Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Pampanga: More heritage and cuisine from Pampanga


Day 2 (Saturday)
Even the breakfast served at Holiday Inn was a Kapampangan experience designed especially for the group. On the buffet table were meat products from Pampanga such longganiza, tocino, and pindang damulag.

After breakfast, we brought the group to one of Pampanga’s well kept secrets, Furniture City in Mabalacat, Pampanga, which is a factory complex of furniture exporters and manufacturers. It was a bargain delight for our avid shoppers in every showroom we visited with export-quality furniture made available at dirt cheap factory prices. Among the showrooms visited were those of Vienna Furniture (contemporary and craftsman furniture using local treated wood and other native materials such as sulihya and rattan) and More Than A Chair (classical wood furniture with a touch of modernism, combined with upholstery, rattan, bamboo, leather and a wide choice of local and imported veneer wood), and samples of furniture from Angeles City manufacturer VICO Design (modern eclectic sculptural iron furniture combined with unique painting and texturing, upholstery and resin) and Diretso (run by a Dutch group based here in Pampanga, specializing in modern contemporary upholstered furniture combined with wood and iron), with its factory in Del Rosario, City of San Fernando.

140_4078For lunch, the group trooped to Abe’s Farm Pampanga, the Mt. Arayat hideaway of Larry Cruz, the man behind the successful LJC Group of Restaurants. Journalist turned restaurateur and bon vivant just like his father, the late Pampango writer and painter E. Aguilar Cruz, Larry could be credited to have single-handedly revived the lackluster Remedios Circle in Malate way back in the late 1970s into a chic trendsetting landmark, with his flagship Café Adriatico.

140_4095Greeting us were a variety of appetizers that included Pampanga’s famous garlic peanuts, kilawing tanguingue (skewered fresh tanguingue fillet marinated in palm vinegar), crispy salted baby shrimps, squid tactics (slices of squid quickly fried and sprinkled with brown garlic, green onions and sweet and spicy sauce) and sinuteng hinubarang kuhol (escargots sautéed in olive oil with garlic and chilies). On the menu as well were balo-balo (fermented rice and shrimp) and mustasa, a salad combination of wansoy (coriander), kamatis and quesong puti, and a hearty and invigorating sinuam na mais (corn soup with chili leaves). And for the main course were lechon paella, Mt. Arayat crispy crab (slices of fat crispy crab covered in a mountain of fried garlic), crispy tadyang “D Original” (marinated beef ribs deep-fried to a delicious crispiness), and bamboo rice (rice with bamboo shoots flavored with chicken, shrimp and wood ear mushrooms). Dessert featured a selection of Magalang sweets and fresh fruits.

After lunch, the group proceeded back to the hotel to freshen up and prepare for the afternoon and evening itinerary.

140_4044First on our list was the centuries-old Betis Church in Guagua. Nicknamed the “Sistine chapel of the Philippines” because of its wall ceiling murals, it is the second oldest church in Pampanga and one of the 26 churches declared by the National Museum as national cultural treasures. A two-minute walk from the church is the restored David House, ancestral home of sociologist Randy David, which they christened Bale Pinauid or Bahay Pawid.

Next on our list and a short drive away from Betis was the half-buried San Guillermo Church in Bacolor. Entering what was once the largest church in Pampanga, visitors go in the church through the choirloft windows, and are greeted inside by beautifully restored retablos dug up from several feet of lahar. The citizens of Bacolor take pride in their rich heritage which is why they painstakingly excavated the ornately carved wooden main and side altars which are now back to their pristine condition.

Villa de Bacolor was the capital of Pampanga from 1754 to 1904, and at one time served as the capital of the Philippines from 1762 to 1765 when the British invaded Manila. Once Pampanga’s best preserved heritage town, it was completely buried in lahar in 1995. Today, remnants of Bacolor opulence are now housed in the Museo de La Salle, a “Kapampangan” museum in Dasmariñas, Cavite, where the Santos-Joven-Panlilio house and its contents were transferred before the town was buried by lahar. The museum also contains pieces from the celebrated Arnedo-Gonzales clan from Sulipan, Apalit.

From Bacolor, the group motored to the City of San Fernando, the provincial capital of Pampanga. Downtown San Fernando is home to the city’s historic poblacion which was zoned into a heritage district in 2004 by its Sangguniang Panlungsod. The first stop was the City Hall of San Fernando where the group boarded kalesas that would take them to some of the heritage houses along Consunji Street.

San Fernando is one of the few, if not the only urban area in the country where motorized tricycles are prohibited from entering the town proper. This is why the kalesa is still a major means of transportation around.

The first heritage house on the list was the Santos-Hizon House, a turn-of-the-century Victorian-style house built by the couple Teodoro Santos and Africa Ventura. It was later purchased by Maria Salome Hizon, a volunteer of the Red Cross during the Philippine Revolution. The property was acquired by her brother Ramon Hizon and is currently owned by the heirs of his son Augusto Hizon.

