Craving any of Cebu delicacies like the Argao torta, Bogo pintos, or Carcar chicharon?
For the whole month of August, you don’t need to travel two to three hours to buy Cebu specialty products as countryside cottage industries have come to sell these in the ongoing Agro-Trade Fair 2014 at the Capitol compound along Osmeña Boulevard in Cebu City.
Just by walking a few short steps from stall to stall, you get access to many products from Cebu places that are several kilometers from each other.
Get the cabcab from Tudela, budbud from Sogod, polvoron from San Fernando, dried dish from Bantayan, and ampao from Carcar in one spot. Tudela, a town in the island of Poro, sells food products made from cassava: cookies and cabcab. Cabcab is a thin and crisp wafer eaten paired with latik, a sweet syrup derived from coconut milk.
Rice crispies and durable shoes that are trademark goods of the southern town of Carcar are also on display as well as household furniture and home implements fashioned from wood and rattan.
The main ingredient of the budbud is sticky rice. In one kind, the rice is ground and mixed with chocolate. Another is made with whole grains.
Fresh produce from farms in various towns like Moalboal, Cordova, Barili and even Busay and Sirao in City City occupy several of the makeshift kiosks. Vegetables like squash, radish, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplants, string beans as well as fruits like avocado, banana, coconut, and jackfruit are being sold at the fair.
The barangays of Busay and Siraw also sell decorative and flowering plants at the agro-trade fair, one of the activities of Cebu’s 445th Founding Anniversary that falls on August 6, 2014.
It is being held behind the Cebu Provincial Capitol along Osmeña Boulevard in Cebu City.
When someone mentions torta, I usually and immediately think of Argao because I associate this popular Cebu delicacy with the town. I’m sure a lot of Cebuanos do the same.
Our frequent visits to Argao however have made me realize that its indigenous industries of torta and tableya, another specialty, are just one of the many facets that make up this southern town of Cebu.
From research and interviews, I’ve learned things about Argao that are not common knowledge and have come to better appreciate my visits. Beyond the torta, and it is delicious by the way, I’ve come to know Argao as a town steeped in history, rich in socio-cultural heritage, and with an abundance of natural resources.
Trips are truly more meaningful if you know what to look for in a place. The problem is, information about Cebu’s rich historical and socio-cultural heritage as it relates to towns like Argao is not easily accessible to the ordinary traveler.
Take for example the San Miguel Arcangel Church, a late 18th century structure remaining of Spanish colonial times.
While it may seem at first glance to be like any other church built by the Spanish clergy, this structure in Argao differs in the artistic and elaborate ornamentation that can be found on the facade, pediment, retablo, pulpit, ceiling, and other interior portions.
Its facade, according to Paul Gerschwiler in his historical outline of Argao, is divided into nine panels by two double cornices that intersect with four vertical paired half columns and only five of the more than 160 Augustinian churches used this style, all of them built in the southeastern coast of Cebu.
This and other relevant information related to the church in particular and travel to the town in general is being made available to travelers through a digital tourism program that is a collaboration among our new media start-up, InnoPub, our main partner Smart Communications, Inc., and the local governments of Cebu Province and Argao.
Our digital tourism project comes in three components. It involves a web-based guide to Argao, mobile application format, and markers placed on historical and heritage structures. The markers carry quick response codes which allows guests to download more information when scanned with a smartphone or tablet. The guide, web-based an app versions, lists all places and activities of interest in the town.
The project was launched Friday at Argao’s historic “cabecera” or town center, with Cebu Gov. Hilario “Junjun” Davide, Argao Mayor Edsel Galeos, and PLDT-Smart public affairs head Mon Isberto in attendance.
If you ever find yourself going around the town, we have a quick guide accessible at argao.myguide.ph, mobile app for Android devices that can be downloaded at Google Play, and QR code markers placed on important structures within the “cabecera de Argao.”
One Friday, we found ourselves free from any pressing work or other commitments and decided to make our way to the town of Argao.
We were a motley crew of parents, teens, and children with a need for a break from home and work duties. Since the children had the Friday off from school, we decided to spend the day in a town 68 kilometers from Cebu City.
