May 6, 2004  (STAR) TURO-TURO By Claude Tayag  -  When our good friend, food writer Micky Fenix invited us to a cultural/gastronomic tour of Cavite, Mary Ann and I were admittedly not too keen on going. Don’t get us wrong, though. We are probably the easiest couple to invite (cheap, as we Pinoys call it), especially if it involves food (what else!), but the thought of traveling all the way from our home in Pampanga, passing through the gruesome traffic at the North Luzon Expressway (it has improved a lot lately, though) and traversing Manila before our final destination is no joke. And the invite fell on a Saturday, at that.

"Tell me first what’s for lunch," Mary Ann demanded, making it clear our decision would be based on the food we were going to have. (It better be worth the trip!)

"The lunch is at Josephine’s," I answered.

"But we can have lunch there anytime. Why make a special trip for it?" she asked.

"I’m sure it will be a special lunch, prepared especially for the discriminating members of the International Wine and Food Society who organized the tour," I retorted. "And besides, since we’ve never been invited to a Cavite town fiesta, this is our chance to try their cuisine," I added.

Then again, to be in the company of foodies was a temptation hard to resist. The thought of being waylaid by heaps of tahong and talaba by the roadside once you enter Cavite was the clincher.

By 7 a.m., we were on the road. Luckily for us, we got to Roxas Blvd. and then Coastal Road in good time, with an unusually light traffic on EDSA that Saturday morning. As we got out of the Coastal Road tollway plaza in Bacoor, one could already see the shacks selling the precious mollusks Cavite is known for.

Our meeting place and first stop was at the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit. This is a very interesting site, which I highly recommend you visit. Imagine walking on the same wooden floor as the great Filipino hero, General Emilio Aguinaldo. Here, revolutionaries long dead held secret meetings and made fateful decisions.

For those who were sleeping in history class, Emilio Aguinaldo led the revolution and defeated in 1898 Spain, which was then still a world power. It was in this house where he proclaimed independence on June 12, 1898. On its balcony was where the Philippine tri-color first unfurled and the national anthem first played. On January 1899, two months shy of turning 30, Aguinaldo was proclaimed the first president of the Republic of the Philippines. Thus Asia’s first constitutional republic was born, an event that inspired other colonized Asian countries to fight for their independence. (How he must be turning now in his grave that we are the goat in Asia.)

Judging from the grand house, he must have lived an opulent lifestyle. It’s no wonder that in all the extant photos taken in his late 20s, he always stood tall and erect, exuding an air of someone born to aristocracy. (To think that he stood no more than 5 feet, 2 inches tall.) The property has an indoor swimming pool, a big yard, (the chico tree he planted is still there) and very spacious receiving, dining and bed rooms, complete with hidden compartments to hide important documents and weapons and secret passages to escape into during emergencies. The mansion’s interiors are an antique collector’s dream: Four-poster canopied beds, armoire, love seats with inlaid ivory, escritoire, Vienna rocking chairs, and china cabinets. Being a big fan of good old wood, I caressed the floor and furniture as I admired its beautiful grain and rich shiny patina that can only be attained with age.

Another thing that caught my interest, not surprisingly, is the kitchen. Like most big houses of the period, it has a multi-ring stove. Stoves then either had a rice husk or wood- fed burner. This one was rice husk-fed and has a pipe from the water tank that goes through the stove, so that the water is heated when one starts cooking. Speaking of energy-saving devices! I have one at home, a three-ring wood burning type, patterned after my mom’s. But Aguinaldo’s has five burners with an oven on the side.

Aguinaldo was the son of a several-term town mayor. He himself was elected mayor at 26. This kitchen must have indeed been very busy during that time and literally fed an army during the revolution, as evident from the several humongous kawa (cast iron vats, measuring at least 1.5 meters in diameter!) being used presently as vessels for aquatic plants in the garden.

