FOOD

Christmas in Baguio: New food businesses thrive amid the pandemic

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EggInc's cream puffs holiday flavors include tiramisu, matcha, Snow Almonds, and Cinnamon Hugs. Photo by JOEY REYES

Baguio City (CNN Philippines Life) — It didn’t feel like noon when we arrived in Baguio City. Thick clouds rolled on top of the Cordillera mountains as the sun occasionally peeked from behind them, giving just the right amount of warmth amid the cold December air. There are fewer Christmas decors in many parts of the city as compared to the years before. But the cold breeze, accentuated by the fresh smell of the pine trees, was enough to tell us that the most wonderful time of the year is here again.

Visiting Baguio during the Christmas season is one of the favorite yuletide traditions of many Filipinos. However, with the pandemic, the Baguio City government, as well as many establishments in the city, had to tone down the festivities this year.

The cold weather and the fresh scent of pine trees still make Baguio City one of the best places to celebrate Christmas in the country. Photo by JOEY REYES

Strict health and safety protocols need to be followed before entering the city. While tourists can still visit different places in Baguio, everyone is required to always wear masks and face shields, and observe physical distancing.

Conscious about the steady rise of COVID-19 cases during this season, we decided to spend most of our time in our hotel, and just enjoy the peace and quiet in the area. We were fortunate that the hotel we frequent is a bit isolated from the city center. We got the serenity we needed after nine long months of dealing with the demands of working from home.

This road is usually packed with vehicles this time of the year. However, due to the pandemic, there is significantly less traffic in the area. Photo by JOEY REYES

As with our last visit, we decided to have food delivered to our hotel room. We sought the advice of @makmakan_baguio, one of the food bloggers/home bakers we got to know from our last visit, on some of the best food finds in Baguio. While we spent most of our time indoors, the food we ordered was so amazing, it took us on a very satisfying gastronomic adventure.

EggInc Desserts and Pastries (@iloveegginc)

I was in Manila when I first discovered @iloveegginc’s Instagram page and their photogenic gourmet cream puffs. So, when I returned to Baguio, I made sure to order from them. Bonus points because they have Christmas-themed cream puffs! And they did not disappoint. The choux au craquelin were as good as they looked in photos. They were soft with just the right amount of crisp on their shell. The filling had just the right amount of sweetness.

EggInc has Christmas-themed flavors such as Strawberry Kisses, Red and White Christmas, and Say Cheese. Photo by JOEY REYES

Like other businesses, pastry chef Katrina and her husband Anthony’s Egg Inc was badly hit by the pandemic. Sales went down for a while and they had to give up some of their employees. The situation took a turn for the better when Katrina and her team decided to focus more on getting online clients. Now, they are also delivering in Metro Manila, Bulacan, Cavite, Pampanga, Rizal, Abra, and Batangas. While Christmas may not be as festive this year, Egg Inc still aims to put color to their client’s world with their creative offerings this yuletide season.

Highland Smokehouse (@highlandsmokes2600)

Highland Smokehouse's black angus brisket is cooked and smoked for 12 hours to make the meat tender and tasty. Photo by JOEY REYES

Highland Smokehouse’s Black Angus Brisket is definitely one of the best meats I’ve ever had. The brisket was very tender and flavorful. We could definitely taste the 12 hours the meat spent in the smoker. And we would definitely order this again. 

Another delicious find is Highland Smokehouse’s tacos. The combination of the soft tacos, barbecue sauce, chimichurri, and smoked meat was just sublime.

Highland Smokehouse's soft tacos come in three flavors: beef, pork, and fish. Photo by JOEY REYES

Highland Smokehouse’s Arjyen Datuin said he wouldn’t have started his smoked meat business had the pandemic not happened. Like many, he had other plans for this year. But life, as we know it, forced him to stay at home and focus on his cooking. It was not an easy journey. But Datuin said the people in Baguio were very supportive and encouraged him to push through. Several months later, the Baguio residents’ Bayanihan spirit proved stronger than this pandemic.

Kamila’s 4 am Art + Doughies (@kamilas4am.art and @dough.ies)

This Christmas I learned that flowers are not only beautiful, they can be delicious too! The Fleur Donuts, a collaboration between Kamila’s 4am Art and Doughies are just so irresistible that I finished four pieces in one day. Each donut is coated with melted white chocolate and topped with beautiful candied flowers. The jam filling inside was a nice surprise too. I also really enjoyed the freshness and tanginess of the passionfruit custard, which balanced out the sweetness of the chocolate coating. Doughies’ home baker Ghislynne Dei-Anne Andaya said it takes about 30 to 36 hours to prepare the sourdough donuts.

These sourdough donuts have candied flowers on top and fruity jam fillings. Photo by JOEY REYES

Fleur donuts are made of ingredients from the Cordilleras. Flavors include passionfruit custard, Roselle jam, pear jam, and strawberry jam with cream. Photo by JOEY REYES

Kamila’s 4am Art is an art shop that turns real flowers into wearable art. As a non-essential business, Mimi Dumalaog said the pandemic hit her business hard. At one point, she had to pay her team out of her own pocket. Her business was eventually able to pivot when they started making face masks.

Now, Dumalaog said she has expanded her business by partnering with local artists and asking them to incorporate real flowers in their own arts. One of these products is the Fleur Donuts. She believes this is what makes Christmas this year more meaningful — being able to share her success with other small businesses in the city.

The Outlook Steak and Grill

The hotel we stayed in has a restaurant that offers an al fresco dining experience. We just couldn’t say no to the sunset view, relaxing ambience, and the warm food that go along with dining in at The Outlook Steak and Grill.

The hotel’s food and beverage manager Raph Mendoza said that to ensure the safety of their guests and staff, strict health and safety measures are being implemented. Tables are safely distanced from each other. The staff all wear face masks, face shields, and disposable hand gloves. The restaurant also offers contactless ordering and payment systems using QR codes.

Steaks are prepared Sous Vide or vacuum-sealed and immersed in warm water to ensure that the meat is juicy, tender, and cooked consistently every time. Photo by JOEY REYES

A good steak instantly makes a celebration extra special. And The Outlook’s steak definitely made our early Christmas dinner more memorable. Each slab is thick and perfectly seasoned. It’s very tender and juicy, and cooked just the way we liked it. Definitely one of the best steaks in this side of the country.

The Outlook offers different meat cuts. From porterhouse to t-bone to flank. Photo by JOEY REYES

Mendoza says this time last year, the hotel was already fully booked and the restaurant almost always packed every night. However, with fewer tourists entering the city this year, the bookings are also significantly lower. But like many businesses in the city, Mendoza and his team choose to see the silver lining amid the pandemic — they are healthy and the business is surviving.

The sun rises behind the Cordillera mountains. Baguio residents say they are looking forward to a better 2021. Photo by JOEY REYES

Amid the challenges and problems they had to face this year, Baguio residents remain thankful that they found ways to thrive during the pandemic. 2020 may have knocked some of them down but with the help of the people around them, they were still able to get back up on their feet. And as uncertain as the next year may seem, many of them say they are welcoming 2021 full of hope for better things to come.