#FoodTrip: Big Bite! The Northern Food Festival
MANILA, Philippines - When food author and TV host Anthony Bourdain visited the Philippines in 2010, one of the places he visited and whose cuisine he devoured was Pampanga. The late food critic and columnist Doreen Fernandez also wrote much about Pampanga. Indeed, this province in Central Luzon has contributed many a delectable and memorable dish to the country’s culinary repertoire. Whether it’s adobo, sisig, or halo-halo, the best version of these dishes always seems to come from Pampanga.
As to why, many have speculated and struggled to explain. But really, when it comes to food, it doesn’t really matter where it comes from as long as it’s good. And for the many foodies who have eaten their way through Pampanga as well as other food-loving regions in the Philippines, there is now a place to taste everything the country’s best-kept food secrets have to offer in one location.
From October 18 to 20, the Marquee Park in Angeles City, Pampanga, will play host to more than 100 food stalls representing the provinces of Bulacan, Ilocos, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Zambales, Bataan, Pangasinan, Cagayan, La Union, and Pampanga. With them will be their respective region’s iconic dishes from their most popular establishments. From heirloom recipes to local secret dishes, the country’s best traditional cuisine will be available for all to try at "Big Bite! The Northern Food Festival."
The following are just a fraction of the dishes you’ll encounter at the festival.
Apag Marangle Sisig Wrap
Pampanga has long been considered the birthplace of sisig. From the kitchen of Lucia Cunanan’s Aling Lucing’s Restaurant, the dish of chopped pig parts served on a sizzling plate has become many a drunken night’s staple. But with Apag Marangle’s sisig wrap, the crispy bits of pork are wrapped in a fresh lettuce leaf to provide a contrast of clean flavor from the oily pork bits.
Nathaniel’s Buko Pandan Salad
When we’ve grown weary of the usual ice-cream flavors, Nathaniel’s Buko Pandan Salad is always a good dessert alternative. Creamy carabao’s milk envelops a creamy mixture of pandan (lemongrass) jelly and strips of buko (coconut). And when kept frozen for a few hours or overnight, the soft ice crystals that form provide another element of texture as it slowly melts on your tongue.
Pampanga’s Best Tocino
The breakfast staple of millions of Filipinos across the country, the sugar-marinated pink pieces of pork (or sometimes, chicken) are best paired with a runny sunnyside-up egg and a cup of garlic rice. And for many, Pampanga’s Best is also the country’s best. Tender with a little bit of crunch from the burnt sides, sweet from the marinade yet slightly salty, it’s the only way to start your day.
Susie’s Cuisine Tibok-Tibok
With the consistency of a panna cotta, Susie’s Tibok-Tibok is a delicate bilao made of carabao’s milk turned into a pudding and topped with bits of latik - toasted or fried crumbs made from coconut milk. The dessert is sweet, sometimes overly silky, and with occasional hints of toasted coconut flavor from the latik.
Christy’s Special Bulacan Chicharon
The best type of chicharon is the one with an almost even allocation of crispy pork skin on top and a layer of Iaman (which is actually fat) underneath. Not pumped up with air like those sold along the streets of Manila, Christy’s Special Chicharon from Bulacan is a dense and crunchy miniature slab of pork rind that gives a deafening crunch in your mouth as your teeth dig into it, followed by the smooth finish of fat which coats your tongue. Salty and, when submerged in vinegar for a few seconds, slightly tangy, it’s tempting to eat with a cup of steaming rice.
Nueva Ecija’s Leche Flan
The caramel custard that is leche flan has always been a Filipino dessert favorite. But Nueva Ecija’s version, while basically still the same, simply ups everything we like about the sweet confection. It’s especially creamy with a prominent flavor of egg yolk and condensed milk. The thin caramelized crust on top gives a slightly toasted tang while the milky goodness of everything below and the syrup around envelops it in a cloying hug.
While most empanadas are light with a thin dough crust and minimal filling, empanadas from the roadside pastry house of Kuliat in Pampanga are plump golden brown packages. A thick layer of crusty dough blankets the filling of chicken and potatoes or, another popular variant, ham and cheese. Perfectly rustic, it’s best when served warm or heated for a few minutes in an oven toaster.
There are many variations of halo-halo in Pampanga and one of the best is from Kabigting’s. Save yourself the trouble of comparing it with your usual fastfood joint because aside from the usual components, it also includes carabao milk pastillas, mashed white-kidney beans, topped with hand-shaved ice, and a generous portion of fresh carabao’s milk.
Tollhouse Clubhouse Sandwich and Baked Mac
For many Kapampangans, Tollhouse is the best place to spend a lazy afternoon snacking. And two of their most popular dishes are their clubhouse sandwich and baked macaroni. There’s nothing really grand about them. It’s just good ingredients prepared in a no-fuss way resulting in comfort food that many have enjoyed for years. The pairing of the two is especially wonderful.
Bella’s Puto Calasiao
Soft, fluffy, and slightly sweet, these bite-size rice cakes from Bella’s are the kind you’d start eating and continue popping until you realize you’ve already inhaled a whole bilao. There are, of course, traditional flavors like ube, puto kutsinta, and cheese. But their more out-of-the-box flavors like buko pandan, mango, or cheesy salted egg are what keep people poppin’. - Rappler.com
Big Bite! The Northern Food Festival runs from October 18-20 at the MarQuee Park, Angeles City, Pampanga.
Peter Imbong is a full-time freelance writer, sometimes a stylist, and on some strange nights, a host. After starting his career in a business magazine, he now writes about lifestyle, entertainment, fashion, and profiles of different personalities. Check out his blog, Peter Tries to Write.