IT WAS in 2014 when I first stepped in Balay nga Bato in Iloilo. One of the highlights? The Molo soup. It was good. Really good. I was good for a second serving.

The second serving came five years after. Little did I know that more than the Molo soup, Camiña Balay nga Bato was serving a wide spread of Ilonggo fare.

Over refreshments of calamansi cooler, Luth Camiña, the fourth generation owner and the woman behind the business, shared, “We are river people and we eat vegetables that grow along the river. We decided to do an “abre salon” to entertain guests for an afternoon of the art of doing nothing. All the ingredients we prepared comes from the family farm in Guimaras. The food on the table is a story of who we are as Ilonggos - river people, insulares, principalia, the provincial elite. We did this because we want to showcase the three A’s of the Camiña Balay nga Bato-architecture, arts and artifacts.”

The house was built in the 1850’s using timber and hardwood from the central district of Panay.

It belonged to the lowest rank of the balay nga bato, which had three bays. Back then the politicians can have three to five bays while the Maharlikas are entitled to build with nine bays.

The more the pillars there were, the wealthier the family. It was a status symbol.

Raising the home from the ground is a cooling method in design. This area was enclosed using limestone and river sand. It fortified the structure, thus the balay nga bato. It was turned into a warehouse, or Almacen.

Luth left a corporate career to give breath new purpose to the house. She opened the place she resides in and turned the Balay nga Bato into one of Iloilo’s popular attractions. It was marked as an Important Cultural Property by the National Museum.

The ground floor today is used as a gift shop where batirols for making tsokolate, local weaves, furniture and home accessories are for sale. Here, a most interesting curio is highlighted- a grand piano that’s said to be the oldest in Iloilo. The upper floor is accessed through the escalera principal, the main staircase. Steep at 45 degrees, it was designed as a put-off for robbers. Ascend it sideways, we were told.

At the second floor are the oratorio, the family prayer room; the sala mayor designed in “mestizo architectura” - a mixture of architectural styles; and the kitchen and dining areas.

The sala mayor was out designated dining area for the evening. And before anything else, the famous Molo Soup was served.

An all-Ilonggo cuisine was prepared at the home’s dining room. The selection was wide – pansit na puti, embotido and empanada, a variety of greens and grilled pork seasoned only with salt.

“You should have the lumpia with the empanada. This is a mark of an ilustrado. Back then, if the pairing was not served, you would be considered pobre.”

To end the repast was the tsokolate. It’s a third generation-recipe with the tablea prepared the traditional way.

“Our tsokolate is made thick. Too much of it and you’ll get your drunk. This is why we serve it in a demitasse,” said our host, “And make sure the pinky finger is pointing outwards while holding the cup’s ear.”

And that we did, just like the ilustrados.

Camiña Balay nga Bato is at 20 Osmeña Street, Barangay Sta. Felomina Arevalo, Iloilo City.

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