A good meal, upon touchdown, always feels like grandma’s hug at the start of a summer vacation. That singular warm welcome that tells you how much you’ve been missed, how excited she is for the days ahead, and what she’s been busy preparing in the kitchen. That’s something you never outgrow.
This is why no matter where I go, my first agenda upon arrival is to always look for a place that would envelope me with all the feels of what I’ve missed, what I could look forward to, and what’s cooking. In Baguio, that place has always been Café By The Ruins.
I only started frequenting the place in the early 2000s, when it was but a single story affair dotted with only a few tables. My friends and I would schedule our bus trips to coincide with the café’s opening hour, which was 7am, so we could head there straight for breakfast from the bus station.
From those days up to now, nothing settles me in as perfectly as their Farmer’s Breakfast with Ruins Coffee. I would always plan to try and order something else, like the Longganisang Hubad or the Daing na Bangus, but signing up for those strips of organic house-made bacon, served with mountain rice and egg cooked sunny side, up always wins—as if it would be bad luck to start the trip with any other breakfast fare.
I also visit the cafe at different times of the day, which is when I allow myself to order other items on the menu: pork bagnet with sinigang for lunch, a bowl of sotanghon and a glass of strawberry lassi for merienda, or—in several occasions during my 20s—a bottle of tapuey (a locally produced rice wine) to tide me through a whole afternoon of writing mush.
I used to have a favorite spot in the cafe before it had been renovated to its current architecture. It’s the farthest table on a bamboo overhang looking over what was left of an old garden. I would happily sit in that nook for hours just enjoying my coffee or tapuey while trying to wrap my brains around all of life’s existential questions. I really miss that spot, along with having all the time in the world to just sit and do nothing.
Café By The Ruins is now a two-story edifice, but in the same location along Shuntug Road just across Baguio City Hall. While I can still recognize what remains of the old ruins, the architecture and interiors have been pretty much updated. I miss the old organic look and ambience. I miss the old waiters who surprisingly remember you even if you only visit once or twice a year.
To be honest, there were points in my recent visits when it felt like the cafe has somehow lost its appeal. Maybe because nostalgia has been such a big factor in the strings that bind us, and I had been finding it difficult to trace the familiar in the long lines and its modern-day restaurant vibe.
But it charmed me again last December, when there were just a few people occupying the ground floor tables and it was just the right kind of quiet. For the first time in years, there was no crowd, no noise to distract me from enjoying my Farmers’ Breakfast and that warm City of Pines embrace. Of course, it had taken a pandemic to make that happen, but I’m grateful for the hug nonetheless.
[From Travelsavvy.ph on Facebook. For more essays like this, visit the site here.]