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Meet the woman bringing native cuisine to success in a remote island of the Philippines


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Lidia Elisa Roberto is a Batanes native, Batanes being a small island at the northern-most point of the Philippines, one which has been left without internet or phone service for over a year now after a catastrophic typhoon.

Lidia runs the LidiaHiro travel tour operator, which accommodates curious travelers from all over the world - but most importantly, her passion stands in running the HiroJoy Cuisine, her very own restaurant run as a family business.

“I run this place by myself, but my sister, my nephew, the whole family helps out… and my people have been with me for seven years,” Lidia explains.

A very sweet, caring and animated woman, she kindly hosted us for an exquisite evening of traditional cuisine, running us through every single dish and where the produce came from as well as what it symbolises for the island.

“Tumeric rice is one of our specialties, together with Adobo (rice and pork) and the Ivatan escargot,” she explains.

My personal favorite from the night though must be the Uved balls, balls of minced pork and fish mixed with finely grated corm found at the base of the trunk of the banana, the big rhizome, a key aliment of the local cuisine.

In fact Lidia, delivering a truly natural, traditional and homely experience, introduced us to the difference between cuisine in the island of Batanes and that of the mainland, therefore also giving us a little insight on why cuisine across the Philippines differs so much due to the conglomerate of islands the nation is formed of.

“I get all my fresh produce from the island, never from the main-land. This way not only all my products are fresh and healthy, I’m also helping the community around me, buying in bulk to help our farmers and fishermen thrive too.

"I get my pigs from my sister-in-law, so I know it’s safe. I get my vegetables from an old friend of mine. They come to me, we work as a team,” she says, whilst gesticulating as if the whole island was sitting round the table with us.

She goes on to explain that her food represents the spirit of the island because it has a unique and individual taste which can only be found there.

“Since I got sick I only cook organic food. And our food tastes (are) different not only because we’ve developed different recipes over time compared to the mainland, but because the fresh produce comes from the island itself and what grows here is different from what grows there,” she says.

So, not only does the community thrive with a positive cycle of commerce, dishing out a vast array of primary produce which is both fresh and peculiar… Lidia puts her own little twists on all of it too.

In fact Lidia pioneers the local cuisine with recipes she makes up on the spot, accommodating to the wide range of customer needs.

Lidia wearing a traditional Batanes headpiece

“My favorite food to make? I don’t know! I invent, I love making the food with my own recipe. Everything is my own style because I love cooking. Every time I have guests over, especially for a longer stay, I make it my mission to try out all sorts of different foods. A lot of the tourists are vegetarian so I put a little twist to all of my food according to who’s visiting, to make it more appreciable for them.

"My dishes don’t even have names; all I do is use my family names to name my recipes. I name them after my son, my daughter in law… I love my family.”

Tradition and family values are very much present in the everyday shapes and forms of the typical native Batanes cuisine across the board, and Lidia is one of the many iconic examples of cultural embodiment.

Philippines fun fact: A Filipino named Roberto del Rosario made the karaoke machine in 1975, but a Japanese musician invented it four years earlier. Del Rosario, however, was the first to get a patent for the product.

Sofia travelled to the Philippines with a direct flight from Heathrow to Manila with Philippine Airlines. She was hosted by the Philippines Tourism Board and travelled through the north of the archipelago. Their tourism website, which you can find here, runs with the slogan that it's more fun in the Philippines!

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