We arrived at Bontoc late in the morning in surprisingly balmy weather after a slow and rather bumpy one hour ride from Sagada. The capital of Mountain Province has long been awake and its market and town center were lively and bustling, quite unlike the laid-back atmosphere in Sagada. Bontoc was on the way to our next destination, the more popular Banaue Rice Terraces, so we decided to spend one night in its town to find out what it has to offer.
After checking in our things at Ridgebrooke, a lodge on the quiet eastern side of the Chico River, we walked back to the town center with our daypacks, all excited to visit some Bontoc villages up in the terraces. We caught the last morning jeepney and wound our way up the steep and windy dirt road to Maligcong. The jeepney was packed with passengers, rice bags, plants and other bits and bobs and I was glad we had chosen to sit on the roof. We got an unobstructed view of the Chico River cutting through the forest and its very own rice terraces.
It was here where we first met a friendly local villager who helped us with bits of information about Maligcong. Upon reaching the jump-off point to the village, we started following the other locals who were carrying food supplies and produce on their head while walking confidently on the narrow stone-walled terraces. The scenery was breathtaking it could even rival that of Banaue and Batad. Later on the trail we caught up again with Kuya carrying a chicken tucked under his arm, and upon learning that we were looking for a place to buy food, he invited us to visit his house and have lunch there.
Starting the fire
His kids greeted us as we approached their wooden cabin situated atop a grassy hill. It was surrounded by vegetable patch and had a magnificent view of the rice terraces; it was postcard perfect from every angle. After showing us around his humble shelter, he invited us to sit outside at what looked like a bonfire pit surrounded by flat wooden stones. The whole set up reminded me of scenes from tribal rituals of the Igorots and other ethnic tribes where they dance and feast to ask for their deities’ guidance.
Chicken is put into an open fire to burn off the feathers.
His kids started to build a fire while Kuya emerged from his cabin with the chicken in one hand and a stick on the other. He told us he would prepare Pinikpikan, and before I could mutter another question, he started beating the live chicken until it was dark and blue before throwing it into the open fire. Apparently, the dish derives its flavor from the coagulated blood, the burned feathers and skin, and the Etag, which is a cured meat, aged under-ground in earthen jars.
They then plucked the remaining feathers and washed away the soot and dirt before meticulously slicing it making sure not to waste any part including the intestines, innards and head which were all thrown into the boiling soup after they were cleaned. After one look at the internal organs of the chicken and reading its prophecy, he relayed to us the good fortune that awaited us all. Whatever it was, I was thankful to the liver and bile of the chicken which apparently sealed our fate in good light, otherwise we would have all ended hungry had it given a bad omen.
The soup started to boil and thicken and I realized no vegetables were going to grace the pot after minutes of stewing. Pinikpikan was an all-star chicken no less, something like Tinola minus the veggies. I wasn’t a picky eater but after seeing how it was prepared and what went into the pot, my adventurous spirit started to falter. But when its aromatic flavor started to tickle my nostrils I was reminded that I hadn’t really eaten anything that day except for the frozen yoghurt I bought down in Bontoc.
Partaking in the feast
One of the boys brought out the pot of rice, eating utensils and a basin of water to wash our hands. And just like that, after saying our thanks giving prayer, we all partook in a feast of Pinikpikan like kindred tribal villagers celebrating friendship and good luck. It was my first time to try Pinikpikan and I was grateful to have tried it here in the magnificent rice terraces of Bontoc.
“The preparation of Pinikpikan is a ritual performed by Cordillera tribes to determine the appropriate courses of action and their fate. It takes hours of careful work to prepare an authentic Pinikpikan. It’s name was derived from the process of light beating called ‘Pikpik.”
This is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival for July 2011 with the theme “Awesome Food Experience While Traveling In The Philippines” hosted by Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet.