Savoring Sagada

By , on August 7, 2013


On top of Mt. Kiltepan in Sagada, Mountain Province.
On top of Mt. Kiltepan in Sagada, Mountain Province.

A trip to Sagada, or any place for that matter, wouldn’t be complete without savouring the uniquely modern yet traditional cuisine this side of the Mountain Province.

The things mentioned barely scratched the surface of the wide array of food choices in Sagada and for sure, I still have a lot of delicacies to try when I go back up there. But meanwhile, if you do plan to go to Sagada soon, make sure you don’t miss these treats—tested and approved by yours truly.

Lemon pie from the Sagada Lemon Pie House.
Lemon pie from the Sagada Lemon Pie House.

Even before heading 395 kilometers north of Manila, I’ve made up my mind that I have to try the famous lemon pie from the Sagada Lemon Pie House. So on my first day, I bought a map from one of the souvenir shops and located the Lemon Pie House on the map. It’s located downtown and it was quite a walk, which was good because I need to make some room for dessert. When I got there, I thought it was closed but a lady opened the door and invited me in with a smile that can warm any visitor in this cold, cold mountain. It was Auntie Katrina, the owner and maker of these heavenly pies. I made my way to the shelves where the pies were displayed and my mind was swimming with excitement, I couldn’t make a decision. So I bought a slice of the lemon pie (PHP20/slice or CAD$0.50/slice) and a slice of egg pie. I washed it down with a cup of warm mountain tea. I know, I know! I cannot even remember how I made all of it fit in my belly but they all mingled together wonderfully—making my first day in Sagada incredible. The lemon pie was tangy and sweet, with a wonderfully flaky crust and the mildly crunchy top because of the drizzled caramel. The custard (on both pies) was smooth and creamy, it just melts in your mouth. The mountain tea was very mild. It’s the perfect match for the pies.

And since I couldn’t help it, I already placed my order for three lemon pies (PHP150/pie or CAD$3.50/pie) to be picked up on Monday morning, which I brought back to Laguna.

Fully loaded yoghurt from The Yoghurt House.
Fully loaded yoghurt from The Yoghurt House.

Later that afternoon, after enjoying a scenic walk around the quaint town, I decided to have a little snack at The Yoghurt House. I had a serving of their home-made yoghurt with all the toppings—strawberry preserves, bananas, and their home-made granola mix. It was a religious experience. An absolutely scrumptious treat from yoghurt heaven! I mean, I came from UP Los Baños, where DTRI and PCC made yoghurt everyday—and yet, this yoghurt was far and beyond any yoghurt I have ever tasted.

Burger Steak from Masferre Cafe.
Burger Steak from Masferre Cafe.

Come dinner, I headed off to Masferre Café and had the burger steak. It was very tender and savory, I didn’t have to wrestle with it to cut off a piece. The vegetables were cooked well, they weren’t soggy and it even goes well with the steak gravy. Those vegies were delicious – take it from a no-vegies-as-mush-as-possible-please person like me. I bet the vegetables were freshly picked from somewhere near.

Beef Tapa with Red Mountain Rice from The Rock Inn.
Beef Tapa with Red Mountain Rice from The Rock Inn.

The next day, after hiking to Mount Kiltepan at around 4AM (to watch the sunrise), I had breakfast at The Rock Inn. I had the beef tapa, as recommended by the inn owner’s son. It was served with a generous portion of red mountain rice (something new for yours truly), egg over-easy, and a side salad. The beef tapa was very good and tender. The red rice was a good background for the tapa’s smoky marinated flavor. I also had a glass of their freshly squeezed orange juice—straight from their orange orchard at the back of the inn. You can actually go around the inn compound and visit their orange orchard and rock garden – free of charge!

Munching at the Rock Inn's Orange orchard.
Munching at the Rock Inn’s Orange orchard.

After my morning hike, I went back to The Yoghurt House for lunch. I ordered their yoghurt with granola and bananas (of course!) and pasta carbonara. The serving was, just like everywhere else in Sagada, gargantuan. I had to take some of it back to my guest house. The pasta was al dente and the sauce was already mixed with the pasta, so there’s more than enough—the way I like it. The sauce was heavy and creamy, sweet with some bits of carrots, mushroom and ham. When I woke up the next day, I ate my leftover carbonara and believe it or not, it tasted better. I didn’t even need a fridge to keep my leftovers because it was SO COLD.

Chicken "Pinikpikan" and Etag on steamed rice and fern.
Chicken “Pinikpikan” and Etag on steamed rice and fern.

On my last night in Sagada, my dinner was extra special. I joined three other Manila girls and their tour guides from the Sagada Genuine Guides Association (SAGGAS) to Lake Danom, where we watched the sunset and dined al fresco—having the authentic “pinikpikan” (or killing-me-softly-chicken) and “etag” (salt-cured meat), Mountain Province’s answer to the Italians’ pancetta. I do not want to elaborate on the procedure of preparing “pinikpikan”, just Google it on your own. All you have to know is that the meal was awesome. And even if I didn’t know these people at all, I had a great time sharing a meal with them by the bonfire. While the pinikpikan dinner was being cooked, we roasted some hotdogs by the fire and toasted some bread. The tour guides told us stories about Lake Danom and Sagada as the four of us tried to keep ourselves warm. It was so freakin’ cold!

About an hour and a half later, the pinikpikan dinner was ready. Our tour guides laid down pieces of fern (yes, fern) on the ground and started scooping the freshly cooked steamed rice on top of it. Then, they placed the pieces of boiled etag and pinikpikan on top of the rice. We then sat on the ground around the food and ate with our hands. We used plastic cups to sip the broth where the pinikpikan and etag were cooked. It was such a very hearty meal, simply because it was authentic Sagada cuisine. The broth was very very tasty and perfect, especially because the broth was really hot and the temperature around Lake Danom was 10 degrees Celsius. The pinikpikan chicken was sort of bitter and savory at the same time. It was very tender since it was slowly cooked. The etag was my favorite, it’s so simple and yet it was really delicious. Tender and juicy, etag surely touched my heart as it made its way towards my belly. Dinner was fun, because all the girls (including yours truly) had a hard time remembering how to eat with our hands. The three girls were from Makati, I’m from Quezon City—I personally cannot remember the last time I ate without utensils. All in all, the night was perfect. I always loved how food can bring even strangers together.

Each of us (us four girls) only paid PHP 100.00 (or CAD$2.50) for that meal. It was the cheapest meal I had in Sagada, and oddly enough, also the most memorable.

Hiker's Delight at The Yoghurt House.
Hiker’s Delight at The Yoghurt House.

The next day, before heading off to Manila with a heavy heart and a full tummy, I had brunch at The Yoghurt House. I had their Hiker’s Delight, which is a pancake stuffed with bananas and their home-made yoghurt, served with scrambled eggs and a piece of buttered toast. You can also choose between a cup of coffee or orange juice, which comes with the meal. It was so heavy, which was perfect because a seven-hour ride back to Baguio City was ahead of me.

Other than the usual keychains, shirts, and boxes of Lemon pie, I recommend that you figure out a way to fit a few jars of their local blueberry jam in your luggage. You can buy it from the Strawberry Cafe near the Log Cabin. That blueberry jam is spot-on. It was unbelievable! It didn’t last longer than two days in my apartment.

Now, wipe that drool off your chin and start planning your trip to Sagada. Happy trails!