Julian Arguilla

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Julian Arguilla

Post  Julian Arguilla on Mon Jan 10, 2011 8:08 pm

Baguio: Best served hot


Somehow the view was very familiar from the windshield. It was the day before New Year, and one knows how notorious navigating through the long, winding Naguilian road could be during the cold season: the fog, the dark clouds and the raindrops waiting to fall, and that gloomy atmosphere and mystery which makes one feel he is the protagonist of Silent Hill.

I saw the familiar sign again, telling me that we were close to the city proper. Neither was it the huge pineapple nor the Lion’s Head. “Zuriel’s mini mart”, the bold, faded red sign read. Heck, a century has passed and they didn’t even bother to change the roadside eatery’s sign. It was amusing, nonetheless, to see that it still stood.

Upon arriving, the first thing we did was to stop by a popular diner for a much-needed lunch. By then I was craving for a greasy platter of bacon cheeseburger with fries plus a tall glass of cold vanilla shake. But the diner was full to the brim, with people (presumably tourists as well) waiting in line that was winding like the road we just took. Disappointed, we settled for the relatively lonesome Filipino restaurant beside it.

The restaurant was situated in a cold, almost uninhabited side of Session Road near the police station. The food, well it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t that good either. Of all the dishes we were served, the only winner I could tell was the lechon kawali. It was succulent, sufficiently deep-fried. My teeth tore through each heavenly chunk like a hot knife does on a helpless slab of butter. It was perfect, except that there were no more than five chunks to compete with my equally hungry brothers.

We went to SM afterwards. Frankly, once one has visited Mine’s view, Wright Park, the ukay-ukay stalls and Good Shepherd, I don’t think there was anything more worth coming back to in this city. But then, maybe I have just come to associate Baguio with food. Who wouldn’t? The city is teeming with lots of it. From the sidewalks of Session to the benches along Malcolm Square, one can always find a friendly magtataho or a lady, bilao in hand, offering humongous sundot-kulangots which seemed like they came from a mountain deity.

I cannot say anything special about the city’s version of SM, except that it was full of young Korean couples and it is, probably, the only non-air conditioned SM in the archipelago. Well, there were probably more restaurants and salons in it than shoe shops or boutiques. And almost every one of those restaurants served their own version of brewed coffee.

We went to session road afterwards, which offers some really good music bars with different themes. Sayang, I told myself, no late-night catfights among young kolehiyalas with flying panties and stilettos. We drove to Burnham Park. It never runs out of interesting sights to see like the swan boats on the man-made lake, the merchants selling flying toys and the street fare like binatog, isaw and inihaw na pusit. We went for dinner in one of our suki restaurants, a rather comfy eatery called solibao right smack in the middle of the park. I kind of loved the restaurant’s fare over time, because ever since we were young, that was where my parents insisted to go after a day in Baguio. I excused myself for a while, and clutching a piping hot cup of sweet-starchy binatog in the middle of the night, I strolled by myself for a while. It was like visiting it in 1997: time, perhaps, has stood still in this place. Although abandoned and dusty, the skating rink was still there, and so were the old rides, the swan boats, and the friendly faces of night market vendors.

* * * * *
We left Baguio with nothing more than a bunch of cold cuts, pastas, breads and other ingredients for a New Year’s feast. But for me, as we drove home, the mountainside homes that were stars fading into nothingness and the City going to sleep, I brought home more than that.

I think that it isn’t just the food per se in Baguio that fascinates me the most. It may be a combination, of usual but comforting food, a gloomy yet calming atmosphere, and a feeling of nostalgia, which all make me want to come back over and over again. Baguio wasn’t where I grew up, but I kind of know that that’s where my heart is. And through where, to a man's heart, was the quickest way again?
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Julian Arguilla

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Post  Julian Arguilla on Tue Jan 11, 2011 12:18 am

Oops, wrong place.
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