A short walk across the street brought the group to the grand Hizon-Singian House. This bahay na bato was declared a heritage house by the National Historical Institute in January 2003. Currently owned by the heirs of the late businessman and civic leader Gerry H. Rodriguez, the house was built in 1870 by the couple Don Anacleto Hizon, gobernadorcillo of San Fernando from 1877-1879 and 1886-1887, and Victoria Singian de Miranda y de Ocampo. It was later occupied during the 1896 revolution by Spanish General Antonio Ruiz Serralde, appropriated by the Japanese Imperial Army to serve as a military hospital and barracks from 1943 to 1944, and served as headquarters of American General Walter Krueger of the 6th American Army during the liberation period until the end of 1945.

At the Hizon-Singian House, cocktails were served featuring an exciting array of Kapampangan inspired hors d’oeuvres and drinks created by Kai chef Gilbert Pangilinan, himself a true-blue Fernandino. Pica-pica included tocino, brown rice and itlog na maalat stuffed in tomato, chicharon Guagua with atchara, kilayin baboy on bananas, and gatas damulag rice with hipon.

Serenading the guests were members of ArtiSta. Rita, a Kapampangan cultural group headed by Whiplash and Miss Saigon choreographer Andy Alviz, who transformed the ambiance in the centuries-old house into a that of a turn-of-the-century party. The group had successfully released a CD of Kapampangan music with a second one to be launched very soon.

After the well-received musical presentation, the group again boarded their kalesas that took them to the last stop for the night, the charming Lazatin House, another of San Fernando’s NHI-declared heritage houses. Built in 1925 by the couple Serafin Lazatin y Ocampo, sugar farmer and former president of SFELAPCO, and Encarnacion Singian y Torres, the house was appropriated by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Second World War to serve as a residence of the 14th Army Commander of the Japanese Imperial Army, General Masaharu Homma, in San Fernando, Pampanga.

140_4062Behind the house was an air-conditioned function hall which was stylishly decorated with local flora enhanced by long garlands of fragrant sampaguita, the perfect setting for the candle-lit sit-down banquet featuring dishes from all over Pampanga prepared by Pangilinan and the kitchens of Kai. On the menu was lumpiang papayang hubad, pako salad, chicharong bulaklak, pindang damulag, paksiw na pata, lengua, morcon, alimango in taba ng talangka, lagat kamias at hipon, and fried hito with buro.

To cap the evening, the best desserts were ordered from all over Pampanga which included the popular tibok-tibok (made of pure carbao’s milk, this is Pampanga’s version of maja blanca), plantanilla (sweetened coconut rolled in egg crepes) from the Dayrit-Santos famil y, tocino del cielo(a richer version of leche flan) of the Lazatin clan, sansrival and ube halayan.

Day 3 (Sunday)
After being served another array of traditional Kapampangan delicacies for breakfast such as tamales and suman bulagta from Cabalantian in Bacolor, the gargantuan ensaymadas of San Fernando (which have a diameter of about 8 inches) topped with shredded queso de bola, and empanadang kuliat, the group went for a scenic helicopter tour of Mt. Pinatubo’s crater.

For some last minute shopping, the group passed by the showroom of AWECA Weavers International (Pampanga’s leading wicker furniture and basket manufacturers and exporters) in Pulung Bulo, Angeles City. Clients of the company include Marks & Spencer, Bloomingdales, Nordstrom and Macy’s.

Lunch was at the C Italian Restaurant by Chris Locher along Fields Avenue. As columnist Amado Doronilla describes the place, "Be adventurous, expect the unexpected, and you will not be disappointed in this exceptional Italian Restaurant."

Fields Avenue is actually home to an array of international cuisine to suit every fancy. If you are adventurous and if you have the time, one should try out the many restaurants along this street.

After the exciting Italian lunch, it was off to Manila. The weekend adventure may have ended, but Pampanga continues to beckon to everyone, with more adventures waiting to be discovered. Now that it is just 45 minutes away from Manila along the North Luzon Expressway, Pampanga is now a very accessible mainstream tourism destination. Other tour options include a river cruise along the Rio Grande de Pampanga where one can simply enjoy nature or visit the centuries-old churches that dot the river banks, go angling or even kayak in the mangroves of Masantol. For more information, you can e-mail Pampanga Heritage Tours at cityofsanfernando@gmail.com or call the Center for Kapampangan Studies as (045) 6259620/8888691 loc. 1311.


Boating in the mangroves of Masantol, Pampanga: myself, my kabatch Mark Jomalesa, and UP Maroons players Marvin Cruz and Kenneth Robin in Feb 2004

Monday, June 06, 2005

Pampanga: Relishing Pampanga’s elegance




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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