URBANISSIMO: Northern exposure: The beauty of Kapampangan cuisine

With its rich culinary heritage spanning centuries and bridging Mexican, Spanish, Chinese and Malay cuisines, Pampanga is truly a culinary hot spot for anyone who wants to have a taste of traditional Filipino food that tastes like no-other.

Although there are many regional cuisines that could lay claim as the best Filipino cuisine, my experience dining in a simple house opened my eyes to the beauty and complexity of Pampanga’s food. This was also  because the house was the home of none other than respected Kapampangan food historian, Atching Lilian Borromeo.

A part of my recent tour of Pampanga together with AirAsia, this was one of the events that I really looked forward experience to as I really wanted to learn what makes food in Pampanga different and if it really was hype or not.

Plantanilla, a desset consisting of carabao milk pastillas wrapped with a light egg yolk crepe.
Plantanilla, a desset consisting of carabao milk pastillas wrapped with a light egg yolk crepe.

Located at Barangay Parian, Mexico, Pampanga and surrounded by lush greens, Atching Lilian Borromeo’s wooden ancestral home is where she entertains guests with her traditional Kapampangan dishes. Atching, a Kapampangan term for elder sister, welcomed our group with a warm smile as we approached her home. We were quickly ushered into the dining room which is surrounded by old photographs of her and her family, as well as traditional kitchen utensils and antique cooking vessels, evoking a museum feel to the space.

Although not a trained chef, Atching Lilian is an institution when it comes to Kapampangan cuisine. She took us from one dish to another, explaining the history behind each dish and the different traditional techniques used to make it.

One of the most fascinating dishes she served was the Bobotung Asan, which is by tradition, served only during the election season. She says the dish traces its roots to the time when women were not allowed to vote. In protest, they decided to create a dish by voting for the different ingredients to be used for an original dish.

Another entree that tickled my palette was her Quilayin, a dish that is similar to dinuguan which uses pork offals but instead of mixing the pork blood directly into the dish, the blood is first made into cakes and then added later during cooking.

Quilayin
Quilayin

Traditional Kapampangan favourites such as Bringhe (Pampanga’s version of Paella cooked using sticky rice, coconut milk, turmeric, chicken, chorizo and bell peppers), Puchero, Pork Sisig, and the ever infamous Buru ( Fermented rice and fish, served with sides of boiled mustard leaves, eggplant, and bitter gourd).

After the delicious and hearty meal, we finally got to the highlight of the dinner, tasting and making Sanikulas. Also called San Nicolas cookies, these traditional hand-made cookies can trace their origin back to the Spanish period when egg whites were used to bind the limestone masonry of the buildings and churches of the period. Not wanting to waste anything, excess egg yolks were used to made pastries.

Traditionally served during the feast day of Saint Nicholas, Sanikulas cookies are unique in that these cookies used traditional wooden molds that are passed down from generation to generation. Baking the cookies in a time when timepieces were a luxury, Atching Lilian shared that the cooks would recite songs and prayers to get the proper cooking time of the cookies.

Dinner with Atching Lilian was indeed an experience I can never forget. Her generosity and passion for keeping traditional Kapampangan cuisine can be seen and felt through the food she serves and this is clearly worth a taste.

Sanikulas
Sanikulas

To experience dining at Atching Lillian’s, it is advised to make your reservations weeks or even months ahead as many tourists and locals are lined-up to pay her a visit. They accept breakfast, lunch, or dinner buffets to groups with a minimum of ten persons. For more information contact them at (045) 966-0211 or 0915-773-0788.

AirAsia flies direct from Davao to Clark and back four times a week connecting Durianburg to Pampanga and the rest of Central and Northern Luzon. Check out www.airasia.com for cheap flights and deals.

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