Let’s Eat… Foods of the Cagayan Valley

This posting is quite long, but I hope you find it interesting. Take one look at me and you will instantly know I am not what you would call a “picky eater”.

This weekend Rebecca and I were in Abulug and a thought struck me: The people there, regardless of how poor, will never starve. Why? The Cagayan Valley is composed of rich, alluvial soil that will grow practically anything. With the tropical climate, there is nearly always something ready to be harvested. Additionally, nothing is wasted, and by that, I mean NOTHING. Every part of every animal or plant is used, sometimes in surprising ways. Additionally, since Abulug is located where a river meets the sea, a nearly endless supply of fish, shellfish, and seaweed is available, sometimes yours just for the taking. Therefore, when it comes to food, Rebecca’s family is, perhaps, as much as 90% self-sufficient. As a matter of fact, looking through their pantry, you will see very few pre-packaged or purchased goods: normally things like cooking oil or wheat flour or the occasional treat for the kids. Now, what does her family eat? Well, here’s a picture of the spread at a birthday party last year: Nearly everything was “home grown”:

Now, this was a special occasion… Most everyday Cagayano food is what Rebecca and her family call “chop chop, boil boil”. Lots of fish, meat, or vegetables chopped up and cooked in soup with vinegar and fish sauce. There is always rice. Becky’s favorite dish is small fish (ANY kind!) boiled with bitter gourd, lady fingers (okra), or aubergine. There is absolutely nothing unhealthy with that (Though, I have to admit, even though Rebecca is an outstanding cook, that I can only eat Pinoy for a few meals before I want something “Western”.)

So, a list of what they grow on her farm:

Chickens, Ducks, Turkeys: Meat, Eggs.

Goats: Meat, Milk.

Pigs: Meat.

At slaughtering time, you can either do it yourself, send the animals to the abattoir and they will slaughter them, or you can sell it to the abattoir and they will sell the meat on “slaughtering day”. Saturday morning, we wanted to buy some beef, so we went to the abattoir… Here’s a picture. Remember I said they waste nothing? The little bags with yellow stuff in them? That is bile from the cows. It is made into a soup in the Cagayan Valley. The pinkish meat in the background is carabao meat… Tastes like beef, but a little “gamey”.

From the sea? Well, in addition to the prawn ponds (2), they get Bangus (Milkfish, one pond), Tilapia (a pond), Clams and cockles (Free…Just dig them up), Snails (also free), Crabs (Trap them), Anchovies, Sardines, Sherry (I can’t remember the Ybanag name… Like a sea bream), Red Snapper, Parrot Fish, Mud Fish (like a catfish, but small), Rabbit Fish (one of my favorites), Angel Fish, Eels, Belt Fish (A really funny looking fish… really looks like a long, silver belt), Lapu-Lapu (If they are lucky), Gulaman (A type of seaweed… makes a type of gelatine, just like in Halo Halo…also free), Squid, and Cuttlefish. There are also dozens of other types that normally go into “chop chop boil boil”.

What about vegetables? Well, the following are all grown on Rebecca’s farm and her Uncle’s farm:

Rice, Cassava, Coffee, Cacao, Taro, Pandan, Passionfruit, Long Beans, Guava, Pineapple, Avocado, Jackfruit, Calamansi, Pomelo, Okra, Aubergines, Tomato, Betel Nut (For chewing), Coconuts (For oil, eating, and thousands of other uses), Papaya, Kan Kong, Wild mushrooms (We went picking this weekend), Bananas (Green for cooking and yellow for snacking), Bitter gourd, Bitter melon, Rambutan, Atis (A funny looking Guava-type thing), Lychee, Oregano, Curry tree (Rebecca and I planted this… She learned to cook Indian food while in the Middle East), Lotus, Bamboo (for the shoots, and household construction needs), Palm Heart (for upset stomach… Different from the canned things from Brazil… VERY bitter), Sweet potatoes, Horseradish (for the leaves rather than the roots… Flavoring for soup and it is a very different taste), ginger, palm fruit (for eating), and Nipa (for thatch and making wine). Some pictures of the different plants and vegetables (Not all shown… Not everything is harvestable now:

Finally, since this posting is, in part, about self-sufficiency and not wasting anything. There was a little construction going on at the house. The boards were hewn, by hand, from tree trunks and driftwood (mouth of a river… free lumber and keeps the beach clean). Note the pile of sawdust. This was made into charcoal for cooking.

Post Author: JohnM (207 Posts)

John Miele is a Citizen of the World, having spent time in many locations around the globe. Currently, he finds himself in Manila, but travels throughout the Philippines. John joined the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine in mid-2008.

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  1. Marilou says

    Hi John – Great article on self sufficientcy. Just the kind of lifestyle Jim and I are looking forward to when we retire in Bukidnon at the end of this year.

  2. R L Graham says

    Hi John, Very useful and very informing. I have read several of your posts and like your topics and style. Keep them coming! R L Graham

  3. John Miele says

    Marilou: Good luck! I must say, however, that I am not the one in the house with the "green" thumb… more like a black one in my case!

    RL: Thank You! I'm glad you like them.

    Klaus: I feel for you, my friend. Just remind the doctor that, as a German, beer flows through your veins and is the juice of life! Doctors really can take the fun out of life, eh? I'm in Cebu today, and I'll crack open a bag of Chicarrons in your honor…. Take care of yourself.

  4. Alfred Pajes says

    Hi John,

    Nice write up. I am a farm boy who grew up with simple things until life offers itself and caught up with me.

    I grew up in Marbel South Cotabato in Mindanao but presently based in Zamboanga City and working somewhere here the Middle East.

    I miss farmlife. Maybe a some more years after the children finish school, I am looking forward to enjoy it again.

    To all of you guys, thank you for all the posts… am an avid reader now. 😉


  5. says

    Oooh… yumm! Now, this is what I call cooking the Filipino way. I am not much of a meat eater but I wouldn’t mind to indulge myself with some of that lechon crispy skin right now. I was looking for the leche flan for dessert. I never learned how to make it so I may have to wait until Rebecca posts her recipe up for this one.

    The fruit trees make me feel so homesick. Yes, one can live a plentiful life there making use of the country's rich natural resources.
    Thank you for sharing, John!

    • John Miele says

      Bebe: Well, pinakbet is one, as is tinubong. The pancit made there is different: The one in Tuguegarao ises chicken livers and the pancit in Abulug uses two different noodles

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