Our first stop was the “El Pueblo Hispano Antiguo de Argao” – which translates to old Spanish town center of Argao – or simply “cabecera de Argao (town center of Argao).”
Argao’s pueblo was patterned after Spain’s blueprint for its settlements in the colonies, which specified a church-rectory-municipal hall-plaza-complex and with the natives living nearby or “bajo el sonido de la campana (under the sound of the bell).”
This means that if you were a Cebuano and you lived in those times, your residence must be within reach of the ringing of the church bells.
Existing church records say the town of Argao was founded in 1608 but it became a parish only in 1733, and this oversight was never fully explained in the history books, said the Cebu Archdiocese book Balaanong Bahandi.
The cabecera was once enclosed in a high and solid rectangular wall of cut coral stones, with entryways on each side of the perimeter. Only two massive gates remain of the wall constructed in the early 1800s as defense against Moro attacks.
Paul Gerschwiler wrote in his historical outline of Argao that the cabecera, as it stands today in Argao, and its fortification were rebuilt around the church by Fr. Mateo Perez during his tenure from 1803 to 1836.
Of the cabecera before Perez’s time, there has been no account of it in any church or history books.
Gerschwiler said we don’t know when it was raided by the Moros and the extent of the destruction, except that the defense structure put up by Fr. Perez came about as a consequence of these attacks.
San Miguel Arcangel Church
The existence of the present-day church — the central structure upon which the locations of other cabecera buildings were based — can be traced to as far back as 1788, said the book Balaanong Bahandi.
Although another church historian, Pedro Galende, attributed the current structure to Fr. Mateo Perez, which served as parish priest for 33 straight years from 1803 to 1806, the date “1788” engraved above the arch of the church’s side door indicates it may have been completed during Fr. Francisco Espina’s time from 1782 to 1798, the book added.
While the San Miguel Arcangel Church appears to look like any other built in Cebu by the Spanish clergy, this structure in Argao differs in the high artistic quality and symbolism of its masonry.
Take for example the division into nine panels of the church facade, formed by two horizontal double cornices intersecting with four vertical lines made up of paired half columns.
Gerschwiler said only five of the more than 160 Augustinian churches built in the Philippines used this style of division and all were built along the southeastern coast of Cebu.
Aside from the church, other buildings inside the cabecera that are worth a look or visit include the campanario (belfry) beside the church, museum in the rectory ground floor, paso or way of the cross wall, capilla mortuario or mortuary chapel, and Casa Real or municipal hall.
Seeing that our kids needed a break from history, we decided to go to a place that would allow them to expend their boundless energy.
We heard about the Argao Nature Park and went there after taking our lunch at Carmen’s Eatery located on the town highway. The park is just a short drive from the road across Carmen’s.
The entrance to the park, built by the Municipal Government on a property owned by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, is only P5 per person. It’s just a small park with plenty of trees and activities guaranteed to make any child happy. It offers a canopy walk or a walk on a hanging bridge built on the treetops, boating on a medium-sized pond, short zipline ride, and wall climbing.
It even has a mini-zoo and an outdoor chess set. The area is where the train used to make a stop in Argao, a staff at the Argao Tourism Commission told us.
Hungry after all that running around, we decided to make food our next stop. We ended up at Jessie’s Homemade Torta bakeshop and eatery.
The owner, Jessie Magallones, gave us a tour of her bakery, showed us the hurno (clay oven) where she bakes the torta, and talked about she got into the business of torta-making. Jessie’s contact details: 367-7455 and 0947-6994027.
Afterwards, we had torta and sikwate (hot chocolate drink made from tableya) at Jessie’s and even bought some to take home. Jessie’s torta is baked using tuba (coconut wine) as leavening, which is the traditional way of doing it.
We just couldn’t go home without bringing Argao tableya (bitter chocolate rounds made from cacao beans) so we hied off to the main maker of the product, Nang Guilang, in Argao. This is the same tableya used by the Tablea Chocolate Cafe branches for its chocolate and choco drink products.
Interested in ordering tableya from Nang Guilang? Call her store at 0909-8226747.