Quezon is one of the best places to visit every August, when basking on the beach is often a no-go activity due to monsoon rains, and the province steadies the spotlight on food tourism and its top product — the coconut.
At the Niyogyugan Festival, the province’s 39 municipalities and two cities fill the capitol grounds with coconut-themed booths that turn the city center into a merry-town of well-crafted coconut huts. This year, the week-long festival is held from August 16 to 26.
The eight-year-old festival, launched in 2011, was originally a gathering of some coconut farmers selling their products. It was only a few years ago when the municipalities and cities started to outdo one another in the presentation of their respective booths that get better every year.
The aesthetically-pleasing booths are a potent sales-booster for local farmers and entrepreneurs. Locals and tourists need not travel for hours to each of Quezon’s towns to have a taste of all of its famed delicacies — booth hopping does the trick.
At the Infanta booth, which raked in more than a million pesos in revenues last year, the municipality put in a lot of effort and thought to catch attention, with a large suman (glutinous rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves) and coconut replicas the size of a wrecking ball crowning its roof.
he booth, intricately enlaced with bamboo poles and polished woven coco nets, has a pedestal that features a “falls” of coco milk cascading into a replica of the “bugsok”, a basket usually carried along by coconut farmers as their daily bag.
Tourists take a bite of Infanta’s freshly cooked suman and authentic pinais (shrimp dish cooked in coconut milk).
From Infanta’s gastronomic highlights, people also easily get a bite of the famed Quezon longganisa (sausage flavored with spices and a lot of garlic) from the festive Lucban booth — just a few steps away, as compared to the four-hour travel distance of the two municipalities.
Lucban’s booth is a medley of influence — the food that can only be found in the town and its colorful San Isidro Pahiyas Festival, easily recognized with their vibrant kipings (leaf-shaped wafer made from glutinous rice) hanging on the doorway. Its facade also offers visitors a visual treat with the gigantic and witty replica of the pancit habhab.
Camera-ready visitors crowd the park at night when it comes alive with neon lights, turning the capitol grounds into a spectacle of colors and vibrant music.
One of the attractions include the Lamon Bay mermaid, an Atimonan folklore, which sits atop the coastal town’s coconut meat dupe display.
In the middle, the province’s eponymous Quezon municipality sports a recognizable ‘Q’ lettering adorned with coconut shells. Real’s high-platformed booth, on the other hand, is a crowd-pleaser with an inviting ambiance as if you are about to board a wooden boat.
The week-long affair also takes visitors to observe the “vanishing tradition” of Quezon — the Tagayan Ritual.
It features Quezon’s main product from the coconut– the Philippine lambanog or the coconut vodka. Although the Tagayan Ritual involves a lot of drinking, it is far from the casual quaffing of alcohol. It follows a specific etiquette and is often initiated by a leader called the “tanggera/tanggero”.
In the olden days, the Tagayan Ritual used to be a form of resolving conflicts among community members, and because of this, the tanggero or the tanggera is often a person who is looked up to in the area. Now, it aims to build friendship and show Quezon’s hospitality to its visitors.
The ritual starts when the tanggera pours the first shot to the ground to pay homage as offering to divinities. The tanggera then shouts “Naay po!” (Here’s the drink) before the drinking spree starts and the guests should reply with, “Pakinabangan po!” (Make good use of it).
Being one of the top producers of coconut in the Philippines, the Niyogyugan Festival is Quezon’s tribute to the “tree of life” and a way to establish it as a defining aspect of the province’s culture.
In 2018, the festivity attracted a record number of 1,001,039 tourists, with the booths making net sales of PHP27,691,118. Some products are now even being exported abroad.
Aside from the colorful booths and the energizing Tagayan Ritual, the festival is filled with more activities such as the Grand Parade and Street Dance Competition, where floats designed with coconut fiber, nets, and husks flood the streets, followed by local dancers garbed in flamboyant costumes.
Everyone is encouraged to join the festivities held annually at the Lucena provincial capitol grounds. From Metro Manila, getting there would take three to four hours.
The easiest way to get to Quezon is to take a bus from any terminal heading to Lucena Grand Terminal. Fare costs around PHP250. From Lucena, you can get to the city center by hopping on a jeepney for PHP9 per trip. (PNA)