Out-of-Towners: Pampanga Food Tour

About three months ago, relatively fresh from our return to Manila after post, JG signed us up to a day trip outside Manila.

An hour to two away from Manila is the province of Pampanga, where some would argue where the best foods and cooks from the Philippines may be found and experienced. So what better way to explore that is via a food tour!

This is actually our second food tour experience, we did the Binondo Food Wok (wok as in Walk) about five years ago, but this is a bit different because Binondo is the proper name of Chinatown here in Manila, so most of the treats in that tour are of the Oriental-pinoy fusion category. In the Pampanga tour on the other hand, aside from their local delicacies and desserts, some of the food featured are of the exotic and unusual kind. Well, not unusual to the Kapampangans (term for Pampanga locals) but unusual to Manilenios like JG and I.

The Tour

Like our hikes to Pinatubo and Pico de Loro, we availed of the services of a tour company that organizes such outings. Although most of Travel Factors’ tours are of the adventurous kind, they also host more leisurely tours like a food tour. The best part about contacting them is that not only do they charge fairly reasonably, for me having them drive you around in their vans with their prepared itinerary helps take away the stress of planning, commuting/driving, and more importantly decision making one must do in DIY trips.

The tours early in the morning where you meet in a common area, and once there, you have breakfast, lunch, snacks in between, as well as visiting famous sites and churches around the Province.

The Food

For breakfast we headed to Everybody’s Café in San Fernando and is one of the oldest running joints in the country, open since 1946. Outside, the architectural feel of the place really looks like something out of the late 40’s.

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They serve their authentic Kapampangan dishes I think mostly cafeteria style, but because we were a small group and was there really early that the place was still empty, our food was served a la carte. Part of the meal is their famous hot chocolate drink which definitely passes the spoon-float-thickness-test. They are also famous for their Morcon (stuffed meat roll, steamed and/or fried), as well as Carabao Meat.

Carabao Meat, done right will not be stiff and hard to chew.
Carabao Meat, done right will not be stiff and hard to chew.

But the highlight of the whole breakfast are exotic dishes served, which includes, Fried stuffed Frogs (yes, Frogs!) and Sauted Adobo-ish Camaro (Farm Locusts/Crickets). I was looking forward to eating these delicacies mainly curious as to how it would taste like. And it wasn’t so bad, for the Crickets, a few of the people in the tour really opted to pass since it wasn’t easy for them to get pass the idea that they were chewing insects in their mouth. But it was I think marinated or flavored with salt and vinegar that gave its savory sour taste. I liked it so much I asked if I could take home the left-overs and ate it like finger snacks while watching TV in the days that followed.

Camaro, awesome to snack on...
Camaro, awesome to snack on…

The Frogs or Betute (as the dish is called) is a little bit disappointing. You are only eating 25% of the actual frog, because its legs are the only parts that have actual meat. Its insides are inedible, as they explained, but instead stuffed with stir-fried ground pork. But it wasn’t bad, and as far as the rumor that frogs taste like chicken goes… it’s true!

Stuffed fried Frogs.
Stuffed fried Frogs.

For lunch we were originally supposed to visit a traditional Kapampangan Kitchen, but I think the place was hosting a private function, so instead we were taken to Bale Capampangan that served an all-you-can-eat buffet. It would definitely had been more interesting to visit the old heritage house and kitchen but the food at Bale Capampangan was really good, plus gave us tour participants to talk and get to know each other a little over the meals.

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If you are ever there, I suggest you go as early as 11 am because by noon the place will be jam-packed, and the line at the buffet table would be really long. Because we got there early, we were able to take our time with the selection, and was able to stay long enough to pace our stomachs in time for the new batch of dishes served.

In the afternoon, we stopped by Camalig Restaurant in Angeles City. I think “Doys Kapampangan Pizza” is one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. I especially liked how very “Pinoy” it is as a pizza as its toppings are local longganisa, salted eggs, with onions and pickles as relish. My very close dear friend in Muscat is a true local in that area, so I look forward to coming back there together with her someday… Diba EJ, neh? The place is also famous for its historical themed ambiance.

For dinner, we stopped by this very seemingly humble barbeque place also in Angeles, which they say is the birth-place of the now popular dish Sisig. I said the place looks seemingly humble because although it is far from a five-star restaurant, its walls are decorated with pictures of Filipino celebrities who have visited not to mention none other than Mr. Anthony Bourdain himself.

If you are not familiar with Sisig, it’s some parts Pigs face some parts liver, marinated in Lemon and vinegar, boiled, broiled, and finally grilled. It is best served chopped-up in tiny bits and topped with raw egg on a sizzling hot plate.

The original Sisig of Pampanga.
The original Sisig of Pampanga.

In between these stops we also visited some of the best places in Pampanga to get their delicacies and sweets like Nathaniel’s in San Fernando. Their specialty is the Puto Pao, normal versions of Puto (steamed rice cakes) do not have fillings, but theirs have Asado (sweet pork dish) at its core which makes it extra special. They also have what we Pinoys call Mamon but is mostly sponge cake, but you have a selection of various flavors like Cheese or Chocolate flavor.

We also skipped the part where we were supposed to try Kabigtings Halo-halo due to some road repair along its way. But I’m not really a Halo-halo person like most Filipinos are, so wasn’t amiss there.

The Side trips

Most of the side trips of the tour where to Pampanga’s churches. Here in the Philippines we have lots of them, mainly of the Catholic kind. And because we were colonized by the Spanish for more than 300 years, most of the oldest and historical places here are the said churches.

I think we visited 3 or 4? But two of them stands out for me.

The Betis Church, which is dubbed as our own little version of the Sistine Chapel. Inside the baroque styled 400 year old chapel is the ceiling mural by artist Simon Flores. Unlike the one in Vatican, Betis’s ceiling is painted on wood, which I think gives it a more Filipino feel.

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The other church is the San Guillermo Church in Bacolor. If you visit the first thing you’d notice is how it is mostly sunken most notably due to the Mt. Pinatubo eruption in 1991. Inside the church you will still see some parts of its original frameworks from its erection in the early 17th century, even the wooden beams that support it. But an extra treat for us was the selection of paintings found in one room of the church. The said paintings are by local artists and their take on what the people of Pampanga went through went Mt. Pinatubo erupted.

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I would really like to try this trip again, and if you are interested I suggested that you do this with a group of friends, especially your foodie friends. Or should the loverboys out there like to impress a girl for a romantic one-day (very wholesome) get-away date. The reason I suggested this is because, this is a very laid-back tour, you’re going to want to take your time with the eating, and use the church visits as time to for your stomachs to digest and make room for the next stop.  That being said, this would be the perfect thing for long conversations while sharing a great meal.

 

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