Baguio food tourism underway to help eateries recover

OUTDOOR KITCHEN | Tourists were introduced to shared community meals, usually at cañao (ritual feasts), in this photo taken in 2016 when Baguio City’s food festival “Mangan Taku” was first introduced by the ministry tourism. (Photo by EV ESPIRITU/Inquirer Northern Luzon)

BAGUIO CITY, Benguet, Philippines – With the volume of tourists heading to the summer capital expected to exceed pre-pandemic levels, officials here have decided to resume a much-loved summer event, the ‘Mangan’ food tour and exhibition. Taku,” which will focus on restaurants and other food establishments that have begun to recover after two years of COVID-19 quarantines.

According to city tourism officer Aloysius Mapalo, it was possible that Pine City had already exceeded the number of leisure travelers who entered the city before the pandemic broke out in March 2020, judging by the influx of tourists who have come to Baguio since December last year.

The number peaked during Holy Week, with more than 50,000 guests booked into various accommodation establishments in the city from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, he said.

Baguio’s cooler weather attracts tourists from March to May and has lined up several summer vacation activities, from free bus tours this Holy Week, a Session Road heritage festival on May 1 to a flower sculpture display from May 12 to 22 “Sabsabong ti Mayo” (a variant of the traditional Flores de Mayo).

But the Mangan Taku, which will be held from April 27 to 30, is expected mainly by restaurateurs, many of whom were forced to close during the first two years of the pandemic.

Road to recovery

Gladys Vergara, President of the Baguio Tourism Board, said restaurants that rented out their spaces were among the first to close or relocate businesses. leaving only 334 of the 1,045 tourism-oriented businesses registered in 2019 to remain open by the end of 2021.

With restrictions easing as COVID-19 cases dwindled, downtown food establishments, including hotel restaurants, reported an increase in diner numbers, due to the influx of tourists, a Vergara said.

She said some of the food businesses that had closed had taken zero-interest government loans on their way to restarting their operations.

The closures have also helped chefs develop new core businesses. Chef Chavi Romawac, son of the late Baguio artist Tony “Wax” Romawac and member of the pop group Session Road from the early 2000s, had revisited authentic recipes from the Ifugao Cordillera and the mountains province, which he incorporated into the specialty dishes of his restaurant, Baguio Mountain Man.

Community kitchen

Romawac and fellow chef Laarni Lourdes Andam, who heads Cordillera Chefs Organization, are the main attendees at this year’s Mangan Taku (Ilocano for “let’s share a meal”), hosted annually by the Department of Tourism (DOT).

Andam said Baguio food experts hoped to attract more visitors, stressing that “food has to be experienced.”

Romawac added that he would like people to embrace “food as an art form.”

The 2022 culinary event, to be held along Wright Park’s reflecting pool in Baguio, will promote authentic “community cooking,” much like ritual cañao (ritual feasts), to showcase shared meals.” the Igorot way,” said Jovita Ganongan, DOT director for the Cordillera.

One of the unique features of Cordilleran cuisine is the “open-air cooking,” and guests would take home “a piece of the feast called ‘watwat’ (portions of common meat),” she said. declared.

Since 2016, the DOT has been preparing the highlands region for food tours to be packaged by private tour services.

—VINCENT CABREZA

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