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Linamnam sa Pampanga, Bale Dutung-Angeles City

Seafood Kare Kare, very photogenic and delicious. Again this would have been a great meal on its own and we were all painfully full at this point.

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Bale Dutung

Villa Gloria Subdivision,
Angeles City, Pampanga

Mobile: 09175359198
(02) 6684038, (02) 5024527
reserve@baledutung.com

Often the question has been posed to me by Filipinos, why is it that Filipino food isn’t popular internationally? I do have opinions on the matter, but I won’t feign a response just yet. I’d like to hear the theories of those who visit mrdelicious.ph. Clearly you’re here because you like food and particularly food in the Philippines, so you probably have an opinion on the matter. You’re certainly not here because of my photography skills.

Claude and Mary Ann Tayag are working to change that. They are fighting the good fight and getting recognized for it. Famously they were visited by Anthony Bourdain to shoot No Reservations in the Philippines. I first learned about the Tayags when I was moving to the Philippines and started researching the local food scene. I’ve yet to encounter anyone else who embodies this philosophy like he does. Natural and local foods, slow cooking, he is a true champion for the cause of Filipino cuisine.

Claude is an artist, his work heavily influenced by his travels and Filipino folk art. I find the notion of a chef/artist interesting as food is often, I believe wrongly, called a form of art. Though that’s a discussion for another day…

The garden behind Bale Dutung is beautiful with the serene feel of a Japanese zen garden

Claude’s art work is beautifully integrated throughout the dining space and garden amongst rustic wood and abundant flora. Combining this with Mary Ann’s acute sense of detail, the pair have created an atmosphere that prepares the guest for what is to come, and there’s a lot to come.

Communal tables are set amidst rustic wood and traditional fabrics

Ten courses, with a few added demi-courses, and they’ll even threaten you with seconds. The food is really delicious but thing I will say about Filipino food: it is not light.

With each course Mary Ann diligently explains not just the dish, but the significance of the dish. Mary Ann is able to learn the names of all of her guests and is an incredible hostess. She is coyly enthusiastic with the underlying mannerism of a school teacher that you probably shouldn’t cross.  I really enjoyed her contributions and the information she provided really enriched the experience.

Claude’s nuanced style was characteristic throughout each course. His food is understated in a way that that never distorts the purity of its heritage. Each plate is simply presented and very satisfying.

Claude shares my passion of fermentation. Some of these sugar cane vinegars are more than a decade old.

Beginning with a Pako Salad, very light and fresh. Pako is a wonderful and abundant native green that I just discovered this year.

Chicken Inasal with Talangka Rice. Ironically in school we were taught to throw this part in the trash. The French are not fond of the chicken butt.

Adobong Pugo, this was one of my favorite dishes served. The quail was more subtly seasoned than most adobos and the liver and pan de sal were delicious together. I would be more than happy with just this.

 

Crispy shredded lechon with Claude’s homemade kimchi, absolutely brilliant! He’s ushering in a new generation of halo halo Filipino cuisine, incorporating Filipino, Mexican and Korean and it’s really damn good. Photo credit: Gen Enriquez-Gerodias (thanks!)

This pig made the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good. Claude’s knife glided through the crispy skin, which he served to enthusiastic diners.

Bulanglang Kapampangan, similar to sinigang but with very different flavor from the ripe guava. The soup is traditionally thick and it was garnished with prawns, bangus belly and pork spare ribs as well as sinigang vegetables.

Sisig, mmmmm… sisig. Claude and his family are champions of this traditional kapampangan dish. They pan fry it and offer an assortment of condiments and garnishes, pineapple juice, chilies, onions, sea salt and of course, pig brain.

The Bone Collector, beef marrow one with adobo XO sauce. Gratuitously carnivorous and my first experience sucking bone marrow through a straw. Why didn’t I think of that?

Seafood Kare Kare, very photogenic and delicious. Again this would have been a great meal on its own and we were all painfully full at this point.

We finished with a carabao milk Maja Blanca and a local barako coffee also with carabao milk and muscovado sugar. We had mostly sworn off food forever by this point.

By the end of the meal our host, my brother-in-law, Jardine began to succumb to abdominal bloating and dangerously high cholesterol levels, fading in and out of consciousness.

