Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Filipinos may know Cavite for its history — but with its history is a lot of food.
The province south of Manila is considered the cradle of Philippine independence. It has taken remnants of the Spanish colonization — from the goods traded during the galleon trade to the use of the pidgin Spanish language Chabacano — and spun these into its own.
From the coastal city-appropriate pancit pusit to the Mexican-inspired pipian, Cavite offers a culinary scene that may have been sidelined due to its its proximity to the capital. A food crawl organized by San Miguel Pure Foods Culinary Center (SMPFCC) aims to spotlight just that.
“The tour’s stops were carefully chosen to show that Cavite’s culinary scene has so much more to offer other than Bacoor’s famed Halo-Halo and Carmona’s classic Binalot,” says SMPFCC Culinary Services Manager Llena Tan-Arcenas. “We hope that it will make everyone appreciate and draw inspiration from the rich culinary heritage of Cavite.”
Here are some highlights of that food walk.
Cavite City is the hometown of 1930s actor Leopoldo Salcedo, whose granddaughter Bernadita Rojas-Fontanilla returns to her roots by openly sharing heirloom dishes with the community. Bernie's Kitchenette is a glamorized carinderia with a welcoming staff and memorabilia that give the place a sheen of nostalgia. The restaurant is only three years old, but she has been cooking for over 30 years.
“I'm not a chef, I'm just a cook,” Rojas-Fontanilla insists. “But you don't need to be a chef. All you need is to have passion for it.”
Her passion project is a cookbook that compiles recipes from the town's elders.
Rojas-Fontanilla’s dishes speak for themselves. Two savory types of pancit are laid before us: pansit puso served with kinilaw na puso ng saging — or the heart of a banana; and pansit pusit, alternatively known as pancit choco or pancit negra, set apart from the usual squid ink pasta by its thin noodles — either bihon or sotanghon — and topped by diced green mango and chicharon.
Another dish is the Lenten favorite bacalao, or sauteed codfish. Also popular in other countries colonized by Spain, the dish is first prepared by frying potatoes, melting butter, and sauteing garlic and onions. The cod is added and cooked for 15 minutes before beans, garbanzos, red bell pepper, and the stock of choice is poured in. Two cups make for a saucier dish. The meal is finished after a dash of pepper and cabbage simmers for about ten minutes.
Crispy fried fish lao-lao and the savory meat roll morcon are also served.
Not far away from the kitchenette is the pasalubong destination Pat & Sam, where guests can get a box of bibingkang samala. The merienda — made of glutinous rice, coconut milk, and sugar — has a Caviteño spin that comes in two flavors: the traditional malagkit, and the crunchier pinipig.
The municipality of Tanza was formerly known as Estancia, derived from the Spanish word which means “station.” The word also refers to cattle ranches or stock farms in Latin America. This holds true to the livelihood Tanza finds in farming and fishing.
Spanish influence also seeps through the heritage house of the Abad clan, one of the oldest houses in town. Built in the 1820s, it is maintained by three brothers: a doctor named Moises, a lawyer named Cenon, and a judge named Julio. In its lifetime, the house has been a home, clinic, and production hub for patis and bagoong.
It is in this house that Chef Chris Bautista, Former Culinary Director at Lyceum of the Philippines, demonstrates two dishes that will seem generally familiar to any Filipino — at least upon first glance.
The first, pipian, is similar to kare-kare — but it uses chicken instead of beef. It is closer to Mexican cuisine than Spanish, having been brought to the Cavite through the galleon trade. The chicken is put in skin side down into a pan with sauteed garlic. It is followed by broth, rice flour, peanut butter, atsuete water, and spring onions. The name of the dish takes after a Mexican sauce derived from pumpkin seed; but in the absence of pumpkins, Spanish friars made do with peanuts instead.
The second dish is tinumis, which resembles dinuguan. However, the meal is flavored with sampaloc leaves instead of vinegar. Pork mask is sauteed with garlic and onions, seasoned with fish sauce, then brought to a boil. When the meat is tender, pig's blood is added through a sieve. The sampaloc and chili comes last. In some areas, tinumis is even prepared with coconut.
Kawit is considered the birthplace of Philippine independence after Emilio Aguinaldo raised the flag in his home. Here, a stone's throw away from the Aguinaldo Shrine, is Mang Jose’s Rolling Kitchen.
The business started out as a food truck before settling down as an open air grill restaurant last year, perfect for a wholesome barkada night out (alcohol is not allowed in the establishment) or sweet indulgence with the family.
The appeal of the grill is its accessibility; you will find one in almost any corner of every Filipino neighborhood. This quick method of preparation is significant for the Filipino eater, partly because it doesn't demand any fuss or complex materials, only a good marinade — but also because it is so affordable.
Its unassuming exterior gives little hint to the treasure they house here: puchon, a nickname owners Jhing and Mimi Hernandez have for a Cavite brand of pugon lechon. The boneless pork belly crunches in the mouth; to even out any sinfulness, partner it with talong and tahong. Other dishes to order are inasal chicken and sisig, cut in generous portions.
As the Rolling Kitchen looks to open a panciteria soon, its momentum is only likely to pick up from here.
Formerly known as Quintana, Trece Martires derives its name from the 13 martyrs of Cavite executed during Spanish rule. They are honored in a town monument.
The restaurant Cavite Republic has been around for 16 years. Its earlier iteration, Town's Delight, was there since 1974 — practically a culinary institution in the town. Its interior features architecture, pictures, and artifacts reminiscent of old Cavite.
Now run by Chef Matt Pacumio, the grandson of Town's Delight founder Cecilia Pacumio, the restaurant itself negotiates its generation gap. Its line of traditional dishes are an ode to heritage but with the aim of catering to a younger audience as well.
The meals to order are paella valenciana, grilled chicken sinampalukan marinated in tamarind, Cavite express — not unlike the spicy Bicol variant, but this time with braised jackfruit in the coconut milk, pancit estacion negra topped with whole chicharon, and crispy dinuguang baboy.
The must-try highlight of lunch is called Lihim ni Lola, a dessert after Cecilia's own recipe. A bite into the humble ube-flavored kakanin produced with cassava is surprised by a stuffing of salted egg.
The coffee capital of the Philippines, Amadeo has been producing coffee beans since 1876. It boasts 4,790 hectares of land dedicated to coffee, and it is the largest coffee producer in the country.
It is here that we find a quaint cafe called Olivia's Coffee, set up by Olivia Lansang, a returning immigrant, and her husband, Joselito Lansang. The couple is one of the first coffee distributors in the province. The produce can be ordered online.
One of their bestsellers has a strawberry mix, calming for nerves for any person who likes their coffee sweet.
Their establishment, nestled in Olivia's Estate, caters mostly to senior citizens, who love their coffee. According to the provincial government website, Amadeo's 20,000 population is dominantly composed of senior citizens and farmers.
Although most dishes here echo Spanish influence, there is no one denominator that identifies Cavite cuisine. From its codfish to its coffee, the province offers a wide range of delicacies that have yet to be discovered.
With heritage cuisine expected to go on the rise, Cavite's cuisine has been patiently waiting to reel in gastronomes — hook, line, and sinker.