January, in Balayan, Batangas in June, and in Iligan in September.
July: Alimango Festival at Sta. Margarita, Samar
We may be infamous for “crab mentality” but when it comes to a celebration, a little (or a lot of) crab wouldn’t hurt. Alimango (mud crab) is considered as festive food in Filipino households, but for the people in Sta. Margarita, Samar, they are virtually a way of life. Every July, they celebrate their primary source of livelihood through parades, dances, crab-racing, and cooking contests featuring the snappy crustacean.
August: Dinagat-Bakasi at Cordova, Cebu
The Dinagat (anything pertaining to, or fished from the sea) festival is a reinvention of the Bakasi festival. The bakasi is a local eel that is abundant in the town of Cordova, Cebu. The townspeople commemorate the peculiar fish every August with a ritual dance, which is meant to mimic the skating movement of the bakasi. Other activities include a bakasi race and a cooking contest with the exotic eel as the theme ingredient.
September: Tuna Festival at General Santos, South Cotabato
Bet you didn’t know that Gen. San is one of the world’s leading exporters of sashimi-grade tuna. The venerated tuna flesh is responsible for a big portion of the town’s revenues, and is as fêted as Manny Pacquiao, the other celebrity hailing from this district. Tuna Fest activities include a coastal clean-up, a tuna float parade, and a bay cruise. But if that’s still not enough reason for you to visit Gen. San in September, I’ve only got three words for you: WEEKLONG SASHIMI NIGHT!
October: Lanzones Festival at Mambajao, Camiguin
I’m a sucker for the tangy-sweet lanzones. The sweetest ones are said to come from the town of Mambajao, Camiguin. Hence, the town civilians exalt the minuscule tropical fruit during the harvest season in October. The ritual celebration was rumored to have originated when a childless couple asked the lanzones tree fairy for a child. The fairy granted them one, but they failed to thank her so she enchanted the child. Realizing their omission, the child’s parents then performed a thanksgiving ritual that honored the fruit tree, and this set the pattern for the festivals in the years to come.
November: Itik Festival at Victoria, Laguna
The itik (native duck) is the star of many of our “exotic” dishes—the balut being the most popular. The duck-farming culture is particularly prominent in Victoria, Laguna, hence its status as the itik capital of the country. So, every November, they pay tribute to the humble bird by having the Itik Festival as part of their festivities for the town’s founding anniversary.
December: Kapeng Barako Festival at Lipa, Batangas
Barako roughly translates to “tough” or “strong”, hence the name of Lipa’s most distinguished source of caffeine. Harvested in the coffee granary of the Philippines, these coffee beans boast a robust flavor and pungent aroma. The kapeng barako is celebrated with the requisite parade and street dancing, along with a “search for the barako ng bayan” contest (a refreshing change from the usual beauty pageants).
The Philippines is manifestly an epicurean country. We are not only famous for our beaches, but also our food and hospitality. So, now that the summer season is upon us, why not satisfy your wanderlust by booking your next trip to any of the aforementioned destinations instead? That way, you can give a new (and patriotic) meaning to the phrase “food trip!”