I expected great food at Bale Dutung and I was certainly not disappointed. Where they really won me over was in the experience they create. It’s not enough to have good food without ambiance and it’s not enough to have passion without execution. The Tayags have set the bar very high for the rest and good for them.

Claude spoke few words during our meal but his knowledge and his intensity and spirit showed through his art and his food. I look forward to returning and would love to bring visitors from outside of the Philippines to show them how great Filipino food can be.

Thanks Chef!

My Trip to Barangay Encanto, a Visit to GK Enchanted Farm

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I get lost a lot living in the Philippines. Sometimes I don’t even have to leave Makati to get hopelessly lost.  So for me to drive solo deep into Bulacan was an ambitious endeavor.

A dozen wrong turns later after desperately looking for street signs that don’t exist I saw a beacon of hope, a wind power turbine. It looked every bit as much out of place in its surroundings as I did. Found it!

Gawad Kalinga is a non-profit organization whose goal is to eradicate poverty in the Philippines through community building and social enterprise. What’s unique about them is they build an economic platform for the poor to sustain themselves. So it’s not about handouts but making profits in a socially responsible manner. Capitalism 2.0.

The Enchanted Farm is the model of GK’s vision. They have brought in the poorest families from the surrounding province. Many of these people came from other parts of the Philippines to Manila looking for work. When they were unable to find work they would live as squatters, under bridges and in the slums of Manila. The local government would literally truck them out to Bulacan where they would remain.

GK would offer them homes, education and a livelihood. Some of these people were even involved in communist militant groups. Many will turn to militancy when they perceive no other options. When they are given other options they would follow peaceful pursuits. After all many of them have marketable skills. There are farmers, basket weavers, textile makers, etc. What they did not have was the means to produce and market their wares.

Hand-crafted baskets ready to be sold

One such product is Enchantea which is a brand of healthy brewed tea drinks made from local fruits and botanicals. One product was being developed that was a blend of lemongrass, calamansi and comote leaves. It was delicious, especially on a brutally hot day.

 

One of the best things I’ve tasted in 90+ degree heat

A means to produce and market is precisely what is provided here. There is a village university to teach the community how to earn a sustainable livelihood. The farm also serves as an incubator for businesses. It’s a place to test and develop products, especially agriculturally-based products. In addition to that it is being developed into a tourist destination with up to a hundred guest villas being constructed as well as a spa and restaurant.

One of the air conditioned guest villas

Upon entering I was greeted by a flurry of activity. Flowers and landscaping everywhere, the farm is a green oasis dotted with buildings made from local materials. There is a small community that houses over 50 families. There were dozens of people gathered there for an event that day.

I had the opportunity to tour the farm and see what is being produced. Each family is given a plot of land to work. They grow all sorts of fruits and vegetables. There were papayas everywhere, ube, chilies, corn, tomatoes, etc.

Ube field (local purple sweet potato)

Dill grows like crazy all over the farm

Samples of products under testing were being served, giving me a perfect excuse to have two desserts.

Malunggay langka ice cream, they should package and sell this. They should do it now!

It’s hard not to be inspired by a place like this. As a chef I feel it is my responsibility to support local agriculture and to build a bridge between the diner and the farmer. I grabbed up some samples from the farm and brought them back to begin experimenting. Unfortunately the salted duck eggs were sold out on my visit but I will be back for them.

Golden Egg salted duck eggs are dyed naturally with tumeric

To those who would like to help you can give through GK’s website. I would also encourage you to visit the Enchanted Farm. It’s a great escape from the city. But you can also help by supporting GK community brands, such as Human Nature, Kape Maria and Enchantea.

The Philippines is a country that has always imported a lot despite what is available locally. There is an assumption that exists here that imported goods are superior to local. However local goods have been steadily improving and it’s time to refresh that assumption. Every vote counts and you cast your ballot with every peso you spend.

Bohol and Panglao Island

The Chocolate Hills turn brown in the dry season, hence the name

Menacing weather did not damper our stay

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There’s a heated debate here in the Philippines as to which beach destination is the best one. I have always enjoyed Boracay but after my most recent trip to Bohol I might have a new favorite.

