Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Adobo, a Filipino Icon

Garnished chicken-pork adobo

Adobo, which is Spanish for marinade, sauce or seasoning, refers to a food cooking process that involves the immersion of raw food into a preparation, in the form of a sauce, of different components, including paprika (from red peppers), oregano, salt, garlic, and vinegar, which are mixed according to the place of origin and the food with which it is intended to be served. The concoction is primarily used to preserve and enhance the flavor of food. The cooking technique is native to Spanish cuisine, which became widely used in Latin America, and was subsequently adopted in other countries, such as the United States. Adding tomato, corn, avocado, and potato in adobo is of Mexican influence. On the other hand, Venezuela has its own version of adobo, which refers to a concoction of salt with various spices, technically known as sal condimentada (seasoned salt).

When Spaniards ruled this country in 16th century, they encountered a local cooking procedure that involved stewing with vinegar and called it adobo. Since then, dishes cooked that way have been called adobo and the local term, if ever there was, was forever lost to history.

The Filipino adobo cuisine involves usually pork or chicken or a combination of both that are marinated and slowly simmered in soy sauce, vinegar, crushed garlic, minced ginger and black pepper, taken out once the meat becomes tender and then fried in a pan to get the desired crisped edges and brown color. Afterwards, the sauce is poured back for gentle simmering a little while and then the dish is garnished. Being a Filipino dish, it is served as a viand paired with rice, the staple food in the Philippines. In visiting northern Luzon, particularly Nueva Vizcaya, I found out that adobo is not confined to either chicken or pork or a combination of both or seafoods, which are universally served and accepted in all parts of the country with an exception—Muslim communities consider pork adobo as unacceptable. In Aritao, Nueva Vizcaya, there is a restaurant offering bizarre and creepy adobo dishes—of frogs and of bugs, which I relished along with other exotic dishes.

In the present-day style of cooking adobo, potato, beans or pineapple chunks are sometimes added for variation and flavor catering specially to the health-conscious. Creative chefs use deep-fried rice noodles, oregano leaves, and a long-variety of chili for garnishing. 

This dish is commonly served in local restaurants for lunch and dinner. It is the favorite packed meal by Filipino mountaineers and travelers because of its relatively long shelf life without refrigeration, which is due to its vinegar ingredient inhibiting the growth of bacteria. 

Whenever there is fiesta in any town or an engrande celebration of birthdays, weddings or anniversaries of wedding or even of death, adobo is always part of the menu composed of pansit and its variations—canton, bihon and sotanghon—and an array of pork-based cuisines ending in “do”—menudo, igado, estofado, embutido, mechado and hamonado—served for guests lined-up and in batches specially if you are in the Bicol region. 

There was even a film bearing this name, American Adobo, featuring actress Cherry Pie Picache, the central character, the star cook whose signature dish is Filipino adobo—a metaphor of the complicated relationships between friends and family in a foreign setting.

Simply said, adobo, despite the origin of its name, is a Filipino icon, diversified and yet delightful.

When you decide to have fun in any of the  7,1o7 islands of the Pearl of the Orient, don't forget to have fun eating Filipino adobo--of chicken, of pork, of beef, of shrimps, or even of bugs and frogs.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Philippines, the Organ Capital in Asia

The Philippines, being colonized by Spain, has become the only country in Asia blessed with an organ patrimony since 1581 with Bishop Salazar’s bringing along a portable organ when he set up the Diocese of Manila. This first organ, however, was destroyed together with the nipa-built church in a fire two years later. The three centuries of Spanish colonization is also the glorious era of pipe organ acquisition and building in the country—not only in Luzon but also in the islands of Visayas and Mindanao. It is safe to assume that all Spanish-built churches in the country before World War II have organs in support of Tridentine liturgy.


These organs was constructed with trumpets structured horizontally, divided keyboard and without pedal board typical of Spanish organs.  They were usually placed not in the middle of the choir loft but at the side of the nave instead.
San Agustin Church, Intramuros, Manila
Of these countless historical—a hundred years old or more—pipe organs in the country, only 15 managed to survive the test of time.  Six of these were restored—thanks to a scholarship program introduced in Las Piñas in support of its annual Bamboo Organ Festival.  The famous bamboo organ itself needed repair and was brought to Bonn, Germany in 1973 and stayed there until 1975 while the St. Joseph Church is also undergoing renovation.  The repair ushered the new dawn for Philippine organs. Many of these organs were in such condition that it is almost impossible to have them reconstructed as some of the parts are somewhere else if not totally wrecked and many of which are so small that only seasoned organ craftsmen would be able to identify. Strict restoration procedure is employed like the use of original materials and joining techniques.  Some parts are made of materials that cannot be found locally; they had to be imported.


