Having been married to a Kapampangan, I had gotten used to seeing buffet tables groaning with food. But the quality of the food served on Jan. 2, on what would have been the 96th birthday of the late Eloisa Paras Hizon Gomez, beloved mother of Dom Martin Hizon Gomez—the former celebrated couturier Gang Gomez, who is now a Benedictine monk based in Bukidnon—was something else.
The lavish buffet included the family manse’s (Bale Matua) signature dishes such as Iking Matua (old-style oxtail stew, aka rabo de toro), Hamonadong Tadyang (ham-style spareribs), Paella Marinara, Hipon sa Taba ng Talangka (prawns in crablet sauce), Lengua con Champignon (ox tongue with mushrooms), Grilled Salmon.
There was, of course, a green salad to mitigate the richness of the dishes. For dessert, there was the Kapampangan favorite, Bibingkang Duman (a delicious, sticky kakanin that’s made of black pinipig, reportedly costing P1,000 a kilo, with latik on top), Tibuk-tibuk (carabao’s milk custard with latik), and Sans Rival.
I was among the privileged few to have been invited by the popular caterer George Hizon (Dom Martin’s cousin) through Chona Mejia Lopez, my Makati Zonta colleague. Chona took us Zontians—Cora Tan, Olga Martel, Maritess Pineda, Maribel Espino and husband Ricky, Jenny Leviste, Melissa Romualdez, Melanie Carlos de Leon, Jojo Zabarte and her guest Arkette Teucher Jan—first to her family’s Lazatin-Singian ancestral home in San Fernando, declared a national heritage building, just over a block away from the Hizon-Paras Bale Matua.
Some of the ladies in our group needed to change from their travel clothes to the Filipiniana attire that was de rigueur or specified by the invite to the Hizon family feast. Although the owner of the house, the family of Dely Lazatin Panlilio Fernandez, was not around, the staff kindly served us a yummy Taisan, purchased from across the street, at the Essel bakery. We also picked up our preorders of the famous big ensaymada that is its pride.
The Bale Matua was simply “awesome,” as my grandchildren would say, with gleaming chandeliers, antique and heirloom furniture in a grand sala and formal dining room, a smaller comedor (dining room), an azotea, five bedrooms, plus a small private chapel with a century-old image of the Virgen de los Remedios, patron of Pampanga.
The portrait of the manse’s owner, Eloisa Hizon Gomez, Dom Martin’s beloved Mama, is displayed in the primera sala. It was rendered by foremost Los Angeles-based Kapampangan painter, Rafael Maniago.
As per Dom Martin, the house was declared a heritage building by the San Fernando Historical Commission. He remarked that they open the house only for special family gatherings like his mother’s traditional Filipiniana birthday celebration on Jan. 2, the annual Good Friday procession to accompany the family’s image of San Pedro, which also serves as a mini-family reunion, and whenever balikbayan relatives are in town.
As soon as the help was told of the celebration on Jan. 2, they had all jumped into action, sweeping and polishing floors, dusting furniture, making the glassware shine and polishing the silverware.
At 6 p.m., a Mass was concelebrated by family friends Fr. Mon Torres and Fr. Daines in the silong or entresuelo. Thereafter, the 150 or so famished guests ascended the grand staircase for the buffet dinner, staged in three contiguous rooms, consisting of a grand sala and formal dining room lit by ornate heirloom chandeliers, and a smaller comedor, spilling out into the azotea.
The Arti Sta. Rita choir entertained guests with their harmonious voices. Dom Martin was especially pleased when they sang his two compositions, “Eloisa” and “Hizon,” both composed to honor his Mama.
Graciously greeting guests after dinner were Archbishop Paciano Aniceto and Dom Martin’s cousin, Vice Mayor Jimmy Lazatin. Other VIP guests were Manila fashion designers Frederick Peralta, Barge Ramos, Nolie Hans, Jing Chua and fashion director Ogee Atos. There was also the “Miss Saigon” alumnus Andy Alviz, founder and current musical director of Arti Sta. Rita, the choir, and Dom Martin’s co-writer for the two songs.
Because the occasion was a family reunion as well, there were the Hizon relations: cousin Monette Enriquez and nephew Councilor BJ Lagman, former Bb. Pilipinas and niece Lullie Enriquez, and Rolly and Ana Rodriguez, among others.
Truly, to remember and celebrate a mother’s birthday, though she no longer walks the earth, is an act of filial love and devotion, for which Dom Martin has surely received a shower of heaven’s blessings. —CONTRIBUTED