Maa To Ro

November 18, 2019 Travel

I do not usually write about restaurants and food. I am one of the types who could be fed anything, and as long as the food is not too bland, too sweet, too salty, too bitter, or too spicy, I am good.

But this one deserves a spotlight, because it is not only a good dining destination, but it is also a cultural champion. 

I got to know about this place through one of Davao City’s key opinion leaders, Chito Samontina. I asked for his help in organizing a tour for our friends in the media, who we invited to Davao City to join the flight celebrating AirAsia’s 600 millionth passenger. 

He said the place serves Klata heritage dishes and features their tribal weaves, instruments, and dances. That sounded like a good place to bring the group, so I included that in our itinerary.

The Klata are one of the of 11 indigenous peoples of Davao City. I have always known Davao City as a melting pot of various cultures and peoples, and with a land area of 2,444 sqm, it is considered the largest. But I didn’t realize it is home to 11 of these tribes, composed of six moro tribes (Tausug, Maguindanaoan, Iranun, Kagan, Sama and Maranao) and five lumads (Ata, Klata, Ubo-Manuvo, Matigsalog, Tagabawa). Earlier that day, we toured Magsaysay Park, which featured a replica of the houses of the 11 tribes.

Klata Tribe house at Magsaysay Park 
The Klata, or Guiangan, is one of the sub-groups that consists one of the largest indigenous peoples of Southern Mindanao — the Bagobos. 

Sadly though, this tribe’s culture is slowly fading away. That is why Kessia Tar, a member of the Bagobo K'lata tribe, established Maa To Ro.


Maa To Ro, which can be translated to "Mangaon ta” (“let's eat!”), is located in Malagos, Baguio District, Davao City. It is more than an hour’s drive from the town’s center and a good side trip when visiting other popular tourist attractions in Davao like the Malagos Garden Resort and the Philippine Eagle Center.

We visited Maa To Ro late Sunday afternoon. We would have gone much earlier, but the Marco Polo Hotel took time in releasing our rooms. And since we all woke up early to catch our morning flight to Davao City from Manila, we took advantage of the travel time to Malagos to catch up on sleep.

When we arrived, our spirits were woken up by the festive sound of gongs. 



We were supposed to go straight to their weaving center, but some of the weavers had left already, so we were led first to the main dining venue.

The restaurant is made mostly of bamboo that allows air to breeze through it. In the counter beside the entrance, traditional weaves and coffee were on display. Nearby were traditional instruments and two men in traditional attires playing music for us.

































Kids in traditional garbs quickly joined the festivities to perform traditional dances. Restaurant staff in traditional outfits soon arrived, carrying platters with native coffees and teas for everyone. 

After enjoying few performances, we went to the El’lom, or the weaving center.


The El’lom project is another effort to save the vanishing Klata culture. It aims to both preserve the cultural heritage of the Klatas and provide livelihood efforts for the tribes. El’lom serves two functions: to pass on the weaving tradition to young Klatas by teaching them how to weave and, at the same time, to showcase and sell these weaves to tourists like us who visit.





Kessie told us that the first thing they did was to search for the last leaving Klata weaver, which even took them to the mountains. Good thing they found one. Sadly, she was not there at the center when we visited.

Klatas’ traditional weave is that of the nawwo, made out of dyed abaca fibers. I read somewhere that the Klatas, just like the T’bolis are dream weavers. The patterns of the nawwos they make are brought to them in their dreams by the spirits.

After our visit at the El’lom, we went back to the restaurant to enjoy the traditional cuisines of this tribe.

Our group were served the Lol'lot, the specialty of the place. It is meat or seafood mixed with grated coconut enriched with spices stuffed inside the bamboo and cooked over the fire. We also got a guilt-free pancit, called Pancit to Iyog, which is made of buko strips instead of noodles. We also had Pletek to Pandan, or chicken wrapped in pandan leaves; Ginataan Ngo Monok, or chicken bathed in coconut milk; and Pas ni Mor, or stir-fried shrimps with corn. The rice served to the group were infused with Blue Butterfly Pea Flower (Clitoria ternatea), which is gaining popularity for its health benefits. 

Pletek To Pandan
Pancit ngo Iyog

Lollot

Ginataan Ngo Monok

Pas ni Mor

Kessie said that only few Klatas are preparing these dishes as often as before. So, just like its weaves, Klata foods are dying traditions.

Suffice to say, we all left with filled tummies and more enriched souls. 


Our group with Kessie (middle) 

It was one of my favorite dining experiences.

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