It's the time of the year again, and despite the overload of work and seemingly impossible schedule, I still find my way i Isabela in the Cagayan Valley.
An eight hour drive up north is one of the longest I've ever had, but taking the bus proved to be convenient. We took a Victory Liner bus in Kamias, Cubao and embarked through Bulacan, the endless Nueva Ecija, Nueva Vizcaya, finally hitting Isabela.
I was in the province in search of the Microentrepreneur of the Year, a yearly award given by Citi, the Bangko Sentral, and the Microfinance Council of the Philippines. We had to interview 3 nominees in the province. We stayed in the Cauayan, which is a sleepy city an hour away from the capital, Santiago. There was nothing of interest in Cauayan, so the highlight of the trip was interviewing these nominees. One couple made chicharon for a living, the other a former soldier who is now making puto and kutsinta, and the last one, a mother who had several agricultural businesses in her backyard.
They were all interesting, but I was fascinated most in how chicharon was made. And would you believe they use the skin of carabaos, and not pig's skin?
It takes long to "marinate" the dried skin, and only a second for them to pop into chicharon once thrown into a steaming kaldero of oil. It's nice to see the innovative use of the electric fan cover as a large sandok.
Mix in lots of salt, and you're in cholesterol heaven.
It was also interesting that they used candle light to seal the plastic bags of chicharon, ready for distribution.
As usual, any visit to the province is a food experience. One nominee served us this feast just before having lunch. Yes, we were eating nonstop. So you may guess how big I am right now.
The search for the Microentrepreneur of the Year 2008 has begun.