It was a packed, carb-filled food tour when Lifestyle headed north to the town of Telabastagan in Pampanga late last month. That morning, classes had been called off in many parts of Manila because of an incoming storm, but that didn’t stop our small group of writers and photographers—all foodies—from doing what we set out to do.
Our first order of business at SM Telabastagan was a late breakfast of rice cakes and rice noodles at Susie’s Cuisine. For close to 50 years, Susie’s has been selling kakanin (rice cakes) to Pampagueños and visitors alike. They are known for their tibok-tibok made of carabao’s milk topped with latik, and their moche, which is like Japanese mochi but made with sticky rice, filled with munggo paste and served with a rich and creamy coconut sauce. They also make a tasty pancit palabok made more decadent when eaten with chicharon laman (sold separately).
A homegrown favorite is Toll House, started by the four Concepcion sisters in 1988. “When our kids were younger, we enjoyed throwing parties for them,” said owner Josephine C. Mendoza. Their well-loved repertoire consisted of party staples like palabok and baked macaroni. When they finally caved and opened a small eatery in Angeles, the menu was kept to a minimum: five choices for lunch, five for merienda and several desserts.
They have since expanded the list, but regulars already know what they want when they come over for some “homegrown goodness,” incidentally the restaurant’s slogan.
“It’s always baked mac with a clubhouse sandwich,” said president Ma. Remedios C. Romero. “It’s ‘carbs on carbs’ but that’s what many of our customers like.”
The restaurant at SM Telabastagan has a fun, low-key vibe designed to appeal to millennials, but owner Christine Rosario said that she and her husband set it up after taking up culinary courses at the Pampanga campus of ISCAHM (International School for Culinary Arts and Management).
“Both of us are foodies, so we came up with barbecued meats and fried chicken wings with a selection of homemade sauces,” Rosario said. Other popular items include their version of African Peri-peri chicken and crowd-pleasing sisig-topped nachos.
“Since we opened last year, we’ve been attracting a lot of families celebrating special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.”
The Kabigting brand of halo-halo is a homegrown brand that lucked out. Owner Irynne Kabigting Miranda said that it was their neighbor, the late Susan Calo-Medina, who first featured them in her TV show “Travel Time” in the ’80s.
“She ordered halo-halo from us to serve her guests but she would send over her own glass tumblers which we’d then send back to her,” Miranda said. Each ice-filled serving consisted of little more than sweetened kidney beans, creamed corn and pastillas (carabao milk candy). Other TV shows and publications followed suit, and the little neighborhood halo-halo stand gained a following. The family’s recipe hasn’t changed since. It’s this consistency that has made them a favorite of Pampangueños and visitors alike.
Luring’s Barbeque House
The husband-and-wife team of Dennis and Joan Bernardo grew up eating and loving the food at Luring’s Barbeque. “It’s all lutong bahay, genuine Kapampangan dishes cooked the way we remember them,” Dennis said. His favorite is the sisig, pork barbecue and kaldereta (slow-cooked beef stew), the last flavored with mounds of onions.
“That’s the traditional way of cooking kaldereta, we don’t scrimp on ingredients,” Joan explained. “Our barbecue uses a special marinade which gives it that distinct taste. Of course, all this is best eaten with rice.”
Best friends Carvyna Alvarez and Dianne Manalansan chose to open their second branch of Chubs Chasers in SM Telabastagan to reach their target market of young professionals who wanted bigger portions that were reasonably priced. “It’s really value for money,” Alvarez said.
Manalansan, a native of Lubao town, also wanted to share with her province mates the kind of food they have become known for since they opened their first branch at Visayas Ave., Quezon City in 2015. The casual dining restaurant specializes in a range of grilled or barbecued meat. Orders come in two sizes, Sexy or Chubby, with the latter consisting of double portions of meat.
One thing we confirmed during our epic food tour: Pampangueños like their food richly flavored and consistently delicious.