What began as a means to cope with an inferiority complex has now become a booming business enterprise with a social cause. For Inglay Capuyan, an Igorota from Sagada, Mountain Province, her restaurant not only proudly showcases the unique flavors of Igorot home cooking. It is also a way for her to help her people overcome their own insecurities.
“I think all of us go through that phase of insecurity as Igorots. Even among ourselves, between barrios in Sagada, there is insecurity,” Inglay explained.
Inglay takes a look around her rooftop garden.
Hearing her say this, I remembered a story that Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, an internationally known indigenous activist of Igorot background, had told me many years ago. Corpuz told me how, even as a child, she felt the need to defend her people from fellow Filipinos classmates.
The class was learning about the Igorots when the teacher said that Igorots live in trees and have tails like monkeys. Corpuz immediately jumped up from her chair, and proudly told her classmates that she was an Igorot, and that she didn’t live in a tree or have a monkey’s tail.
An anonymous poster in an Igorot blog once wrote: “There is a reason why Igorots are barely covered in our educational books in schools in the Philippines. It’s because they are not worthy of the Filipino name.”
It is hard to believe that such bigotry still exists today, but it does.
“I overcame my insecurity only when I became a lawyer,” Inglay revealed, stressing the importance of education and providing learning opportunities for the less privileged.
And Inglay Restaurant in La Trinidad, Benguet, is just that—a place where her fellow Igorots can learn about and experience good dining without fearing discrimination.
“I don’t want others to feel small,” Inglay said.
The entrance to Inglay Restaurant.
This social cause, however, is not the only thing that makes Inglay Restaurant unique. The restaurant also gets most of its herbs and vegetables from a rooftop organic garden.
Like the restaurant, the garden is a tool for empowering others, particularly women and children.
Inglay’s rooftop organic garden.
According to Inglay, the garden is open for visitors who wish to learn the basics of organic farming. Mothers can bring their children for a learning experience they will all enjoy.
But most of all, the garden is Inglay’s tool in sharing God’s word with others.
“During typhoon Lando, I experienced the power of prayer. The storm was so strong I was afraid the greenhouse would be blown away and destroy nearby houses. So I got up at 3am and prayed. I prayed for protection,” Inglay said, recalling how she clung to the promise of protection in Psalm 91.
And in the morning, the gardener called. The garden was intact except for some tomatoes which were damaged by the strong winds.
It was at that very moment that Inglay made a commitment to God to make the garden a center for bible studies, prayer, and life workshops.
“It is in this greenhouse that people will see You,” she prayed to the Lord.
Bible studies, led by Judge Delilah Muñoz, are held in the garden every Wednesday from 5:30 to 7:30 in the evening. There are 12 sessions per batch of students, during which they learn how to pray and read the bible. Students then go on to the second level—a total of 15 sessions, where students are trained to guide their own bible study groups.
Restaurant food with an Igorot twist
The master behind Inglay’s Igorot inspired dishes is Chéf Selso Ocampo Jr., a former sous chef in a five-star restaurant in Western Hotel in the Carribean. He also worked as a cook in Baguio Country Club, in Edmonton Canada, and in O’mai Khan in Baguio.
Selso’s special gift is the ability to put a twist on any existing dish.
Patrons can have a truly one-of-a-kind dining experience with these Igorot inspired dishes: Cordillera salad with tapey wine vinaigrette, tokwa’t etag, calamares with Sagada orange dip, red beans with etag, etag burger, sinigang na etag, and spaghetti with tomato and etag sauce, to name a few.
Dishes are prepared with authentic Sagada etag, a kind of Igorot smoked meat; and the freshest ingredients picked from the garden above or bought from the La Trinidad trading post just a stone’s throw away from the restaurant. Herbs like tarragon, rosemary, lavender, parsley, and basil are also available in the garden.
Inglay is also the only restaurant in La Trinidad with a Mongolian menu. The restaurant also has a small bakeshop, the Calle Dulce, for sweet endings.
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