ASK any jaded traveler the things he or she is looking for in a destination, and chances are, they will be culture, cuisine and countryside. The quaint town of Camalig in Albay has them all, which it showcased in the Pinangat Festival, which was held recently.
The festivity is named after a signature Bicol delicacy, pinangat, an age-old local vegetable dish, which put the town on the country’s culinary map with its succulent and spicy taste.
Perhaps the most popular regional dish after Bicol Express, it is made up of shredded gabi leaves, red ginger, tiny shrimps (balaw) or a slice of salted fish or pork and crushed pepper. Wrapped in leaves, tied in bundles and cooked in coconut milk, pinangat is a staple of many Bicolanos, and also is sold nationally and select markets abroad.
According to Municipal Mayor Ding Irwin Baldo, the celebrated pinangat has put Camalig in the limelight through Culinaria Albay, a culinary tourism program of the province, which takes foodies to a food-trip circuit around notable dining outlets.
At any given day, motorists and travelers make a pit stop in the town to buy pinangat, while others opt for a meal at homegrown roadside restaurants.
The festival’s highlight is a colorful street dance parade dramatizing the harvest and cooking process of the pinangat. The townsfolk also shared hundreds of servings of the popular delicacy in a boodle fight, and distributed the same to motorists passing by.
Spicing up the weeklong festivity are fringe sporting and special interest activities, and concluded with the municipal patronal feast of Saint John the Baptist.
Baldo noted that Camalig is acknowledged as a heritage town of Albay because of the gentry’s ancestral houses, structures and antiquities, which have survived the ravages of time.
The most notable among this is the Nuyda House of the late Congressman Justino Nuyda, which as a living museum.
In the heart of the town is the postcard-pretty Spanish-era Saint John Church the Baptist, which was declared last year as an Important Cultural Property by the National Museum. Its convent serves as repository of artifacts excavated from archaeological sites in the forest reserve of Hoyop-Hoyopan Cave, one of Luzon’s prehistoric settlements.
In addition to the well-loved dish, visitors troop to Sumlang Lake, Camalig’s newest tourist icon, with the picturesque Mayon Volcano in the background. An idle nine-hectare farm swamp a few years back, it was transformed by the villagers through a bayanihan system into a man-made lagoon ideal for a bamboo raft cruise.
Today, the area is a landscaped tourist zone with a souvenir shop and a cozy restaurant adorned by the export-quality furnishings created by village chief Felipe Napa Jr.
Other hot spots that have been drawing guests to Camalig is the Quitinday Green Hills Formation Reserve, whose contour is akin to the famed Chocolate Hills, and the Quituinan Tunnels, which served as a Japanese garrison and hospital during World War II.