Laguna is known not only for its lakes, varying landscapes, woodcarvings and classic houses, but also for its cuisine and sweet treats.
For two days on February 23 and 24, San Miguel PureFoods Culinary Center (SMPFCC) spearheaded a media tour including The Sunday Times Magazine, which zeroed in on this delicious attribute, specifically in the town of Pila, the capital Sta. Cruz and San Pablo City.
The food trip aptly dubbed “A Slice of Laguna” was certainly no ordinary one. For, not only did the lifestyle press corps get to taste Laguna’s delicacies but also witnessed preparations first-hand.
Heavenly maja blanca
In Pila, Cora Relova made and served the classic Laguna maja blanca sprinkled with desiccated coconut. She even dished up a little bit of trivia by revealing that the ancestral house where the tasting took place was the location of some scenes in the popular ABS-CBN morning drama series Be Careful With My Heart starring Jodi Santamaria and Richard Yap.
After heavenly bites of her maja blanca, Relova toured the group to the nearby Pila Church, another ancestral house of a relative and the municipal hall. The church houses a San Antonio De Padua relic – he is known as the patron saint of lost things. Moving along, the lady host shared other interesting anecdotes about the town, including how the houses in Pila were preserved since the town was spared from the bombings during World War 2. Moreover, with an archaeological find for a crematory—similar to the practice of secondary cremation in China during the Sung period – dating back five centuries before the Spanish occupation, Pila was declared a National Historical Landmark on July 9, 2002.
In Sta. Cruz, the classic chicken fried adobo was the center of the gastronomic encounter at Aurora Restaurant.
Chefs Mon Urbano and Day Salonga [business partners who were classmates in culinary school]demonstrated and explained that they followed the 1920s recipe of Isidra Guevarra who was the wife of lawmaker Pedro Guevarra—one of the early members of the Philippine Senate.
For dessert, Chef Gel Salonga cooked up her delicious bibingka cheesecake with La Pacita Graham crackers and all-Magnolia ingredients.
Named after their grandmother, the restaurant used to be a beauty parlor with the second floor serving as museum-cum-function room for small groups of diners.
Notable decors in the establishment are big jars which the Salongas explained are containers of vinegar from coconut, an important condiment in Laguna cooking.
Besides Aurora Restaurant, the Salongas’ parents operate the popular Ted’s Kitchen, known for its American culinary offerings like burgers and steaks.
Over in San Pablo, it was not just a gastronomic meal that was served—prepared by SMPFCC resident chef Rene Ruiz—but an immersion in Laguna culture as well via the classic houses at Sulyap (Sa Nakaraan) Gallery Bed and Breakfast.
Formerly the Cocoland Hotel, the bed and breakfast was once a school, a BIR office and winery distribution company before it became the showcase of Filipino arts and culture that it is today.
Owned by antique collector Roy Empalmado, he regretfully told the group upon showing everyone around that two prized pieces [one called the Ambassador set used during the time of national hero Jose Rizal]slipped out of his hands. He was happy however that fellow collector and Filipiñana crafts and fashion designer Patis Tesoro became its new owner.
Empalmado’s sprawling cultural heritage resort also has a pool and several function rooms good for small or medium groups with one hall that can accommodate up to 1,200 guests.
The final leg was a visit to Sampalok Lake, the biggest of the seven lakes that bedeck the city. Along the promenade is a resto known for its delicious native dishes. Called Café Lago, the name was suggested by a friend to owner Tony Mariño [the first Filipino to act on Broadway]as lago is the Italian term for lake.
A modest serving of rice, fried chicken and pako salad was enough for lunch but the dessert was one for the books: fried deconstructed halo-halo with a scoop of Magnolia Vanilla Ice Cream.
After the two-day food trip, the realization that not just a slice but a huge chunk of Laguna can be enjoyed in a journey over these historic places. A trip to the province is indeed worthwhile both for foodies and history buffs who will be satiated with their guilty pleasures.