First off, let’s get one thing straight, you don’t drive 10-plus hours from Manila to Sagada, through zigzags and steep inclines, just to eat. You travel to this small town in the Mountain Province for the alpine views, sunrise and sunset, caves and waterfalls, and glimpses of its indigenous culture. Stay a couple of nights, check out the restaurants in town, and you’ll notice that the culinary offerings are fairly slim, without the frills, reflecting the varied tastes of its visitors, mostly European backpackers, Pinoy millennials, eco-adventure enthusiasts. So make sure to enjoy Sagada’s many sights and scenery, and in between, you can check out the following spots for some pretty good grub:
All-day breakfast: Coffee Heritage House
There’s really nothing better than breakfast in Sagada, especially when you’re up early as the sun is about to rise and the nighttime chill still hangs in the air. At Coffee Heritage House where we happened to be staying, a simple yet fortifying continental breakfast is included in the board: two slices of country bread toast, two fried eggs sunny side up, butter, and a side of pesto.
For something more substantial, the all-day breakfast menu offers crispy Danggit-Lamayo, an intriguing Inadobo sa Kape or pork adobo with coffee, and Homemade Chicken Tocino, among other breakfast standards. They come with two eggs, a side of pesto salad, and black mountain rice. Of course, breakfast isn’t complete without Coffee Heritage House’s signature 100% Sagada blend by SGD Coffee (which operates the hostel) to awaken the senses.
While breakfast is served all day long, the Coffee Heritage House menu also offers pizzas, pastas, and sandwiches, with the Etag Carbonara, flavored with Sagada’s local salted pork, as the definite standout.
Local fare: 7J’s Diner
For a taste of what the locals eat, we ventured to the basement of the Centrum Building in the heart of town. Among the row of turo-turo stalls, we chose 7J’s Diner, well known among locals for its traditional pork and black beans stew bubbling in one of the big pots at the counter.
We also ordered a bowlful of pinikpikan, another local dish of native chicken that’s softly beaten to death, then cooked, head and talons included, in a broth rendered salty with etag. By the way, the dinuguan is a winner, too.
Top of the lists: Yoghurt House and Sagada Lemon Pie House
Search Google for best places to eat in Sagada and you’ll likely find these two establishments at the top of most travel bloggers’ and travel guides’ lists. Interestingly enough, both don’t really offer traditional local fare, but rather a smattering of Western and Filipino dishes that appeal to the tourist set.
Yoghurt House is obviously known for its homemade yoghurt, most likely catering to the many European visitors who flock to Sagada. The yoghurt can be enjoyed as lassi shakes flavored with whatever fresh fruits are available, or as yoghurt bowls topped with banana, granola, strawberry preserves, chocolate chip cookies, or other fruits in season. However, when we were there, the fruit offerings were sparse and so we settled instead for creamy yoghurt with a drizzle of Sagada honey to balance out the tartness. For something heftier, Yoghurt House offers a full complement of sandwiches, pastas, salads, and meat dishes.
Further down the road is the famous Sagada Lemon Pie House. The place is charming with low wooden tables and festive wall hangings. The lemon pie, of course, is what people come for, and it doesn’t disappoint. Using local lemons, the filling is just a tad sweeter than tart, sitting on a crust with just the right flakiness, and topped with a thin layer of meringue. We enjoyed our slice of pie with a cup of zesty mountain tea, a blend of tea leaves and various herbs. The eatery also has a limited menu of breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals.
Vegetarian haven: Gaia Café and Crafts
Before this charming café was featured in the indie blockbuster That Thing Called Tadhana in 2014, it appealed to a mostly foreigner crowd who came for the hearty vegetarian fare and eco-friendly mindset. But since the movie, young Filipinos have been flocking here as well, enjoying the homey comforts prepared by owner and Kankanaey poet Gawani Domogo Gaongen. Along with a breathtaking view of rice terraces and mountains, the café lives up to its zero-waste policy, with no disposable plastics in sight. Even old shoes and a used rice cooker are recycled into planters and flower pots.
The vegetarian dishes are mostly organic, local, and all natural, from the smoothies we tried blended with strawberries and bananas, to the Homemade Vegetable Chips with cashew sour cream dip, and the lovely Salad Mix tossed with tangy sesame honey mustard dressing.
Our favorite was the Crispy Tofu Steak with homemade cashew sauce, and served with unpolished rice. To accommodate the meat eaters among her clientele, Gawani has introduced one meat dish, Spring Rolls filled with organic ground pork and deep fried.
Happy hour: Sagada Cellar Door
What better way to ease into the evening than with a glass of Cerveza Sagada craft beer on tap while sitting by a bonfire, under the stars, surrounded by pine trees. Home brew enthusiast Andrew Chinalpan and his wife Binggirl Clemente have created quite a cozy sanctuary in their “retirement” property called Sagada Cellar Door.
From inside a small outdoor kiosk, Andrew dispenses his home brews distinctly infused with the flavors of his hometown. Violet Ale exudes a purplish color from balatinao black rice. The Wheat is flavored with Sagada orange peel and wild sunflower honey, while the Pine Pale Ale carries a distinct pine cone flavor. You can order beer or wine, enjoy them with grilled sausages, as you sit by the fire and chat it up with fellow drinkers. Both beer and wine can be purchased by the bottle to take home.
Sagada Cellar Door also hosts group lunches or dinners that can be booked in advance. You can choose a traditional Igorot menu, an Ilonggo meal courtesy of Binggirl who is Visayan, or a special French dinner care of Sagada’s renowned French chef Aklay (who is also back doing the Saturday buffets at Log Cabin).
If you’re looking for a “gastronomic” Sagada, you may come away disappointed. But that’s not really the point. Rather, for a food experience that truly satisfies, all it takes are clear skies, cool air, fun company, and good honest food, preferably with alcohol. On our last night in Sagada, after a light dinner, we gathered around a bonfire just outside the hostel with a bottle of red wine, some local brandy, potato chips and chicharron, for a chance to chat, gaze at the stars, and think about the next time we’ll be back.
Coffee Heritage House, Sitio Nadatngan, Barangay Madongo, www.coffeeheritagehouse.com
7J’s Diner, Eduardo Gaudan Longid Centrum Building, Staunton Road
Yoghurt House, South Road, FB: Yoghurt House
Sagada Lemon Pie House, South Road
Gaia Café and Crafts, South Road, FB: Gaia Cafe
Sagada Cellar Door, Lallal-ay, Patay, FB: Sagada Cellar Door
Photos by Andre Drilon
7J’s Diner photos by Nana Ozaeta
You may also be interested in: