FROM the ruins of World War II, a café rose a quarter of a century ago and became a landmark that gives soul to this bustling city.
It was started by a group of like-minded and like-spirited friends who were always involved in the issues of the day—issues on environment, the mountain culture, city management, the nation’s problems and a lot of art.
Who they were explains why this is so
The colorful band of friends were the late Christine Arvisu, one of the owners of the property who grew up with the history of the place once owned by the first American governor general; Phelps Whitmarsh and his Ibaloi wife; Dave Baradas, anthropologist; Baboo Mondonedo, a writer who also delved into documenting the mountain culture; and Laida Lim, a woman of many interests and causes, and from whose kitchen the savored recipes of the restaurant are stewed, boiled, fried, then tested and tasted to a gastronomic satisfaction. Also among them were National Artist Bencab; Boy Yunchengco, art supporter from a family of bankers; Louie and Sue Llamado, with their management skills and caring side for whatever improves the planet; and the late Robert Villanueva, who was renowned for his nonconventional artworks.
Café by the Ruins was born from their warm friendship, and from its kitchen the aroma of fresh brewed native coffee and the smell of oven-fresh bread drew more like minds and souls into circles of animated discussions or just warm conversations.
It was a time of a swirl of art festivals and rallies fighting for the city’s greenery. As the years went by, this dynamism settled into a more quiet but flowing stream of keeping the spirit of the city alive.
For the owners, it was simply called the Café, and for others the Ruins. In the words of Mondonedo, they agreed from the start that it would be a venue for community events and would provide food, friendship and information—to give the best and operate beyond profit. Their guiding principle was eating well, meaning serving food, locally grown and seasonal, fresh from the Baguio market. Their menu changes every four months, and what is special for the day is what comes fresh from the market.
The café these people were thinking of running just for a single summer since artists and thinkers that they were, none of them had any business acumen. But to their own amazement, from the savings and earnings of the Ruins, they recently launched Café Dua on Session Road. Dua is an Ilocano word meaning two, in this context the second café or a branch.
Even more interesting, the generation of Café kids, their children, are now on top of the operation, with the original shares now passed on to them by their parents.
Just like their parents, they formed a friendship playing around the yard of the café as kids, and learned organically the workings of the trade.
With a big difference
Café Dua is with a more permanent architectural design and a business plan. The Ruins changed cogon roofs several times, as the rain trickled in on wet days, until they fashioned a more permanent roofing and a more reliable calendar of operation, as compared to days when they would say, Café opens depending on the weather.
Café Dua offers an ambiance of fine dining in casual elegance; while the Ruins continues to be a semi-outdoor atmosphere with open walls and a stone-paved fireplace area, where musicians jam at times through the night.
Still the spirit of the Ruins remains the same for Café Dua
The food are recipes of love, many contributed by family and friends that come with a story. There is the camote bread, an original recipe of Lim’s brother Ernie, who wanted bread with no preservatives, and using ingredients cheap and plentiful, which happens to be camote.
The sinigang recipe soured with rattan fruit was inspired by the late Cecille Afable, a name that cannot be forgotten in the circle of local journalism.
Regional specialities of preparing food are adopted with a twist. Creativity is the flavor of the servings, creating a narrative of their own.
In the Ruins, poetry readings brought together literary giants, budding poets and creative writers in intimate sessions of sharing and baring their hearts in rhymes and rhythms.
The war relic walls of the Ruins have always been studded with artworks, ranging from pieces of Bencab and the late Santi Bose to struggling local artists, who eventually claimed their own moments of fame.
Café Dua will be an extension of these mind-stirring activities. The conversations will go on and more friendships nurtured on a table that serves the same menu of Ruins.
Ruins and Dua serve fresh-fruit juices, herbal teas and special blends of brewed native coffee; home-grown recipes of starters and spreads; freshly baked bread; healthy soups quite unique in preparation; salads and their famous dressings; and sweets and sorbets of both local and international flavor infuences.
A special area of specialty is the heartwarming Cordillera slow food, like pinikpikan, or the slow beating of a chicken that is poetically explained by writer Frank Cimatu as giving the chicken a chance to cry out to the heavens. Etag or a kind of salt-preserved pork many claim to be best if butchered in a ritual, is also part of the cuisine.
Part of the Cordillera menu also included baby eels wor juju when it opened, but is more rare now as waterways have become polluted. It also serves fried frogs’ legs in the rainy season, and one of its best sellers, fish roe, is served when the temperature dips come January and February. Burong hipon, fermented or small shrimp, accompanies fried tasty tilapia from Ambuklao Dam.
Almost magically, all these are prepared in a cramped kitchen at the Ruins, not to mention the bakery items it sells.
Café Dua, with its bigger space, will also serve as a production house, with bigger volumes of its servings to be done here.
An encouraging thing that made the Café people invest in a new branch is the fact that people lined up and waited hours to get a seat at the Ruins, smiling rather than complaining when they finally get a space.
If anything shows that the new managers, the children of the Ruins parents, did well in their baptism of fire, it was the full house of Café Dua during the Christmas holiday.
As things settle, heading the young team and daughter of Christine Arvisu, Celestina or Tanya, and daughter of Laida Lim, Feliz Perez, will be filling the white painted walls of Café Dua with works of local artists.
With ideas still sparking in their minds, the young team has so much to do, especially with the bakery line expanding and precooked frozen food for pasalubong added to its offerings.
Café Dua also starts the footlong longanisa and lamb longania. All its products are well-researched and locally sourced, said Lim, some of them she has never met but did business with virtually.
The other children of the Ruins’ founders composing the new young team are Jasmine, daughter of Bencab; Lia, daughter of Sue LLamado; Miguel Yuchengco-Santos, nephew of Boy Yuchengco; and Tootsie Angara, daughter of Baboo.
Together, they will carry out the tradition and add their own, working and living out the words of what Mondonedo once quoted from Roland Escaig: “Happiness is never offered. It has to be won, it has to be savored, and it must be shared around the table.”
Image credits: Mau Victa