My Last Supper
Frank Cimatu takes us on an imaginary trip where he is on death row and is deciding what to eat for his last meal--er, meals.
I bought this book called "Last Suppers," which is about the last meal requests of those on Death Row. This is not to be confused with "Their Last Suppers," which is about the last meals of the rich and famous before they became part of history, or "My Last Supper," which lists the last meals 50 great cooks would prepare before they hand in their toques.
I am thinking about this condemned guy ordering two dozen tacos, six enchiladas and six tostadas, five jalapeno peppers, and five onions. Or another who asked for a single bean. Or another who asked for two pints of Häagen-Dazs® vanilla ice cream. Or another who asked for onion and Coke. Or three orders of KFC chicken.
I was fascinated by this because if I were in their shoes, I should be prepared with my list.
Of course, my last supper should evoke my being a Baguio boy. That guy who got the Mexican feast is clearly Mexicano, no? It had to be a long culinary flashbook.
I can't request for my mother's siopao or pinakbet, my neighbour's kilawen, or my editor's morcon, or other personal favorites because it would be taxing on the prison guards.
I can't order the good old spaghetti and fried chicken of Mile Hi in Camp John Hay, the pan pizza of Rainbow Kitchen, Kiangan bread in Shanghai Bakery and other favorite childhood fixations because these are remembrances of things past.
I need dishes I can order at this moment (supposing the death row is in Manila, and it would take seven hours for my food to arrive) and reheated.
My list is not in any order. I mean, I will die after, so I don't care if I eat my dessert before my salad or my soup before the main courses.
So here goes:
- Braised US beef short plate in red wine shallot sauce with mashed potato and Jardiniere vegetables at Le Souffle at Camp John Hay. It has to be served by Chef Billy King in white tennis shorts.
- Coffee and siopao at Luisa's Café. Baguio is the Seattle of the Philippines, having the highest caffeine per capita, so it's inevitable that the old fogeys here would rather have coffee with their meals instead of soda.
- Amuse Bouche (baked eggs, onions, and gruyere) from Mama's Kitchen. There are a lot of dishes I would request from the kitchen of my friend Vicky Tinio, but I chose this first because of the ritual in eating it. Whenever Baboo Mondonedo would organize our Joy Luck Club at Tinio's house in Beckel, I would be there not to play mahjong but go around the kitchen and the garden. The idea here is you call Vicky and gather your guests in her house and you have a feast.
- Pulis Rice in Star Café. All the Chinese restaurants in the city used to offer Pulis Rice to the policemen. It has everything like chicken, pork, pechay, egg, and whatever's in the kitchen, and costs only P35. True to form, the policemen in Baguio paid. Decades later, Pulis Rice prices (say that fast) has gone up thrice and now, civilians and criminals crave it.
- Dinengdeng in Baguio Country Club Over the Bakod. Not in BCC but outside the fence. Look for Joseph Rimando.
- Kamote bread with fish roe pate and pinikpikan at Café by the Ruins. There are a lots of things to eat and discover at the Ruins. They have a best-selling cookbook for a menu! But I chose this because it reminded me of when I was poor and obscure and trying to make it. Ha!
- Strawberry Sinigang at Mines View Park Hotel. People tried it for the novelty and then it just stuck, like a Beatles LSS (last song syndrome).
- Sushi at Hamada at Baguio Country Club. The Hamadas of Baguio are the city's journalism pioneers. The restaurant is a consistent five starrer and their sushi array is a visual and culinary delight.
- Coffee at Session Delights. When it used to be Dainty Café, it was a hoi polloi of coffee drinkers waiting for chismis and the jueteng results.
- Mock duck adobo curry at Bliss Café. Tell Shanti to play Joni Mitchell as you talk movies with Jim Ward.
- Eve's Garden salad at Eve's Garden. Eve should have stuck to this instead of the apple.
- Smoked salmon pizza at Pizza Volante. One of the Nassers who owned Session Theatre where Volante is now is a distributor of smoked salmon in Seattle, so the pizza topping must be the real thing.
- Cambodia Coriander and Garlic Chicken at Hill Station Restaurant. Mitos Yniguez's slow food from hillstations all over the world is enough trip to Baguio. Include Indian Lamb Curry, Thai Red Curry Shrimp, and Halibut and Smoked Paprika Roasted Salmon. Hill Station is where the European colonists have their R&R. The only American hillstation is Baguio. When the Americans built Kennon Road, they employed Chinese, Lebanese, German, Japanese, Italian, American and Mexican workers so even more than 100 years ago, Baguio already had cosmopolitan taste.
- Passion fruit glazed baby back ribs at Rumours Bar. Andy Singian of Rumors said that he needed to do something to promote the passion fruit, known among Baguio folk as "masaflora," and the result is sublime. Try this with his wasabi yogurt ice cream.
- Coffee and pastry at PNKY. Pinky Masigno's furniture and décor shop along Leonard Wood Road will excite you, and her coffee and pastries will excite you further. A good antidote to tired limbs after jogging in your manacles.
- Crispy kangkong and veggie sisig at Azotea Greens. This hole in the wall at Azotea made vegetarianism affordable to the masa. You can also climb up to VOCAS and have vegetarian pasta among the eclectic art of Kawayan de Guia et al.
- Jack's Rice at Jack's, because it is the Jollibee of Baguio.
- Chinese mushroom and tofu rice at Sunshine Lunch. Been eating mami and siopao here for decades so I decided to take my taste one step up.
- Angus T-bone steak served at the veranda of Baguio Country Club. Dine like the Americans 100 years ago. Wear white sharkskin pants and bowler hats.
- Thuringen bratwurst at Mother's Garden. The owner knows her bratwurst. Trust me. Also they have a petting zoo.
- Pinikpikan at Sagada Lunch. One way to avoid allergies is to go down and dirty.
- Pinapaitan at Balajadia's inside the Slaughterhouse Compound. Be sure to get out before dusk though but it's worth the trip at lunchtime.
- Carrot cake at Ibay's. Narda Capuyan is a Brahma Kuhmaris so rest assured no rabbits were harmed during the preparation of this cake.
- Patatim with loads and loads of watercress at Rose Bowl.
- Bonuan sinigang at Iggy's House. The Lettermen had it for dinner so how can you get wrong? Also try their homemade salad dressings.
- Sayote salad at Kubong Sawali. Did you know that sayote was introduced to Baguio by Kidlat Tahimik's Lolo? It was a Peruvian fruit and it made its way comfortably here in Baguio where it was known as "lifesaver" during the lean months.
- Tea and scones at Flying Gecko. The inner chambers of the restaurant, with its coat of arms, looks like a meeting place for the Hitler Youth. But this is a Swiss restaurant so the hills are alive.
- Stuffed tofu at Mandarin Restaurant . The oxymoronic pulutan. Tofu sandwiched with pork giniling.
- Yum pla dook foo (fried catfish flakes and mango salad) at Ha Na Na beside Wright Park. There are three Thai restaurants in Baguio but this one is the cheapest. Also try the unassuming Apolo's Store near the border of Baguio and Itogon.
- Death by Chocolate at Hill Station. I reckon you'll be dead if you eat this in one seating.
There are a lot of other food I would want you to taste and savor in Baguio. My death row wishlist would get me a reprieve of a month if I am to relish all of them. And by then I would be as big as an elephant and won't be able to leave my cell.
It's easy to see why more and more people are viewing Baguio as a pit stop in the country's culinary map. Basta Pinas, Napintas!
Frank Cimatu is a Palanca-Award-winning poet and a correspondent for the Philippine Daily Inquirer. His CV lists him as a "poet, blogger, NGO worker, editor, newspaper reporter, art critic and eventologist."