Joining a caravan offered by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (Philtoa) will always have its perks that are hard to top. For this particular caravan, the local delicacies of Southern Tagalog may be the main draw, but there is so much more to it.
Aside from eating or watching how a particular dish is prepared and cooked, this culinary tour was extra special since participants got the rare chance to interact with the town mayors, business owners and the community, and imbibe the rich local history and culture of towns and cities while making the rounds of the numerous attractions along the way.
The Southern Tagalog Kulinarya Caravan, which took place from May 31 to June 2, was a convoy of seven vans joined by tour operators, consumers, Department of Tourism personnel, media practitioners and Philtoa officers.
San Pablo City
The first stop was at the Sampaloc Lake for a magnificent sunrise viewing and was followed by a hearty Seven Lakes Breakfast at Casa San Pablo, a bed and breakfast place. The meal consisted of pinaete (shrimp paste cooked in coconut cream), dried biya from Laguna de Bay, salted egg, longganisang San Pablo, tsokolate and pinipig. A curator of Museo San Pablo talked about the history of San Pablo City, as well as the amazing versatility of the coconut.
In Victoria, regarded as the country’s duck-raising center, we visited farm owners Leo and Josephine Dator, who showed us the different stages of duck farming. Their successful enterprise, Itlog ni Kuya, is known for their organically raised ducks, salted eggs and balut. A cooking demonstration and food tasting of their duck soon followed at their restaurant nearby.
Our group then went straight to the Pila Municipal Hall, where Municipal Mayor Edgardo Ramos welcomed us at his office before we proceeded to visit the town’s tourist attractions.
Pila holds the distinction of being the only town in the country to be recognized as a historical site by both Church and state. Here, we visited the ancestral house of Teodoro Alava that was filled with memorabilia, exuding the aura of a museum of sorts. The parish church of San Antonio de Padua de Pila, the first Antonine parish in the country, is also a must-visit.
This was followed by a cooking demo of local dishes cooked the old-fashioned way: sinukmani, ginataang hipo and puto Pila that successfully whetted our appetites. The main event, to our delight, was a boodle fight. The shared food and laughter while eating with one’s bare hands paved the way for our group to bond.
After the heavy meal, we headed to Nagcarlan’s unique attraction, the Underground Cemetery. The burial site, 15 feet below the ground, was constructed for prominent citizens and Spanish friars while it doubled as a secret meeting place of the Katipunan in 1896.
As for its edible appeal, Nagcarlan brings to the table delicacies such as menudong gulay, bibingka and its famous espasol. The popular shrimp cracker snack Tanyag Kropek is also produced in this town.
The town of Liliw is associated with its slippers and its booming footwear industry. For this reason, we paid a visit to a little factory and we were amazed at the mastery of skills of the workers who churned out footwear with effortless precision. Souvenir shopping at the tsinelas capital of the region soon followed.
In Majayjay we made a beeline for the San Gregorio Magno Parish Church and marveled at its Roman-esque style of architecture. Built in 1649, the Majayjay Church is one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in the country and has been declared as a National Cultural Treasure by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.
The Costales Nature Farm at the foot of Mount Banahaw was the last stop of the day. The farm is a bundle of positive energies teaching visitors about living the healthy lifestyle through its organic produce. Going further, Costales offers various courses related to organic farming.
For dinner, we had to work for our food by participating in the Chef’s Challenge. We had fun sourcing the ingredients of our dish straight from the farm: chasing the free range chicken for our tinola, a demo catching of catfish, lettuce planting in a seedling tray, vegetable picking, cooking the food in a palayok with burning wood as fuel—all contributed to the lively activity.
With our short immersion here, we came to the conclusion that Costales Farm is more than just farming methods; it is a way of life and a philosophy.
What is a trip to Lucban without a plateful of its toasted special longganisa and pansit Lucban eaten with a sprinkling of vinegar? Buddy’s is the destination of choice for our breakfast cravings that day.
As the town of Lucban is famous for its Pahiyas Festival, we satisfied our curiosity as to how the edible leaf-shaped wafer known as as kiping is made. We were lucky to have Lucban native Milada Dealo accommodate us at her bed and breakfast place, Sulyap sa Pahiyas, and teach us the art of making kiping. Our gracious host had us taste the fried kiping with a little sugar. She is an authority on the subject, having penned the book The Cuisine of Quezon. Pansit habhab and a moist chocolate cake were also served at our pleasure.
We burned our calories from all the eating by taking a lot of photos at the pilgrimage destination Kamay ni Jesus Shrine and Healing Center. Our group picture was also taken at Malagonlong Bridge, known to be one of the oldest and longest built bridges during the Spanish Era.
We visited the factory of Rodillas’ Yema Cake in Tayabas and saw how the popular dessert was baked that made our mouths water. We smiled with joy when we got to bring home cakes after our factory tour ended.
The town of Sariaya welcomed our caravan with an invitation to down a shot of their lambanog as a part of their local custom—to which we gamely obliged. To our surprise, the women in our party were the ones who drank the coconut wine without any hesitation. At the municipal hall, we joined the mock Agawan Festival. It was every man and woman for him/herself as we grabbed every fruit, vegetable and straw product we could lay our hands on. It was such an adrenaline rush for everybody!
Just a stone’s throw away is the Gala-Rodriquez Heritage House, where we ventured excitedly to discover its history. More than its grand size and expensive furnishings, the most striking feature of the house was the presence of a hidden cellar, where visitors could enter and get a feel of the place for themselves. The house, referred to as malaking bahay (big house), was declared by the National Historic Institute as part of our national heritage.
After a late lunch, we went to see how Lambanog was made using a simple contraption. Nevertheless, even without the high-tech laboratory equipment, it gets the job done like a high-school science project.
As night fell, we moved toward La Luz Beach Resort in San Juan, Batangas. Municipal Mayor Rodolfo Manalo welcomed our group at the private cove of the resort. Intercontinental food was served at the buffet station as live music entertained us as we ate dinner. Certificates of participation were awarded as each member of the caravan was called and recognized on stage. A black clay pot was given as a souvenir.
The next day, everyone had a relaxing time at the resort before heading back to Manila around lunch time.
The well-thought-of itinerary was made possible through the partnership of the DOT and the local government units.
The Southern Tagalog Kulinarya Caravan is just one of the seven caravans that will be offered at the annual Philippine Travel Mart from September 1 to3 at the SMX Convention Center under the theme “50 Shades of Fun at Visit Asean @50”. The other caravan programs consist of the Cordillera Heritage Caravan, The Visayan Charms, The Caraga Eco Trail, Rediscover Batanes, Northern Palawan (Coron) Eco Adventure Caravan, and Bicol Express. PHILTOA is copresenting the 28th Philippine Travel with the Tourism Promotions Board.