The Pampanga food crawl

CHEF BUDS The author and Claude

Every time "foodtrip" is mentioned, the first province that comes to mind is Pampanga. Foodtrip to me requires a little travel in search of treasure. It is not only its close proximity to Manila, but this province does have great food. For the past five or six years, whenever I go to Pampanga, I visit the same places—Mila’s for its sisig, chicharon bulaklak, barbeque tocino, and paco salad. Everybody's Café for the kare kare, longaniza, and morcon. I love these places but I would like to find new ones!

Last week, we did a show in Pampanga. I was blessed to have Claude Tayag to show me around. The Crawl Pampanga will be shown sometime next month I believe. Fun is one word to describe what Chef Claude and I did. Great food, laughter, and wonderful company are the ultimate combination on any food trip.

I was sent the schedule a few days before the trip. I didn’t recognize one name on the dining list. They were all new. Exciting I thought. I have added them to my list of dining destinations, which I will pass on to my other foodie friends.

The shoot was to start on a Wednesday early at 8 a.m. That meant I would have to be awake by 4:30 a.m. as the plan was to have me picked up by 6. Bad idea. So on Tuesday afternoon, I decided to take a leisurely drive to Angeles alone, where I checked into a hotel. Voila, I had my own free time. I was just waiting to get hungry and have one meal I had been craving for for months. I sat down at Mila’s and ordered one sizzling sisig, a cup of piping hot  rice, a paco salad, and an iced cold San Mig Light. I try not to eat rice but this sisig cannot be had without it. Paco salad is my excuse to indulge in the unhealthy. Simple joys I call them! I had a smile on my face, driving back to the hotel. I was all set for the next day’s work.

I met Claude at Bale Datung and the first order of the day was breakfast. A simple pistou was what he served me. It’s a simple dish of sautéed ground pork with some greens, whose taste is heightened by chorizo de Bilbao and Parmesan cheese the Kampampangans found around the Clark Air base. I loved to hear the story of how a simple dish was leveled up with the available ingredients in the area. What a winner! I also was served a delicious tsokolate eh or a thicker version of the local chocolate drink made with carabao milk and liquid cacao, the first liquid version I had ever seen). I also tried a most delicious decades-old recipe in an ensaymada by Chona Ayson. A must-try (0928 507 0928). Sarap!

I met Claude at Bale Datung and the first order of the day was breakfast. A simple pistou was what he served me. It’s a simple dish of sautéed ground pork with some greens, whose taste is heightened by chorizo de Bilbao and Parmesan cheese.

From there, we drove to Perfect Loaf. This bakery does not only serve breads and pastries but they also have main Pampanga dishes. I so loved the tidtad, which is tinadtad na tender pork with soupy dinuguan. The orange sotanghon is to die for. I could not resist the owner Marcia’s tortang alimasag. I also loved her tocino del cielo. This you have to take home.  Tiny wobbly, sweet delicious gelatin-like flans that will make you hum. All very good. Now I have a new discovery in Angeles.

We then drove to 52 Stone. I have a problem every time I’m in Angeles. I pass this long street of all Korean things. So many restaurants but where do I eat? Claude’s brother CJ, who also happens to be a friend, recommended this Korean joint. They serve modern Korean food. I loved his Korean beef stew, Korean soup, inihaw na baboy, fried rice, and prawn tempura. All very well presented and delicious! Now I know where to go. CJ, like all the Tayag siblings, is a food lover. He can point you in the direction of the best dishes.

Our next stop was a newly opened Mexican bar and drinking place. They have the most delicious and authentic Mexican tacos. I loved the spicy beef fillings and the seafood tacos. Cozy and chic, this place will be flooded with hungry foodies in no time. Pineapple Coast just opened last December. Yummy!

One observation about Angeles or Pampanga. If your restaurant does not serve good food, you won’t last. Standard and expectation of people on the food here is so high, survival is an evidence of success. Big plus: Prices are so reasonable. Far from Manila prices!

We ended our evening at El Espanol, a Spanish Tapas bar at the Nepo Mart area. They have great tapas. I loooved the home made mini chorizos and garlic gambas. I would have wanted to have what looked like great wines but had to drive home. I’ll be back though. They also serve cochinillo.

Claude and I ended the day at around 9:30 p.m. I was so tired, but I was tired from playing with a fun playmate in our Disneyland, Pampanga. I had a grand time. Salamat, Claudi! 

Watch out for the Crawl on the Metro Channel this March!

Happy eating!