The culinary adventure I had in Angeles City one recent Sunday was the most "manyaman" experience of my life.
It was there that I tasted exotic kampangan dishes for the first time, prepared mostly by the family of sculptor/ artist/ chef Claude Tayag and other Pampango chefs, sharing precious family recipes. Hosting was the Kuliat Foundation Inc. "Kuliat" was the original name of Angeles City, coined from a now extinct wild vine which flourished in the area.
We arrived early at the Bale Herencia, a picturesque 1860 house with the unsavory reputation of having been built for the mistress of the parish priest whose name (fortunately) no one seems to remember.
Now owned by well–known hairdresser Jiji Paras, the Bale Herencia is located just past the Holy Rosary Parish Church and often serves as a public hall for wedding receptions, special balls and major social events.
The inner dining area was abustle with preparations for the lunch banquet.
Meng MacTavish whom we met years ago in Clarke where she runs the Four Seasons Grill, was supervising the tamales, a rice cake delicacy topped with red egg and chicken. She is a sister of Claude, in fact, one of 12 Tayag siblings who all learned to cook from the matriarch Adoracion "Imang During" S. Tayag.
Nearby, Jiji Paras was filling a wooden canoe with fruits while servers were laying out the desserts prepared by Meng and Claude’s sister Denden Tayag. Later, their brother Gerry Tayag brought sweet camote to be relished with rich carabao’s milk.
We learned that carabao’s milk is becoming a rarity because it seems that the native ox no longer lactates after giving birth (another rare occurance). Blame the changing climate, the pollution…. it’s your guess!
On the wall is the staggeringly long menu of dishes to be served on the buffet.
Food donors for this longest buffet (which, it turns out, attracted foodies until 4 pm) included Aling Lucing who brought her famous sisig, Aling Poning with her kapampangan rice cakes… Annablle Yusico, fresh lumping ubod…. Batis Asul and Beck’s Grill (fresh papaya lumpia which is a kampangan delicacy, tilapia in tausi sauce and chicharon)… Celia Timbol, asadong manok… Cristina Nepomuceno, kalderetang baka… During Tayag, adobong pugo, batute and kamaru… Delyn Fastfood, bringhi… Doren Tayag of Upper Crust pastries… Emelita W. Galang, brazo de mercedes… Essel Supermarket, Everybody’s Café (kamaru, fresh papaya lumpia) … Fil Thai Rice, milagrosa rice… Bale Dutung, tamales and kalderetang kambing… Jenra Supermarket, halo halo… Ligaya Santos, manok luto sa buko… Johnny’s Supermart, groceries… Mother Earth, pork steak, sisig and tocino… Ottie de Guzman, dinuguan… Perfect Loaf, tid–tad babi, sotanghon, fresh lumpia… Rey Fruit Stand, lanzones and rambutan… Susie’s Cusine famous for its tibuk–tibok… TGA Farm, fresh tilapia… Toll House, kalderetang dila… Unichef, pastel de lengua in pastry crust, and Rosing Candies.
Non–food donors included… La Belle Flowers who did the flower arrangements… Oasis Hotel which provided waiters and drinks… Adworks which printed the posters and tickets (just R500 for the buffet).
No doubt, the Pampangos live to eat and to be a kapampangan automatically means being an excellent cook. In fact, Claude (with his wife Maryann) tells us that visitors are greeted by their Pampango host with "mengan naka?" which means "have you eaten?"
Blessie Aquino of the Museo ning Angeles believes Angeles City to be the "culinary center of the Philippines."
This reputation reportedly goes back to the Spanish colonial times when Pampanga was one of the richest province in the country.
Lacking a seacoast, Pampangos harvested the fruits of its fertile farmlands and fresh water Rio Grande. They thrived on homegrown and often "wild gathered" delicacies like tugak (frogs), kamaru (crickets), bulig (mudfish), itu (catfish), ulang (crayfish) and dumara (mallard ducks as staples.
Their fermented sauces (balu–balo, burong isda, taba ng talangka) and preserved meats like tocino and tapa were relished far and wide, even by Manileños.
Among the more exotic dishes are "buro" which is fermented rice with fish or small shrimps (aka balo balo) which is served as a side dish for fried or grilled fish such as crispy hito or boiled vegetables like talong, okra, fresh mustard leaves, atbp.
Then there’s "batute" which is frog stuffed with ground and seasoned pork, then deep fried to a crisp.
But topping the list is "kamaru" or mole crickets sauteed in garlic and onion, then roasted dry to a crisp.
The kamaru looks unappetizingly like fat ants … and non-Pampangos tend to be queasy about it.
"Batsui" is a ginger-flavored soup of pork, blood, kidney and misua. "Pindang babi" (tocino) and "pindang damulag" (cured carabeef) is a favorite pasalubong for visitors. Burong talangka is the fat of salted little crabs, very rich and laden with cholesterol but hard to resist.
"Sanikulas" is a native biscuit made of arrowroot and coconut milk and made for the feast of San Nicolas Tolentino on September 10. In the old days, the priest would give gifts of sanikulas to his parishioners which was believed to be miraculous.
A favorite dessert was "tibuk tibok," a carabao’s milk sweet aka "maja blanca" ("white lady" in Spanish).
The kampangan cook learned quickly to improvise on Spanish dishes using local ingredients such as the "Turron de Casuy" of Sta. Rita, made of cashew nuts and sugar wrapped in thin wafers, a local version of the Spanish "turron alicante," a sweet nougat made of honey and almonds.
The Spanish paella has its local counterpart, the "bringhe," cooked with sticky rice or malagkit, chicken, pork and peas, with cooonut milk and yellow turmeric.
If the Pampango has a sweet tooth, credit that to the sugar plantations which gave birth to the likes of leche flan, pastillas de leche, tocino del cielo, sans rival, tibuk tibok, turrones de casuy, atbp.
Fiesta time ladens the table with "pang-piesta" fare. Wealthy Pampangos would hire the best cooks a week in advance to prepare dishes like the galantina, paella, kaldereta, lengua, estofado, etc.
We were told that the Kuliat Foundation Inc. organized this Pamangan Fiesta 2005 to launch the first culinary museum in the Philippines, to be housed at the Museo ning Angeles, a 1920s structure which once served as the city hall.
Chairman of the Kuliat Foundation is Carmen Tayag McTavish while Claude chaired the Pamangan Fiesta 2005.
The museum would showcase key points in Philippine food history (which for the Pampangos, may well have began in Angeles City), antique kitchenware and tools, atbp. There shall be a culinary center for cooking demos and a library of kapampangan as well as international cookbooks.
You are welcome to donate if you wish.