Claude Tayag’s food guide to Pampanga

Chef Claude leads us on a gastronomic tour of this Tagalog province known for its rich cuisine

Photos by Erik Liongoren

Claude Tayag at Perfect Loaf Bakery with owner, Marsha Nepomuceno

Pampanga has always enjoyed the title the “culinary center of the Philippines.” Its people are passionate about food and several Filipino favorites such as pork dishes sisig (pork ears with chili and calamansi) and tocino (cured pork), and burong talangka (cured crab fat) originated here. During the Spanish colonial times, Pampanga included parts of Tarlac, Nueva Ecija and Bulacan. It was the main source of food supplying Manila (through cascos or barges starting from Guagua in Pampanga to the esteros or canals of Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown). This abundance, due largely to the fresh water from the Pampanga River irrigating the vast central plain and the province’s proximity to Manila, contributed immensely to the development of Pampango cuisine as we know it today.

Signature Kapampangan Dishes 
Generations of Kapampangans have subsisted on plentiful homegrown and often wild-gathered food like tugak (frogs), kamaru (mole crickets), bulig (mudfish), itu (catfish), ulang (crayfish), and dumara (mallard ducks), its fermented sauces like balo-balo (fermented rice with shrimp) and burong isda (pickled fish), taba ng talangka (crab fat) and its preserved meats like longganisa (sausage), tapa (cured beef) and tocino. These are the staple everyday fare or pang-aldo-aldo.

Tugak (frogs). Photo by Erik Liongoren

During fiestas the more extravagant Spanish dishes are preferred. Wealthy Pampangos would usually hire sought after local cooks months in advance to prepare Spanish dishes like paella (Valencian rice dish), lengua estofado (ox tongue in tomato sauce), kaldereta (goat stew with tomato paste and liver), galantina (stuffed chicken), lapu-lapu in escabeche (grouper in sweet and sour sauce). It is the joy of the Kapampangan host to serve his guests and to refuse his food would be an insult.

Pampanga’s sweets and desserts are also famous. Vast tracts of haciendas are devoted solely to sugar and in the pre-mechanized era, the ever reliable beast of burden, the carabao, did most of the work. It is not surprising then that a lot of Kapampangan desserts are carabao milk-based. These are the pastillas de leche (soft milk chews), tibuk-tibok (rice pudding), tocino del cielo (custard), hot native tsokolate drink (hot chocolate), sans rival, ensaimadas (butter brioche with cheese), turrones de casuys (marzipan bar with cashews), plantanillas  (crepe filled with milk paste), and brazo de mercedes (soft meringue cake filled with custard).

Sisig is Pampanga’s signature dish. It’s pork cheek and snout, boiled until tender then grilled to a crunchy perfection, chopped and mixed with boiled chicken liver, chopped onions, kalamansi (native lemon) and spiked with fresh chili.

Other local favorites include balo-balo or fermented rice with fish or small shrimps; betute which is frog stuffed with ground pork, seasoned with onion, tomatoes and aragao leaves, then deep-friend to a perfect crisp; kamaru or mole crickets sautéed in garlic and onion, and roasted till crunchy; pako salad, fiddlehead fern with tomatoes, onions and salted duck egg in a light vinaigrette; Pindang babi (tocino), sweet cured pork and pindang damulag, cured carabeef. Burong talangka, another local favorite, is the fat of salt-fermented crablets.

Sisig

CLAUDE TAYAG’S FAVORITE RESTAURANTS IN ANGELES CITY

Angeles City, Pampanga’s capital, is located north of Manila, about an hour’s drive away, and is home to humble food joints serving up some of the best Kapampangan dishes. Below are my personal favorites.

Aling Lucing’s Sisig
This joint sits right by the railroad track together with a dozen or so food stalls serving a variety of charcoal-grilled meat and beer. It’s grubby, smoked-filled and can be unbearably hot at midday; but this place has been knocking about for generations. This is the best place for specialty sisig. Located at the Railroad Crossing on Henson Street

Armando’s Pizzeria
Housed in an authentic century-old camalig (rice storage) built by descendants of the town’s founders, this pizzeria serves a variety of pizza, including Pampango Special which features bits of longganisa, salted duck egg, pickle relish and onions on a crispy crust. Located at 292 Sto. Rosario St., City Proper

Everybody’s Café
This place serves signature Pampango dishes like batute (stuffed frogs), kamaru (rice mole crickets), balo-balo (fermented rice) and fresh mustard leaves as an accompaniment to grilled hito (catfish) or tilapiapakosalad (fiddlehead fern), lagat puso (young banana heart), kare-kare (beef tripe and vegetables in peanut stew) and dinuguan (innards stewed in blood and vinegar). Located at BPI arcade, Nepo Mart, across Nepomall, City Proper; Tel: +639228467121


Susie’s rice cakes

Susie’s Cuisine
Serves tibuk-tibok (majablanca to Manileños), its best seller, as well as such house specialties as pancit luglogleche flan, haleang ube, and mocha. Open daily from Located at MacArthur Highway, San Fernando

Rosing’s Candy Store
Sells sweets cooked the old fashion way with all-natural ingredients. Try the pastillas de leche, caramel,polvoronyemacasuy tartlets, empanaditas and many more. Located at 38 Hilda Street, Nepo Mart 1

Perfect Loaf Bakery and Café
Sells freshly baked bread and cakes. Try the popular pandan-macapuno cake or itstidtad babi (the Pampango version of dinuguan); pancit luglog (rice noodles in a thick savory shrimp and pork sauce topped with chicharon and kamias bits), fresh lumpia and pancit sotanghon. Serves breakfast, lunch and all-daymerienda. Freshly brewed coffee, espresso or cappuccino is also available. Located at Angeles Business Center, Nepo Mart, City Proper

Corazon Halo-Halo
Serves an old Filipino dessert favorite, served in a big glass jar containing saging saba (boiled banana),macapuno, corn, beans and pastillas de leche mixed with crushed ice, milk and a bit of sugar. Also servespancit luglog and dinuguanLocated at 303 Corazon Street, Nepo Subdivision, City Proper, with branches in Nepo Mart and MacArthur Highway

Razon’s of Guagua
Serves halo-halo, using a simple mix of saging sabamacapuno, topped with leche flan. Bananas used are all sun-ripened. Located on Jose Abad Santos Avenue, Guagua

Tita Merce’s Lutong Bahay
Serves home-cooked Filipino dishes. Try its ginataan (sweet coconut mixture of sticky rice, saging sabakamotesago yam) for dessert or snack. Located along Claro M. Recto Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Angeles

FOOD TOURS IN PAMPANGA
Culinary and heritage tours of Angeles City are conducted by the Museo ning Angeles. Tel: +6345 887 4703.

PAMPANGA IN A BOTTLE
Claude’s Burong Talangka is available in leading supermarkets like Rustan’s Supermarket, which has branches all over the metro. You can also buy it at Everybody’s Café and Susie’s Cuisine.

ABOUT CLAUDE TAYAG
A true Pampanga native, Chef Claude Tayag was born and raised in Angeles City, Pampanga. Following his passion for Kapampangan cuisine, he turned his home into Bale Dutung, a by-reservation-only restaurant that appared on renowned chef Anthony Bourdain's TV show, No Reservations. He is the author of three books. The most recent one, Linamnam: Eating One's Way Around the Philippines, chronicles his culinary journeys with his wife Mary Ann Quioc. It has sold 16,000 copies since its launch in 2011, and is available in National Bookstore and Powerbooks outlets nationwide.

Originally published in InFlight Traveller August to September 2007. Updated July 2015