THE  SIMPLE  CHARMS  OF  DUMAGUETE

MANILA
, NOVEMBER 13, 2006 (STAR) A TASTE OF LIFE By Heny Sison - I believe that Filipino hospitality is alive everywhere you go. And the treatment you receive is as warm and comforting as a steaming bowl of arroz caldo on a chilly day.

During my trip to the fascinating city of travelers, Dumaguete, I was touched to receive a welcome bouquet on my arrival at the charming Bethel Guest House. My trip to Dumaguete was part of a series of out-of-town baking demonstrations for Ferna. And the flowers, which came from an anonymous donor, lifted up my spirits after a tiring two-hour flight.

I was surprised to find out later that this welcome treat came from one of my former students, Janet Malong. She has now relocated to Dumaguete when her husbandís company assigned him there. Nevertheless, her genuine talent in the kitchen earned her the position of resident chef in Bethel Guest House. This popular convention hotel is named after the biblical "place of God," and strictly adheres to its no-smoking, no liquor policy; hence, it provides guests with an atmosphere that allows them to commune with nature Ė peaceful and relaxing. Just what I needed. And the person I owe this opportunity to is Roy Cang, who owns and operates this tranquil lodging. I warmed up to him the moment I met him. A friendly, personable fellow, he espouses a life of peaceful, clean living. He envisions Bethel Guest House to be more than just a getaway. Its serene atmosphere gives one the chance to recharge oneís batteries and refresh the spirit; therein lies the charm of this popular retreat house.

Mr. Cang gamely obliged and posed for some souvenir shots, which I would use for my article. He knew exactly what angle he looked good in as I took shots with my digital cam. Later on, I would discover that this humble hotelier was once a professional photographer based in New York.

I checked in at around 8 a.m., and was happy to note that my room had a good view of the seascape, as well as a glimpse of the famous Cuernos de Negros (Negrosí twin peaks). Janet offered to take me around the city, since my demo was still later in the afternoon. She asked me what sights I wanted to see. Everywhere I travel, whether here or abroad, there are two places I just have to visit before anything else: the market and the local church.

So, Janet took me to the townís cathedral where I knelt and gave a simple prayer of thanksgiving. In a world of trials, challenges and disappointments, prayer helps me remain sensible and levelheaded in the sometimes chaotic environment in which we live! Afterwards, we headed off for the main market, where Janet procured the ingredients needed for the hotelís pantry.

After that, it was back to the hotel for a break before my baking demonstration at the Spanish Heritage. With three hours to go before my 1 p.m. demo, I grew restless. My adventurous spirit and itchy feet got the better of me, so I asked one of the innís friendly staff what sights I could visit. The next thing I knew, I found myself in a tricycle sputtering its way to the Tabo, the local reference to the open market.

For me, going to market is like taking a field trip. It is sheer enjoyment for the eyes, taste, mind and imagination. Every market has its story to tell. They speak of the local culture and its people, from the smiles of vendors who ply their wares to the flurry of children playing on the market sidewalks. And this certain Tabo made quite a good impression. Operated by the Farmersí and Fishermenís Association of Dumaguete, it was inspiring to see how organized and smoothly the fresh produce trade was handled. The wet and dry markets were clearly divided and were refreshingly clean. In the vegetable section, I came across interesting stuff, such as the dungon, often used as a substitute for ginger in kinilaw, used to remove the lansa of the fish. Unique looking vegetables stood out and caught my attention. They added color and charm to the local market. Vegetables there were exquisitely tiny and were sold in bunches, such as the Bisayang luya. Pretty as a postcard were the Bisayang kamatis, unique for its diminutive size, similar to cherry tomatoes, although these were oval in shape. Yellow cucumbers were an added attraction to the exotic fresh produce I came upon. And there I was, the gourmet paparazzi, clicking away digital stills for souvenir. Ever since I bought a digital cam, I have considered myself an amateur photographer taking shots of anything that catches my fancy here and there. This time, I included pics of tricycles neatly lined up by its terminal. What caught my eye upon closer inspection were the little waste bins in the passengerís cart. I donít think Iíve ever come across a cleaner tricycle cab. Urban dwellers really have a lot to learn from the simplicity and efficient living of rural folk.

The afternoon baking demo held at the Spanish Heritage gave me the opportunity to feel the warmth of Dumaguete geniality. And every time I go on out-of-town trips, at the end of the journey, I would receive gifts of all kinds, from fruit baskets to local specialties, and indigenous kitchen tools. This time, it came in the form of treasured recipes. Right after my demo, an old woman told me she had taken my baking class years back. She is Luding Uymatiao, 80 years old, still active and strong. She wanted me to try a version of her torta, which is a favorite order among her suki. She gave me a copy of her famous recipe to try out and also to share with Philippine STAR readers. Torta 6 large eggs 1-1/2 cups sugar 2-1/2 cups cake flour 1 tablespoon baking powder 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1/2 cup melted butter 1/2 cup evaporated milk 1/2 teaspoon anise flavoring anise seeds and granulated sugar for sprinkling Preheat the oven to 350įF. Line 15 mamon molds with parchment paper. Set aside. Sift flour and baking powder three times. Set aside. Beat eggs, sugar, and anise flavoring until light and lemon colored. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients, alternate with vegetable oil, melted butter, and evaporated milk.

Divide the mixture among the prepared pans. Sprinkle each with anise seeds and granulated sugar around the edge only and avoiding the center to make it puff nicely during the baking process.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until done.

Cool in the pan and do not invert on wire racks.

* * *

The next day, Janetís staff at the Bethel Guest House shared with me the recipe to one of their house specialties, kinilaw na tanigue. This one gets its zing using the dungon, Dumagueteís local ginger. They also served me a delightful local dessert using kulo. This fruit, which is very similar to rimas, are sliced into wedges. They are then deep-fried and served with coconut and panocha sauce. Delightful indeed!

Everywhere you go, there will always be something new to learn and experience. My trip to Dumaguete showed me the value of simple clean living, from the taste of fresh food to the cleansing breath of fresh air, to the unrushed manner in which things are done. And to be stay in a place literally known as the "place of God," it gave me the chance to be in touch with the Divine.

Visit Dumaguete and bask in its simplicity. And if you are looking for your soul, chances are you might probably reclaim it there.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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