MANILA -- It's the month of May and you know what it means: It's fiesta time!
Many places in the countryside hold festivals and fiesta celebrations in May and they are indeed a time of merriment for locals and visitors alike. There's the Manggahan Festival of Guimaras and Kneeling Carabao Festival of Pulilan, Bulacan. Flores de Mayo is, of course, celebrated the whole month, offering a spectacle of beauty and grace among the “Reyna Elenas”.
In my home province of Quezon, we have at least three celebrations during the month of May - - the Katang (Mudcrab) Festival of Calauag town on the 25th, the Pasayahan sa Lucena on the 30th, where the Chami (a type of noodle) Festival is an added attraction, and the festival to end all festivals (for us, Quezonians), the "Pahiyas" of Lucban.
Even though I'm from Quezon, I was only able to witness “Pahiyas” once, three years ago. The following year, my family dropped by Lucban on our way to San Francisco, our hometown, the day after the festival so we were still able to take “selfies” with the winning houses.
“Pahiyas” Festival is touted as the most colorful celebration in the Philippines. It is held by the locals of the quaint town as a way to thank their patron saint, San Isidro Labrador, for their bountiful harvest of various agricultural products.
Residents of the town center adorn the facade of their homes with a fresh harvest of fruits and vegetables such as squash, bitter gourd, bananas, and tomatoes. They also make pretty and colorful lanterns out of "kiping", which is a leaf-shaped wafer laboriously made from rice dough.
For my first time to take part in the “Pahiyas”, I made sure to be in Lucban with my family a day before the fiesta so we could witness the preparations of those joining the competition for the most beautiful and intricately adorned house.
I also wanted to be able to go see more places around the town, sample more local food and to simply enjoy Lucban a bit longer. It turned out to be a wise decision to be there early as the town center was closed to vehicles (except for tricycles) on May 15th and the traffic near the entrance of the municipality was horrible!
As I imagined, Lucban was one big happy place during the "Pahiyas". The streets overflowed with people, all of whom were on fiesta mode. Everyone was jolly --never mind the summer heat and being elbow to elbow with people that filled the narrow streets -- and clicking away with the camera, posing in front and even inside the colorfully decorated homes.
Also very enjoyable for me and my family was shopping for all sorts of trinkets. There were lots of souvenirs on sale such as “Pahiyas” Festival t-shirts, key chains and hand-painted "bayong".
And nothing beats food-tripping in Lucban! Aside from the fact that there were many kinds of delicious food to buy around town, they were also insanely cheap! You can get your fill of the savory and sour (because you must pour vinegar into it) “pansit habhab” at just PHP10 per order and have a dessert of “pilipit” for only PHP7 each.
“Pansit habhab” is of course that popular dry noodle dish served on a square piece of banana leaf that you eat not with the use of any utensil, not even with your bare hand, but with the mouth. This eating style is called "habhab" in Quezon. And nope, it isn't gross.
“Pilipit” is a dough made from flour and grated squash then deep fried with brown sugar. The finished product is firm but sticky and you have to put up a little fight to be able to eat it. The taste is worth the challenge though. For those who are watching their sugar intake, this one's really sinful and as promised, really is delicious!
At lunchtime, there is the “hardinera” to eat rice with. This pork dish is similar to “embutido”, only it has the oval shape of leche flan as they use the same mold. But if you love all-day breakfast, there is the famous “Lucban longganisa”, which are reddish native sausages with a garlicky taste. This one's perfectly paired with garlic fried rice and sunny side up egg.
There are a lot of restaurants around Lucban and most of them offer food that won't hurt your pocket. Some of the most popular places to eat in the town are Chito's, where the “hardinera” is to-die-for and the Buddy's (which has a number of branches in Metro Manila), where the “pansit habhab” or “pansit Lucban” is the best and where I love having “longsilog Lucban” too. There is also the old-world Mustiola where we love the “Pansit Chami”.
Going back to the adorned houses, the judges navigated the streets on board a truck after dusk to pick the winners, which were announced before the day was over. Seeing the houses again at nighttime offered a new level of excitement as the colorful lights the residents installed gave more life and exuberance to the houses.
We left Lucban after lunch the day after the festival, but not before buying lots of “pasalubong” or take-home treats. The lines were long at the pasalubong centers spread across town, especially in the few places where the longganisang Lucban was being made in full view of the customers. Our “haul”, aside from the sausages, included sweets such as candied tamarind, meringue and turrones, the local favorite bread called “pinagong” and a few orders of Chito’s flavorful “hardinera”.
Wolfing down all those food while vacationing in our hometown five hours away, allowed us to relish the festivities for a few more days. But the hope of going back to Lucban someday soon lingers -- to once again join the one huge party that is the Pahiyas Festival. (PNA)