The country’s inventory of historical pipe organs includes those in Manila—in the churches of San Agustin (restored in 1998) and San Sebastian; in Las Piñas—the bamboo organ in St. Joseph Church (restored 1975/2004); in Cebu—Argao, Boljoon and Dalaguete; in Negros Oriental—Bacong (restored 2008); in Bohol—Baclayon (restored 2008), Dimiao, Garcia Hernandez, Loay (restored 1999), Loboc (restored 2003), Loon and Maribojoc, in Zamboanga del Norte—Dapitan; and in Misamis Oriental—Jimenez (restored 2011).
Actors in the Restoration

Guy Bovet, the Swiss organ master.
The restoration of the pipe organs does not end in repair making them playable again. It would be useless and meaningless without Filipino organists to play these instruments; hence, there is a training program for would-be organists composed of young Filipinos who come from the different parts of the country where these priceless gems are located.  Swiss organist Guy Bovet thought of recording his own recitals using the restored organs around the country to come up with CD collection project entitled as “Historical Organs of the Philippines”. For every purchase, a contribution would be made for the said training program.

The Diego Cera Organbuilders, Inc., is the only company of its kind in the Philippines. Founded in 1994 by Filipino Cealwyn Tagle, the second recipient of such scholarship, after six years of study and training with master organ craftsmen in Austria and Germany, it is responsible for the restoration and maintenance of the country’s six historical organs.  With this Filipino organ builders and the training of organists in place, the survival of our organ patrimony is ensured.


The author holding Mr. Bovet's CDs
The locus of these historical organs in Philippine tourism is that they form part of our cultural heritage that places our country in a unique and advantageous position among Asian nations. Hence, the Department of Tourism encourages and supports the preservation and restoration of constructions of historical significance such as these. Definitely, local communities should contribute in these efforts, if not by direct financial assistance, at least by supporting the creative expressions of these gems for as long as we patronize them today they will live on tomorrow for our posterity to enjoy and share with their guests...reinforcing the Philippines: the Pearl of the Orient.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ecotourism Adventure in Cagayan’s Grandiose Callao Cave

Welcome to the caving adventure capital of the Philippines: the Pearl of the Orient--Cagayan Valley!

Cagayan is home to more than 300 cave systems, which are mostly unexplored, and the most famous of these caves is Callao Cave, named after the native bird frequently seen in the vicinity. 

Callao Cave, about 30 minutes ride from Tuguegarao City, is a seven-chamber cave system located in Peñablanca, Cagayan Valley. But, it is not simply a cave of stalagmites and stalactites. It has a chapel for religious activities and its awesome dome-shape chambers are like cathedrals with penetrating skylights, especially at noontime, adding more grandeur to this wonder of nature. Moreover, the cave had been home to prehistoric humans. In 2007, a human foot bone was unearthed in this cave. This relic, dated at 67,000 years old using the uranium-series ablation method, was named Callao Man, after the cave’s name, and predates the Tabon Man in Palawan by 20,000 years and the Mongo man of Australia, 17,000 years. As such, Callao Man is the oldest proof of human existence and civilization found in Asia-Pacific Region.

Before exploring the cave, you have to register at the tourist center, which will provide you a guide as needed. The center has facilities for the visitors’ immediate needs while affordable overnight accommodations are available in Tuguegarao City.  Then, you have to climb a stair with 187 steps in the mountainside before you can get in. The chapel is in the first chamber illumined by skylight. Stay awhile in this chamber and savor the cool air to refresh you after climbing the stairs.  As you go on traversing every chamber to the next, observe dripstone formations that look like a lion or an elephant’s head or a praying angel or any look-alikes limited only by your imagination.

River cruising, bat-and-bird watching and fresh-water swimming in Pinacanauan River, which is just by the side of the cave, complete the visitors’ experience of spelunking in Cagayan.  

For boating escapade, motorized boats are for rent and each is good for 10 persons.  The river, clear and moss green, is flanked by limestone cliffs partly covered with emerald vegetation. Rock islets and bars of sand and polished stones serve as docking areas for you to luxuriate in its cool waters. While waiting for the dusk and the thrill of watching live demonstration of the food chain between bats and hawks, leisurely swimming is the most relaxing must-do. Or, enjoy watching brown hawks soaring high and low near the cave at the side of the limestone wall waiting to fest on their prey, the bats, to fly out in multitude.  At twilight, get awed by the circadian flight of millions of bats, which are being snatched by swooping hungry hawks. These bats are supposed to look for insects, their prey.

In the month of July, when I visited Cagayan Valley, the weather each day was unpredictable. Luckily, my spelunking adventure in Callao Cave was blessed with perfect weather—clear and blue sky.

Of course, before or after caving, never to be missed in Tuguegarao City is indulging in its own version of noodles, the delightful pansit batil-patung. The name of this famous noodle cuisine is coined from the pansit, the beaten (batil) egg soup and another sunny-side up egg as a garnish on top (patung) of the mound of noodles—this, I missed in this journey.

For a seamless ecotourism spelunking adventure, contact Tourism Promotion Officer Fanibeth Domingo of Cagayan Valley Region, Department of Tourism, at her email address fanibethdoms@yahoo.com or contact numbers: cell phone 0917-6990796 and landline (6378) 844-1621.

Friday, May 13, 2011

PANAGBENGA 2011 - The Flower Festival

As early as five o-clock in the morning, despite the freezing breeze, thousands of people of all walks of like, of all ages, with their hats, bonnets and sweaters on, were lining up along the side street of Session Road waiting with great excitement for the Panagbenga 2011 Grand Street Parade on February 25 and Grand Float Parade on February 26, in Baguio City, north of the Philippines, the Pearl of the Orient.

Yearly celebrated, the theme for this year is “The Environment and Community in Harmony,” articulating the need for harmonious relationship between humankind and the environment to sustain life. 

The Grand Street Parade, participated in by government offices and various civic groups, colored the streets of Session Road, Magsaysay Avenue and Harrison Road with bright colors of red and yellow featuring Igorot street dancing by different school-contingents, martial arts demonstration by the city’s Korean community, and performances of several drum and bugle corps with bastoneras‘ showing off their skills for twirling flag-batons while marching. 

The street dancing ended in a competition of Igorot dancing and drum and bugle corps at Athletic Bowl. Surprisingly, one of the participating groups is a delegation from Daet, Camarines Norte, Bicol Region, with its banner implicitly promoting Pinyasan Festival.

The crowd favorite, six-year old Joseph, the son of the assistant baton leader of one of the participating drum and bugle corps, was playing a soprano piston trumpet among grown-ups.  He never missed to amaze the crowd at every instance of his corps’ performance.

As expected, the Grand Float Parade was bedecked with celebrities and business-sponsored floats of flowers arranged according to different themes. The most amazing of them all was the last one inspired by the Avatar movie and enshrined with a local religious icon, the Sto. Niño.

The parade of floats that bedazzled thousands of spectators for almost five hours also wound up at Athletic Bowl for the final showdown.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Where There Is Logging, There Is No Bird!

Wild bird watching is one of the activities lined up by the Department of Tourism Caraga Region for the Wow Caraga 2011, Payanig Sa Bislig, celebrating the 16th founding anniversary of the new administrative region covering the six cities of Butuan, Bislig, Cabadbaran, Tandang and Bayugan, and five provinces of Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte, Surigao de Sur and Dinagat Islands in the southern part of the Philippines, the Pearl of the Orient.

The wild-bird watching expedition team is composed of the Department of Tourism group--Assistant Secretary Domingo Ramon "Chicoy" C. Enerio III, DOT-Caraga Director Leticia Tan, Aleli Guevarra, Gina Velasco, Boyet Sayo, and myself--Rex of Bislig City Tourism Office, one from the Presidential Management Staff, two members of the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines, and Zardo, the guide.

