Saturday, March 29, 2008

Pampanga Food Trip

I decided to re-acquaint myself with my mother's hometown of Pampanga after reading so many food bloggers rave about their culinary food trips to San Fernando. This trip is the first time in a looong while that I will be spending an entire day in the town which holds in its roads and landmarks all the cherished memories I have of summer days of long ago.

My grandfather started his own restaurant, hotel, and appliance store along Henson st. in Angeles City as a way to comfortably raise 9 kids. Along the way, all my titos somehow got involved in the same line of business. I remember spending those summer vacations in the province and eating anything that I want, anytime of the day. (Actually, since I spent my grade school years in Davao, it was more of moving from one province to the other.) My grandparents' residence was on the the second floor of the restaurant and during summers, this is what I call home. Upon waking, I simply ordered whatever i fancied and the kitchen will have it ready in no time. Breakfast was usually
pritong baboy (no doubt they contributed to those stubborn cellulites I couldn't get rid of now) and garlic rice. And if my lola ate with me, she would usually share 1 cheek of a ripe mango with me. The other cheek, she would eat with her rice, yes, as ulam! Lunch would usually be at the Chinese restaurant of my Tito M in Balibago, along MacArthur Hi-way. I remember loving their toasted bihon (which i still crave to this day! Occasionally, my mom brings this as pasalubong for me when she visits her family in Angeles), crab fooyung, nido soup and of course the patatim. And for dessert, my cousin, J, li'l sis, C, and I would just cross the street and head over to my Tito E's bakeshop, where the ube cake is simply to die for. The three of us would then head over to Century and get one room for ourselves. (You can view the hotel's webpage right here, which my brother designed by the way.) We would spend the afternoon watching videos, or lounge by the pool to get a tan. I also remember with fondness that if the travel bug hit us, those summer afternoons were also spent traversing the MacArthur Hi-way from Nepomart (to indulge our sweet tooth with imported candies and chocolates which Nepo was bursting to the seams with) upto the far end of Dau (to shop for PX clothes and shoes.) **Fashion Flashback (or Nightmare): hi-cut Reeboks in eye-numbing colors, Tretorn, K-swiss, acid washed denims and baggy jeans were the height of teen-fashion those days). At night, we would head over to Phase4, a dance club located at the same compound of the hotel, and order strawberry daiquiris ( I was feeling very grown up at twelve). With this culinary gorging every summer, I am very lucky indeed that I haven't turned into a pig.

Last Saturday, with our 3 kids in tow, safely buckled up in each of their own car seats, C and I started our own culinary journey by leaving Manila a few minutes past ten o'clock in the morning. We agreed we wouldn't be doing the usual Shell Select stopover to leave room in our stomach for the feast that was waiting for us at Pampanga. The kids were busy watching a Veggie Tales DVD and singing along to the songs, and that kept them busy for the entire trip. We took the San Fernando exit and headed straight for Everybody's Cafe. This cafe is not actually a cafe but a glorified carenderia of sorts. We had the most wonderful lunch, and the most wonderful thing of all was that it did not burn a hole in C's wallet. This is the best of the best when it comes to provincial comfort food. The kids ate up everything. J loved the lechon kawali and fried hito, which is best eaten dipped in balo-balo and then wrapped with mustasa, B finished her bulalo soup, R finished off the morcon. This resto is a personal fave for it truly represents Pampanga cuisine at its best. The food is great, price is cheap, and the service is fast. It doesn't hurt that it also showcases the wildly exotic cuisine that is uniquely Kapampangan. Think Fear Factor exotic... crickets, carabao, frogs, et al.

Our next destination was Abe's Farm (same owner of Abe's over at Serendra). I actually had reservation made here for lunch, but canceled at the last minute since the disappointment of my Abe's experience at Serendra still haunts me. Still, i wanted to check the place out as a possible weekend destination with the kids, an alternative to Tagaytay. It is located at the foot of Mt. Arayat so the place was quite windy and cool. They have a wading pool and have tied up with Nurture Spa to offer relaxing massages for weary travelers. And weary is what you are going to be once you get there.
But going back to Abe's... I remember Manila being all abuzz when Abe's opened an outlet at Serendra about 2 years ago. The long queue of guest who were willing to wait 2-3 hours just to get a table intrigued me. So i made reservations and hauled C and the kids to try this new and much talked about Kapampangan resto. Growing up with a mom and a family cook who are Kapampangans has not been beneficial for me as this has left me with such a high standard - gustatorily. Suffice it to say that i was not impressed at all and am in fact wondering what the fuss was all about. But let's move on to more relevant fodders, i mean, matters.

After that, we were off to search for Cold Spoon. This is located in such an out-of-the way spot that we got lost looking for it. I had to call Joan (the Korean owner) 2 times before we finally got it right. But everything was worth it. The yogurt tasted just right and very creamy. The tanginess of the yogurt was not overbearing like Nestle's. Plus, you get to order toppings. Unfortunately for us, almost everybody was suffering from sore throat so we had to muster every bit of self control to just get a few bites in and not pig out. The place only had two tables inside and plenty more outside. But under the scorching heat of the Philippine summer sun, everybody was pushing their way in. We gave up our table and left right after we were done with our orders.

Since i already ordered a Chocolate Decadence Cake from Doren Tayag a few days before we left Manila, i scheduled to meet up with her to get the cake. She normally doesn't do meet-ups, and would just ask customers to pick up orders from her Carmenville house. But she made an exception this time and agreed to meet me at Susie's right in the middle of Nepo. Doren has been one of the family's favorite persons to go to when we are craving for out of this world cakes. Her rhum cakes are also the best that I have tasted, and that is saying a lot because I have first tasted her rhum cakes more that a decade ago.

Susie's is a required pit stop whenever in Pampanga if only for their heavenly tibok-tibok.
Lola L would always bring this from Angeles whenever she comes to Manila for a visit. Although, the Cassava is another yummy kakanin that this place serves. Puto is good. Palabok, one of the best. Leche Flan, creamy. Sapin-sapin, mochi, kuchinta, et al. This is kakanin heaven, I tell you. And did I already mention that the tibok-tibok is heavenly? :)

There are numerous other restaurants to try that haven't been mentioned. Like Nathaniel's, Aurely's, Perfect Loaf, Zapata's, Jun-Jun's, Sub-delicious, Corazon's, Cabigtings, and the list really goes on and on.

Choice of restaurant for dinner was a no-brainer. It just had to be C Italian Dining. Awarded by the Phil. Tatler as Best Restaurant for 2 years in a row, and rightfully so! The star of the show, for me, is the panizza. Pizza with a crust so thin, you eat it rolled - with alfalfa sprouts and my favorite, arugula. This is such a unique take on eating pizza. Plus, how can anything go wrong with arugula in it? Of course, for C, the house specialty would be the flank steak, but since this one is meant for sharing (4-6 persons) we didn't order this time. But he vows to come back with enough company next time to order this.
Right about this time, tiredness and slumber came to visit the kids. This ensured a quiet trip back to Manila where we relived the day's events in our minds, contented and fortunate that we went through this pleasurable experience with each other. The quiet time gave me the perfect chance to give thanks to Him who is the source of all good things.

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