Cavite is one of the most industrialized and fastest-growing provinces in the country because of its close proximity to Manila. Businesses flourish in its 16 municipalities, including food destinations that appeal to foodies wanting to explore culinary gems outside of the capital. The historic and scenic province hosted docks for the Manila Galleon Trade, where it played an important role in bridging the commerce between Asia and the West. Ultimately, influences from trading countries gave birth to a number of cuisines that are unique to Cavite.
Bringing this heritage to the spotlight is the San Miguel Pure Foods Culinary Center (SMPFCC). The food and beverage arm of the San Miguel Corp. recently held a two-day gastronomical tour, called “Proba: Cavite Comida,” taking guests to select dining spots that reflect the province’s specialties.
“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. Proba means tikman and we want to use this tour as a way to promote the province as a great dining destination for anyone looking for food stops near Manila,” said SMPFCC Culinary Services Manager Llena Tan-Arcenas.
Bernie’s Kitchenette was first on the itinerary. It’s a quaint restaurant decorated with black-and-white pictures and memorabilia that give the place a nostalgic feel even if it opened only three years ago. Bernadita Rojas-Fontanilla, known to many as Bernie, owns and manages the restaurant, and has been cooking here for over 30 years.
The Caviteña chef served Pansit Pusit, which incorporates squid ink into its savory sauce and; Pansit Puso, served with Kinilaw na Puso ng Saging. These were complemented by Bacalao (sautéed catfish), Crispy Lao-Lao (fried fish) and Morcon (savory meat roll), the latter part and parcel of every Caviteño family celebration. A couple of blocks away from Bernie’s Kitchenette was Pat & Sam, makers of the iconic Bibingkang Samala.
In Tanza the tour stopped at the heritage house of the Abad Clan, which was built during the 1820s and is maintained by three brothers: Dr. Moises, Atty. Cenon and Judge Julio. In its long history, it has been a home, a clinic for Dr. Moises, and even a production hub for patis and bagoong.
In the house, Chef Chris Bautista, former culinary director at Lyceum of the Philippines University—Cavite, demonstrated two dishes: pipian, a Spanish-inspired chicken dish like kare-kare; and tinumis, a dish similar to dinuguan but uses sampaloc leaves instead of vinegar as a souring agent.
“For quite some time, hindi masyadong naila-lagay ang Caviteños at the forefront of the culinary scene. I really wish for schools to join in competitions to make Cavite more exposed. I understand we already have a Filipino Heritage Food month, [which is] a very concrete way of making sure we embrace our heritage. But we still have to be more expressive of our cuisine, making sure we know for ourselves what it is to cook,” said Bautista in the sidelines of the cooking demonstration. He added, “There might be a few distinguishing food na tatak Caviteño, but most of the major culinary regions in the Philippines were drawn from Spanish-Mexican influences.”
The last stop for the day was a hole-in-the-wall in Kawit, called Mang Jose’s Rolling Store, whose birth in 2017 was inspired by the boom of food parks and bazaars. Owned by Jhing and Mimi Hernandez, the dining spot has gained popularity for pugon-roasted items like pugon lechon, which figure prominently in their menu.
Tan-Arcenas explained that SMPFCC’s parameters for choosing the featured dining spots: one, they have to have a sense of heritage tradition in the dishes; second, they should have dishes that represent Cavite cuisine; and third, they present cooking techniques unique to Cavite—the canons to which the next food destination falls into perfectly.
Cavite Republic is a reincarnation of Town’s Delight, which opened in 1974, a restaurant that was practically an institution in the province. It opened in 2002 on Philippine Independence Day. Although the restaurant itself is reminiscent of historic architecture, Cavite Republic’s menu merges classic Caviteño cuisine with modern twists and influences.
Chef and owner Matt Pacumio, grandson of Cecilia Pacumio who started Town’s Delight, shared a few of their specialties, namely, Paella Valenciana, Grilled Chicken Sinampalukan, Cavite Express, Pancit Estacion Negra and Crispy Dinuguang Baboy. As a nod to their roots, Cavite Republic also offers a dish called Lihim Ni Lola—a kakanin similar to suman that’s stuffed with salted egg and topped with latik.
A final visit to Amadeo was what capped off the two-day food crawl. The province has been producing coffee beans since 1876 and is the largest coffee producer in the Philippines. Olivia and Joselito Lansang, owners of Olivia’s Coffee, are one of the first coffee distributors in Cavite.