‘People who love to eat are always the best people’

‘People who love to eat are always the best people’
Fresh spring rolls at Lime and Basil Thai Restaurant —PHOTOS BY ELIZABETH LOLARGA

That Julia Child dictum of wisdom has guided me late in life, especially in this holiday season when one moveable feast after another in Baguio City, where I live, summoned me and my bottomless appetite. The feasting began early as balikbayan friends from the United States trooped to professor emeritus Delfin Tolentino’s art-filled abode in Mirador Hills. (In 2023 alone I counted four visits there from October to December.)

When retired corporate guy and passionate maker of collages Ogot Sumulong flew in from Chicago, Delfin set an elegant table with Filipino dishes, including the rare freshwater biya deep-fried at caterer Gil Diaz’s kitchen. Gil and his wife used to be the concessionaires at the University of the Philippines Baguio (UPB) canteen. They’ve since found a lucrative living in private catering.

The Diazes provide the bonus of prettily plating the food they bring in on Del’s wonderful collection of earthenware. I made sure to get Gil’s number for future hosting events in our own home.

Chicken cordon bleu prepared by Gil Diaz

When the Maranan-Goldsteins (Len and Joel of Port Townsend, Washington state) swung by Baguio, Del again had lunch prepared. I encountered the biya dish anew, like making friends again with this fresh-water fish that appears seasonally in the Baguio Public Market. I think I ate almost half a platter of it; when Del invited me to another dinner at his place for a chow-down with ex and current senior faculty of UPB, I concentrated on the fish and, the unrepentant carnivore that I am, on the grilled liempo minus the wedges of fresh tomato.

What I also like about dropping by Del’s is the book loot I take home with me, the latest being the Nicole Krauss collection of stories To Be a Man with the caveat that I should read it with patience because it isn’t easy material.

Books and food—my raison d’etre. Films streamed through Netflix are a far third in my priority list. Keeping house is a more distant tenth (thank you, Rolly Fernandez, for taking up the slack).

From left: Ben Tapang, the author, Alma and Banaue Miclat, and Del Tolentino

Now that I’ve mentioned my husband: He is my best dining companion for not only does he know his food, having been raised by a gourmet matriarch from Cavite (thus the love for anything from the sea), he also discourses well on the politics of the day. I spend many hours in social media looking up foodstuff and new restaurants, but most of the time, he beats me to it. And he still manages to garden, clean house, wash dishes, take out the trash, and play with our golden retriever Satchi.

That’s why when I’m feeling too lazy to concoct anything in our small kitchen, he is picky about the eateries from where I order food. Every order has to be approved by him and his discriminating palate. His latest “like” is Manam for its beef short ribs sinigang in a watermelon soup, and crisp pancit palabok. For Thai, it’s a toss-up between Som Tam or Lime and Basil.

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Korean bibimbap at Gypsy Baguio by Chef Waya

When I’m in the mood for solitary dining, I head out to lunch at Gypsy Baguio by Chef Waya in neighboring Quezon Hill. I go for its bibimbap, with leftovers to be relished at dinner. It has lots of color, generous beef strips and more generous veggies in green and purple, with an egg fried sunny side on top.

Rolly critiques my cooking, and a common verdict is: “Masarap sa gutom (Delicious for one who’s hungry)!” When I cooked paksiw na lechon in my blue Dutch oven one whole morning, he declared that it looked soupy, and advised that I should continue to let the dish simmer until the sauce thickens. I heeded him if I knew what was good for all.

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Auring Bautista’s pancit luglug at Baguio Gallery

A Baguio kusinera I love is Aurora “Auring” Bautista of Bonuan Restaurant (famed for its nilasing na hipon, kare-kare, and variations on the bangus). At a recent Upsilon Sigma Phi fellowship dinner at her and her husband Des’ Baguio Gallery, we had her equally famed pancit luglug with potato salad, pork barbecue, vegetable lumpia, and roast turkey with cranberry sauce.

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Dried fruits served at hostess Marbee Shing Go’s white elephant party

With red wine flowing, I was wiped out after two glasses by 9:30 p.m., ready to crawl onto the sofa and sleep.

Oh Christmas, the sinful gluttony I commit in thy name!

Read more: Food, friendship and more on a tour with a chef

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