Getting there from Manila is quite easy. The flight to Tagbilaran, the island’s capital and only city, is just over one hour. From the airport there are several shuttle and taxi services to get you to your destination. We stayed at the Bluewater Resort on Panglao Island which is just southwest of the city connected by two bridges.

View from our room

I had mixed feelings about the resort. The service was good and friendly but the layout of the property was awkward and the location more so. There was an area they described as the beach, but it was really a gravelly yard with the view of the ocean blocked by trees.

The beach

Also they didn’t seem to like that I brought beer into the resort and kept reminding me of their corkage policy. I’m not sure what the fee was, but from my two decades of food and beverage service corkage usually implies some kind of beverage service, not just an arbitrary fee. I think bringing wine into a restaurant where you’re staying for a couple hours is very different from bringing beer into a resort where you’re staying for several days. They are clearly capitalizing on a captive market, charging 2-3 times that of what you would be charged in a resort on Alona Beach.

I expressed my disagreement with them and left this as a silent protest. The cobwebs above this cabinet were a clear indication that it was above the staff's view.

If you are into diving or snorkeling Panglao Island is said to be some of the best in the country. We took a glass-bottomed boat out not far from the coast and took a quick plunge with goggles and snorkels. The sea bed here is an amazing display of color and form with live coral and colorful tropical fish. We could see where the floor of the ocean dropped off a cliff from 10 meters to 40 meters.

Call me Bob

We spent most of our time on Alona Beach, which is lined with resorts, restaurants and bars. Our favorite hangout was called the Oasis, with a chilled atmosphere, reasonably priced drinks and free WiFi. As an added bonus the staff was really great with kids. For parents of young children this place is perfect because you can relax and have a drink while watching the kids play in the sand and the staff will help keep them entertained.

Extra kudos to the Oasis for this tarsier drink garnish made from calamansi

For dinner we made a lazy scamper next door to Roderick and Vivien Seafood Restaurant. There, like many similar restaurants in Boracay, you choose your seafood from a display and they cook to your requested method. For just over p1,000 we were able to gorge ourselves on grilled parrot fish, clams, sea snails, pork liempo and shrimp sinagang.

Roderick and Vivien Seafood Restaurant

There are plenty of options for food, drink and lodging all around here. When I come back I will stay in this area. The prices are more reasonable and this is where you’ll likely want to be anyway. There’s a good international mix of people here, many drawn to the island for diving. In addition to local fare there are several German and Italian restaurants.

Helmut's Place is a late night spot for drinks and German foods at the top of the access road leading to Alona Beach

Going around the main island was awesome and refreshing coming from Manila. This time of year it is a lush green and full of signs of life. Boholanos still grow much of what they eat. Fruit trees such as papaya, coconut and banana were everywhere as well as live poultry, pigs and cows. The scenery is really amazing with rainforests and rice paddies. The island is teaming with different species of butterfly, which is an increasingly rare sight.

Rice Paddy

We asked the driver who picked us up from the airport about touring around the island and he agreed to do it the following day for p2,200 for all three of us. Next time though I’ll do it by scooter to get the full experience.

The Chocolate Hills turn brown in the dry season, hence the name

The main attractions on the island are the Chocolate Hills, which are formed from limestone deposits from coral when the island was still under the sea. Also Bohol is famous for being the refuge of the tarsier. The tarsier is a tiny endangered primate, native to the island of Bohol, Borneo and Sumatra. They are nocturnal and are primarily insectivorous. They have a furry Yoda-like appearance with a rat tail. At the Tarsier Sanctuary you can observe them in a semi-wild habitat.

“Size matters not, ... Look at me. Judge me by size, do you?”

The Baclayon Church, first settled by Spanish Jesuits in 1596. Forced labor construction began from the island's coral limestone in 1724.

This was my third destination in the Visayas, having already visited Boracay and Cebu. I thoroughly enjoyed all three. All of them are a lot more laid back than Manila and a whole lot cleaner. What I think Bohol has on Boracay is it has more personality of its own and more to see. The people are very friendly and welcoming but also proudly Boholano.

Whether you are traveling from within the Philippines or internationally I highly recommend you add Bohol and particularly Panglao Island to your itinerary. It is a complete destination that is much more than just a beach.