Thursday, August 4, 2016
Arca's Yard and its camote pie
Come rain or come shine, Arca’s Yard up in Tiptop, the boundary of Baguio and La Trinidad along Ambuklao Road, enjoys full-house patronage. Locals don’t mind the drive up outside city limits to get their slice of camote pie.
Owner Nida “Ninj” Sabado believes “I’m the only one serving this pie probably in the whole Philippines.” She cites the root crop’s role in Igorot rituals, especially in cañaos where pigs or carabaos are butchered to mark special occasions like wedding feasts. Alongside the cooked meat, staples like camote and gabi are served,
Sabado grew tired of boiled camote so she thought of a different way of serving it. She researched and discovered that sweet potato pie is the favorite dessert of Michael Jackson. Through trial and error, she got the taste she liked—pure, organic, with loads of anti-wrinkle and anti-oxidant elements.
Before Arca’s Yard Café opened, there was the gallery she put up to assuage her grief over her mother’s death in 2014. It was a combination of mini library and museum with the Cordillera as its theme. She said, I want to share and preserve the culture of Benguet and the whole Cordillera.”
She wanted the place to be somewhere her writer and artist friends could hang out, even if there was a typhoon raging. The gallery once faced the road, then she moved it to their adjacent family proper and now it’s facing three mountains on a clear day: Mt. Pulag’s tip, Mt. Purgatory and Mt. Ugo on the Itogon side. The sunrise and full moon can be viewed from the balcony.
The gallery-café grew to a three-room bread and breakfast place that is five storeys high, including an attic for the book collection, and still expanding sideways. It has come a long way from being originally the ranch and kamote plot of Sabado’s father Arca. She says he had no surname—Jonson, Dianson, Djanson were appended after his first name. Before World War II, Arca supplied Camp John Hay and the hotels of Baguio with fresh milk.
Today Sabado’s customers not only go up for the pie but also for the enlanrged menu that includes lamb chops, pasta, lechon kawali, arroz a la cubana and anything that she calls “easy and quick to cook. I didn’t realize all this would be successful.”
Arca’s popularity grew through word of mouth and social media. Visitors are always fighting over seats that have panoramic views whether it’s sunny, rainy or foggy.
Another feature is gate inspired by a bridge in Paris. Sabado calls it Lovers’ Lock. She sells the padlocks for a minimal fee and lovers can make their vows by that gate barring a cliff.
When the restaurant is packed, service slows down. Sabado soothes her waiting customers, telling them, “We’re new, we’re feeling our way and trying to improve the service.” –Elizabeth Lolarga
This article and some photos were first published in the Aug. 3, 2016, issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer Northern Luzon Supplement.