It was raining when I visited the Department of Tourism's Kain Na! booths — all 20 of them — at the Solenad 3, Ayala Malls Nuvali, Santa Rosa, Laguna, last Saturday.
“The past few months have been rough on the Filipino food community, but it has also pushed us to our limits to achieve greater things," said DOT Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat at the opening of the event. “For its first three legs held between September and November, Kain Na! 2020 took the virtual space by storm in its celebration of Filipino food culture. As the holiday season approaches, with the year almost to a close, the DOT once again invites foodies to Kain Na Christmas Cravings, an exciting hybrid edition of the Food and Travel Festival.”
For four days, Christmas Cravings featured a series of virtual talks, tours, and demos through the Food Tourism Exchange and Food Tourism 101 sessions, while a physical Food Tourism Christmas Market was mounted at Ayala Malls Solenad from Dec. 18 to 20, with booths selling local food products from different regions and a food truck featuring Central Luzon’s chefs.
I got there as the rains began to pour, but the weather did not seem to dampen the spirits of shoppers from nearby, as the area is under MGCQ.
To ensure the safety of participants and visitors to the on-site culinary exhibition, organizers took steps to ensure that health and safety protocols were enforced throughout the festival duration, such as limiting the number of selling booths and venue capacity, the installation of social-distancing floor markers, and the designation of entry and exit points.
“I am very elated to see our on-site Kain Na! exhibition finally return since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic," Puyat added. “As with all of the DOT’s initiatives in the slow but sure revival of the Philippine tourism industry, health and safety come first. We see to it that minimum health standards are maintained during the event. Likewise, we solicit the cooperation of all, which is vital to the activity’s success.”
I was happy I came because this was one of the few food events where there was a special vegetarian booth. I made my way excitedly to Bec and Geri’s, which sold 100-percent plant-based goods.
Elaine Santillan of Bec told me, “Bec and Geri's started 10 years ago with gelato as its main product, and evolved to offer plant-based burgers, shawarmas, pasta and other snacks.”
I learned that one of their popular dishes is Elpi's Vellychon, which they asked me to taste. I did as I was informed that it was made with tapioca starch, soy protein, herbs and spices — yummy! I tasted other products like siopao and mushroom chips and then smiled just like a kid in a candy store. Of course I bought a lechon belly to see if it would taste just as good at home. Well, it did, as I ate it for lunch the next day!
I also sampled camachile biscuits from Quezon, the cinnamon Biscocho de Zamboanga and ice cream with inutak from Pateros.
As I walked around I was treated to other quality and delectable food products of participating sellers, including Alavar, Amira’s Buco Tart Tagaytay, Cafe Amadeo, Calabarzon Farm Association, House of Negros + Creative Definitions, Magic Melt, Malagos Chocolate, My Little Oven by Simplicity, M&E Catering Services, Pasciolco Agri Ventures, Pink Ladies, QueenB Apiaries, QuePATTA, and Suman Munti, Sweets for Ferann.
“The virtual talks are ongoing,” said DOT assistant secretary Verna Covar Buensuceso, who was at the Kain Na Food fair. "The DOT Food Tourism Exchange symposium has different resource speakers sharing Filipino holiday traditions and food pairings that are unique to various areas in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. While the Food Travel 101 sessions feature food tourism experiences like food tours, staycations and foodie ADVENTures that may be explored as we reboot domestic tourism."
These talks are still available online through the DOT's FB page.
It was good to be at a food event where vegetarian food was readily available — and that more Pinoys are looking for it. But even better is that the DOT is looking for ways to help the small- and medium-scale food entrepreneurs affected by this pandemic reboot their businesses.
Here’s looking forward to more veggie goodies in 2021.
Banner caption: My star of the Christmas Kain Na! Food Festival: The Vellychon of Bec and Geri's plant-based stall