Monday, June 06, 2005

Pampanga: Relishing Pampanga’s elegance

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With the rehabilitation of the North Luzon Expressway, driving to Pampanga from crowded Metro Manila is now a breeze. However, its close proximity to Manila has for several years been its disadvantage since vacation-seekers usually pass it off as too close a place to visit or simply a stopover area rather than a destination of choice. That is why we decided to dish up a Kapampangan adventure for a group of urban denizens that exuded Pampanga’s old elegance and charm. The result was a Pampanga culinary and heritage weekend fit for a king!

Day 1 (Friday)
Straight from their Makati offices, the group arrives at the Center for Kapampangan Studies in Holy Angel University, Angeles City for a brief introduction on Pampanga. Welcoming them were heralds’ announcements resonating from traditional carabao horn tambulis, signaling that their Pampanga sojourn had just begun. This was followed by music from a brass band and rondalla, regular fixtures in Kapampangan fiestas and celebrations.

A museum, archives, library, research center and theater rolled into one, the Center for Kapampangan Studies was put up by Holy Angel University in 2002 to preserve, study and promote Kapampangan history and culture. To give a brief introduction on Pampanga culture and cuisine, we invited none other than the concurrent Chair of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and National Historical Institute, himself a Kapampangan and an authority on the Pampanga cuisine, Prof. Ambeth R. Ocampo.

During his short lecture, Ambeth mentions the Kapampangan penchant to eat almost anything, as seen from traditional favorites such as betute (stuffed deep-fried frog), camaru (mole crickets), buro (fermented rice and fish), pindang damulag (pickled carabao meat), and taba ng talangka. To prove his point Ambeth quips that migratory birds from China made the biggest mistake of landing in Pampanga. Need we mention why?

Kapampangan cuisine saw a golden age of development during the Spanish colonial period since the province of Pampanga was Manila’s major supplier of food and produce. This abundance had created an array of rich and savory dishes resulting from the Kapampangan cook’s meticulous selection of only the best and freshest ingredients available. And thus were the legendary banquets in places such as Sulipan in Apalit which saw visits from the Grand Duke of Russia and the Prince of Cambodia.

To begin the culinary experience was dinner at the residence of renowned artist, chef and food and travel columnist for Philippine Star, Claude Tayag. His home is an attraction itself, a product of his creative juices, which had been featured in numerous coffee table books on Philippine architecture and style. One can find there as well, a little shop where Claude sells copies of his prints, his bottled food products such as buro and taba ng talangka, and miscellaneous household items. The house is sometimes referred to as Bale Dutung or Bahay na Kahoy.

Welcoming us were various fruit juices and sisig which was cooked right before us. A selection of appetizers followed which included Guagua longganiza and chicharon, burung mangga (pickled mangoes) and taba ng talangka paté with pandesal toasts. For the main course, was a selection of ensaladang pako (fiddlehead fern salad), piniritong lumpiang ubod with lettuce roll, mole (traditional pig’s trotters stew with chorizo), and Claude’s special paella montañosa cooked with red mountain rice. And to cap off the night were Kapampangan favorites such as buko sherbet, sansrival, and Claude’s signature dessert, paradiso - an assortment of camote, ube and macapuno laid on a bed of sweet sauce.

After the opening salvo of savory dishes, the group then to proceeded to Holiday Inn Resort, Clark Field where we were to stay for the weekend.

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