When our American friend Tom said he’d finally visit the Philippines last August, Carlos immediately organized a trip to the province of Pampanga, complete with a ten-course lunch at Claude and Mary Ann Tayag’s restaurant, Bale Dutung.


“Bale Dutung” means “house of wood”.  If this house looks somewhat familiar, it’s because it was featured in Anthony Bourdain‘s Philippines episode on No Reservations.  Here’s the Pampanga clip on Youtube, showing artist and chef Claude Tayag‘s restaurant.


Mary Ann Tayag welcomed the seven of us warmly.  We had to call ahead and reserve, so the Tayags could put us together with another small group in order to make the 12-head minimum.  We chose the “Anthony Bourdain menu”, which referred to an all-Kapampangan lineup of dishes.  As each dish was served, Mary Ann would annotate, explaining the origins and flavors of each dish.


A salad of wild ferns and tomatoes topped with half a soft-boiled egg.


Grilled chicken buttons (it’s the behind, folks!) with brown rice.


Quail stewed in soy sauce, garlic and vinegar (adobo), with egg pan de sal.


Lechon (roast pork) taco.  Each diner is served only one ( in order for them to be able to appreciate the rest of the ten-course meal properly), but the fixings are buffet style.


Beef bone marrow.  You get a wooden popsicle stick to scoop out the delicious marrow with, plus a straw to help you get all the juices.


A thick guava-flavored soup called “bulanglang”, featuring “ulang” (large river prawns).  There’s a small serving of plain rice inside the banana leaf package.


Seafood kare-kare (a stew with peanut sauce).

The courses I didn’t photograph were the appetizers (crackers and three dips made of homemade herb pesto, “taba ng talangka” or crab fat, and “balao-balao” or fermented rice flavored with shrimps); the coffee and dessert (maja blanca with corn and young coconut).


The meal took us four hours to consume!  It was amazing how we could all still stand up at the end of it all.  Claude visited our table and signed the books we bought.  He and Mary Ann co-authored the book Linamnam, a regional food guide to the Philippines (Anvil Publishing, 2011).  Claude also styled Kulinarya (A Guidebook to Philippine Cuisine), by Glenda Rosales Barretto.

Was it worth it?  Foreign visitors and locals who aren’t too familiar with Pampanga cuisine (like myself) can definitely check this menu out.  Some of the dishes were known quantities with a distinctly Pampanga/Tayag twist.  Some, like the balao-balao dip and the guava-redolent bulanglang, were exotic. If that doesn’t strike your fancy, there are also other menus to choose from.  I truly enjoyed Mary Ann’s entertaining and informative spiels, and learned a lot about Pampanga’s rich history and culture through its food.


What to do after an afternoon of eating?  We decided we all wanted a richer dessert, and went all the way to Kabigting’s a few towns away in Arayat, for white halo-halo (with pastillas milk candy instead of ube jam)!

Thank you, Tom, for visiting the Philippines, because if it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t have thought of going on this Pampanga food tour!


It’s been a while since the foodie group of the Herd met. Ria and Tjader were up from Davao, because of the World Cyber Games. So new mom Kathy, eager to see the outside world again, organized a dinner last Friday night. [Before this, the last time we met was at Cyma in Greenbelt 2 last year, where only Mike, Kathy, Dondi and I were able to attend. And before that, we were all at Isshin Ramen along Paseo de Roxas the year before: Jag & Imee (with the charming Soleil), Mike & Kathy, Ria and myself.]

We all met at Powerbooks, where Imee said staff were checking her out because of her copy of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight that she had brought for Kathy. We decided on Zuni , a Mediterranean restaurant & wine bar in Greenbelt 5. [The other restos along the same strip were Felix (nouvelle Chinois), and Myron’s Steakhouse.]

A Manansala painting of a carabao graced the wall next to our table. Ceilings were high, the place was warmly lit, people were in dressy casuals even though Zuni is considered fine dining. Imee had a very pretty beef carpaccio. Jag, Dondi and Esmi had a salad with roast chicken before moving onto their main courses. Ria had the Zuni salad, which looks like something I’d order if I returned there. Kathy had the beef tenderloin. Mike had French onion soup with lots of bubbly mozzarella on top before his main dish. I had the lamb rack in garam masala sauce (lamb curry, folks) with Cerveza Negra. Esmi ordered the Pasta Bolognese, while Dondi had the Chilean sea bass. Tjader practically inhaled his food so we didn’t realize he had already finished. The conversations just flowed.

In general everyone enjoyed their food, although Dondi found the sea bass on the bland side. Jag was thinking that Zuni, being a fine dining restaurant, shouldn’t serve the rice in a cup shape like they do at neighborhood carinderias. The salads all seemed like winners — fresh, zesty, beautifully arranged.

To clean up our palates, some of us had gelato from that stall in Greenbelt 3 (past Cafe Bola, near the escalators). Dondi had limoncello (I think) and I had nocciola. Dondi treated everyone to coffee at Figaro. Apparently he’s no longer with an ad agency, but does in-house work for a market-leader publishing firm we all know. While we were having coffee, Mike was in his element playing baril-barilan at the nearby TimeZone next to some trigger-happy little kids. The evening broke up at around 11pm, as people were eager to get back to their kids whom they had left with their parents.

Ria and Tjader will still be here for the next two months.

We really should do this again.