Early morning of February 24, cocks seemed reluctant to crow for it was chilly and the dawn has yet to yawn with its radiant yellow rays. It was unusual for it was four o’clock already when we rode on what locals call jeep, which there is nothing of what looks like those in Metro Manila. From the point of departure, Paper Country Inn, Brgy. Mangagoy, Bislig City, it took us more than two hours of long wobbly ride with a dose of cold breeze that penetrates to the bones before we could reach the crossroad that leads to the wild-bird watching site. While ASec. Chicoy and the two foreigner-looking members of the Wild Bird Club chatted for most of the trip about their bird watching escapades, most of us dozed instead of watching the environs barely lit by the vehicle’s headlamp which I nevertheless did with much delight not so much for the vegetation but for overhearing the depth of ASec's knowledge about birds.  He related that in Europe, the market for bird watching is huge.  "England has only one endemic bird specie compared to about 200 in the Philippines.  This translates to 200 reasons for Europeans to visit the Philippines," he said. When we reached the take-off point, it was past six already. Still foggy.

After taking breakfast, we climbed up the road going to the left. Chirping sounds coming from different directions gave us hope that we could see those birds despite their being called wild. Unfortunately even Zardo, our avant-garde tour guide, despite his being famous as someone who can summon particular bird species with his gadget, could hardly be effective at many instances. With bare eyes, it was a pain for most of us to celebrate with ASec. Chicoy and the two seasoned wild bird watchers who were using binoculars. Although, they were kind enough to lend us their tools sometimes, we could still hardly see a single bird which they tried to help us to see using their laser pointers pointed to the direction of the trees that are towering high with their leaves sparkling because of the morning dew touched by the rays of the sun rising over the mountain. How could we see such birds, if indeed there were, if their size and color blend with the leaves that reflect the blinding sunlight? Or, are they just too wild to be tamed by our naked eyes for a good view, for a while? If they are, then, we were truly watching wild birds. Or, perhaps, we were just expecting too much to see those birds the way we could in the zoos that made the day frustrating.

The scarcity, or maybe just the difficulty of seeing the birds, led the whole team to get deeper into the forest. While trekking, we realized that it was not the scarcity of birds that made the activity disappointing. Logs are lined and piled up along the pebbly road. As we went deeper into the forest, it was becoming clearer. The sound of chainsaw cutting trees somewhere nearby made the birds fly away or at least kept them in their hiding place.

So, to make the most of the activity, I turned it into a wild flora-and-fauna (dragonflies, butterflies, and bees) watching spree. And, I vowed to have the deplorable logging situation in Caraga brought out to the open--to the cyberworld at least--for a lesson and rectification.

It does not matter if logging in Caraga is legal or illegal. The thing is…Caraga suffered massive flooding every year. This year alone, the flooding victimized 545,285 people or 111,679 families with damages to infrastructure, farm crops and other agriculture products amounting to P451 million, according to the Philippines' Regional Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. The death toll had reached 10 and two people were reported missing as of February 6. Online Gold Star Daily has the full story and statistics. 

In various instances during the Wow Caraga 2011, especially during the Bird Forum at De La Salle Don Bosco College Gym, Surigao del Sur Governor Johnny Pimentel vowed to fully implement Executive Order 23 issued by President Aquino last February 1 declaring a moratorium on the cutting and harvesting of timber in the natural and residual forests and creating an anti-illegal logging task force. Bislig City Mayor Librado Navarro cognizant of the ill-effects of logging industry in his home city also promised to support the policy in view of the new tourism product that he is pushing in his city--wild bird watching.

While their speeches sound promising, there is a real and urgent need for a very strong political will and solid community support considering that, while Wow Caraga 2011 was on stage, logging is still unabated.

Recently, as reported by Philstar on March 4, “Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje announced…that chainsaws, bulldozers, graders and other logging tools and implements are now off-limits in natural and residual forests nationwide.” If implemented, this can certainly support the new tourism product of Bislig City—wild bird watching. If not, a suitable replacement is proactive ecotourism--mountain trekking that culminates in tree planting in the PICOP site with bird watching merely as a side dish.

I feel strongly for forest protection to sustain ecotourism but, for heaven's sake, the lives of men and women of Caraga are even more important than wild bird watching! In Caraga, more than anything else, it is about human survival!

Stop irresponsible logging in Caraga now! Protect the Philippine forests! Plant trees!

For emulation, worth mentioning is the El Verde program of the provincial government of Camarines Sur. The program is a magnificent example of a strong political will backed up by solid community support. There is nothing impossible when all stakeholders imbued with a sense of community act together resolutely for a common cause.

Let’s go green! Together, we can!