CHRISTMAS season is pasalubong season and Laguna is home to numerous unique products that are good for sharing, from espasol to chocolate cakes. We highlight some of these delicacies, how they’re made and what made them popular.
Ask anyone from outside Laguna about what they remember most about the province and, for sure, most of them will say buko pie. Why not? After all, Laguna is known to be one of the top producers of coconut and, as such, the invention of the buko pie was only a matter of time.
The recipe of the buko pie originally hailed from the town of Los Baños in the 1950s in barangay Anos where the Pahud sisters started their bakery business. The story of how they came up with the recipe for the iconic dessert is an interesting one: Nanette Pahud, the older of the two sisters, went to America to to work as a maid to help her family and there she learned how to make the traditional apple pie. Upon her return to the Philippines for her retirement, she and her sister Soledad (fondly called Sol by people who knew her) decided to put up a small bakery and wanted to include a pie in their menu, specifically an apple pie. But since apples are not common in the Philippines and, during that time, Los Baños was still considered a barrio with a number of coconut farms, the two decided to use the most readily available ingredient: buko.
The Pahud sisters used young coconut, locally known as malauhog, for the buko pie and condensed milk, which made it a healthier alternative to custard and meringue pies. This dessert instantly became a hit in the small town and then in nearby areas as an afternoon snack and pasalubong when going to Manila or other provinces.
That small bakery is now known as Orient Bakeshop or, as far as many Laguna folks are concerned, “The Original Buko Pie.” The establishment still stands where it was first located, along the national highway of barangay Anos in Los Baños. It can’t be missed because cars and sometimes tourist buses line up the small street in front of the bakery. The success of this establishment is so immense that it has branches in the nearby towns, one of the well-known branch being in Tagaytay.
Of course, since the rise of the buko pie, different stalls and bakeries have introduced their own version. In recent years, only two brands matched the level of quality and popularity — to some, even surpassed the taste — of The Original: Lety’s and Colette’s. The latter is widely spread all over the province that seeing the ubiquitous and distinctive Colette’s sign tells a traveler that he’s in or near Laguna. On the other hand, Lety’s is a fan favorite popular among students and first-timers to buko pie.
As a province relying heavily on its flat lands for agriculture, the carabao (water buffalo) is a familiar sight in Laguna. As with the buko pie, the ubiquity of the carabao led to the development of carabao milk, which is mostly produced and distributed by the Dairy Training and Research Institute (DTRI) located inside the University of the Philippines Los Baños campus with the help of research conducted by the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC).
What makes carabao milk different from goat milk and cow milk? First, it is locally produced. Most of the milk found in the groceries are imported from Australia and the New Zealand. Also, compared to cow and goat milk, carabao milk is thicker and creamier because it has higher fat content. It is also 58 percent richer in calories and 40 percent richer in protein, but it has 43 percent less cholesterol.
Carabao milk can be found in supermarkets, groceries, and small businesses that produces mainly agricultural products. Most of them are packaged in plastic bottles in liter sizes. Unfortunately, the milk cannot last for more than two hours unrefrigerated and should be consumed immediately after purchase. Carabao milk is also used in some yogurt and flavored milk brands.
Although not exactly a Laguna exclusive, the kesong puti (white cheese) has become synonymous to the province. If Los Baños is the home of the buko pie, the town of Santa Cruz (which is also the province’s capital, by the way) is the home of kesong puti.
Kesong puti is not your ordinary cottage cheese. Instead of cow milk, kesong puti is made of carabao milk. It is served immediately, not aged like other kinds of cheese. According to locals, their “secret ingredient” in creating kesong puti is the use of bare hands when mixing the rennet and when separating the curdles. They say this process enhances the flavor of the cheese, making it tastier even though the only seasoning used is salt. Compared to other kinds of cheese, the kesong puti is soft, almost similar to tofu and feta cheese. It is saltier than regular cottage cheese.
The Santa Cruz kesong puti industry is an old one. Local folk learned the cheese-making process from the Spaniards, which makes cheese-making here a 400-year-old industry. But it has not developed beyond its common use as palaman or spread in pandesal (Filipino breakfast roll), although some are now starting to use it more as an ingredient in so-called fusion cuisines and salads and as a garnish.
Since Christmas time is a festivity where food is abundant, it makes sense to make our native food products and delicacies shine. After all, when we enjoy these products, we also help the farmers and the farm workers who made them. (Leobel Colona / Lifestyle Laguna)