From the Aguinaldo Shrine, we drove to the nearby Water Camp Resort, owned by the same family as Josephine’s in Tagaytay, Island Cove and Caylabne Resorts. Our gracious hostess, Jiji Sanares, treated us to a barrio fiesta, replete with colorful buntings and a six-member singing group welcoming us with native songs. To cool us down, we were made to choose from three original refreshing concoctions: Champagne dalandan, mango daiquiri, and white sangria. By this time, the group had swelled to about 50 altogether. The others had opted to skip the Aguinaldo shrine and met us here.

As we sat ourselves in one of the many bamboo-nipa gazebos standing on stilts above a fishpond, we took our leisurely time going to the several bountiful buffet spreads. There were crispy crablets and glazed baby squids (much like Singapore’s sotong, though served quite soggy and a bit too sweet for my taste) for appetizers and a long list of cold fiesta salads, as well as seven kinds of viands from the hot-dish table, including Cavite’s specialties, like kilawin na tahong sa puso ng saging, bangus belly tocho (cooked with tausi) and adobadong palaka (frog’s legs adobo). Straight from the grill were fresh oysters, prawns, assorted meats and pinaputukang kitang at pampano, and a myriad of homemade desserts and fresh fruits in season.

It was indeed a long lunch. We forgot the scorching heat as we capped our meal with cheese and ube dirty ice cream. On our way out, the sight and sound of the crystal clear water from the swimming pool and lazy river was too tempting for a plunge to escape the blistering sun. But then there were two other destinations beckoning us.

Our group then proceeded to Dasmariñas town, past Imus on the Aguinaldo Highway, where the Bahay na Bato Museo De La Salle sits on the sprawling campus of De La Salle University-Dasmariñas. Our cabalen Joey Panlilio was there to greet and show us around. Unlike the Aguinaldo house, this is a new building, inaugurated only in 2000, that houses antique family heirlooms, such as furniture, decorative objects, fine and applied arts, donated by the Joven-Panlilio family of Bacolor, Pampanga, Arnedo-Gonzalez family of Sulipan, Apalit, Pampanga, antique collectors Ms. Marie Theresa Lammoglia-Virata and Jaime C. Laya, and the D. M. Guevarra collection. Things are displayed in faithfully recreated rooms, and one is transported back to 19th century Philippines to witness the illustrado lifestyle.

The building itself takes its design inspiration from the 19th century bahay na bato, a two-storey building with stone, brick and mortar structure at the ground level, and is usually made of wood at the second level. A bahay na bato was filled with fine furniture and objects to showcase the owner’s wealth, personal style and status in society.

Still reeling from the sumptuous lunch, the Kapampangan in Joey got the better of him and wouldn’t allow us to leave without trying the merienda he had prepared for the group in their in-house café La Buena Comida: Arroz caldo, pancit palabok and banana turrones.

For the last leg of our tour, we headed back to Imus for merienda (again!) at the Jacinto residence, the family home of another host, cookbook author Lisa Alvendia. To cool us down, she prepared halo-halo with more than a dozen halo, monay topped with grilled kesong puti, mini papaya ukoy, fried buko lumpia (yes, spring rolls filled with the buko meat!); and lastly, Imus’ pride pancit langlang, a hot noodle soup (much like mami), which Lisa served us herself.

Needless to say, we waddled our way back to the car with plenty of bitbit of homemade goodies like kesong puti, tamales and special bagoong cooked in wine and mango wine, to name a few. It was truly an enjoyable experience worth the day’s trip, nay, make that two days. It was just a bit too much to ingest all in a day. I’m not complaining though.

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The Aguinaldo Shrine and Museum is in Kawit, Cavite. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Guided tours are available.

The Museo de La Salle is at the De La Salle University in Dasmariñas, Cavite. It is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For inquiries and reservations, call museum tours and programs supervisor Cecille Gelicame at 844-7832, 844-9116 and (046)416-4531 local 3151.

Josephine’s WaterCamp Resort is in Panamitan, Kawit, Cavite. For inquiries and reservations, call (046)436-2011 and (046)436-1

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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