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Culinary journey in the country’s food capital

Aching Lilian Borromeo at her Kusinang Matua

Mention Pampanga and mouth-watering food instantly comes into mind. It is dubbed the country’s “culinary capital” with its plethora of delectable dishes cooked with the old-fashioned flair handed down across generations. As a proof of its rich culinary heritage, each town has a unique specialty to showcase.

The province tried to change its nomenclature to being the “food capital” to somehow demystify its cuisine and make it less intimidating to the man on the street. Regardless of how they may finally call it, Pampanga remains a top-of-mind culture and cuisine destination.

Hues Restaurant of Park Inn by Radisson Clark

Here are some must-visit food outlets which give an overview not just of the Kapampangan’s love affair with cooking, but also its genteel way of life. Don’t ever miss the quintessential sisig, the signature sizzling delicacy of minced grilled pork’s cheeks, ears and snout which the late food celebrity Anthony Bourdain flew here to taste.

Apag Marangle. Literally meaning “farm table,” it transports you to a rural experience which makes dining a more pleasurable journey. Originally situated in Bacolor with its organic gardens, nipa huts on stilts and bamboo rafts as dining areas, it had to consolidate during the pandemic and relocate to a roadside spot in Guagua. 

The new location has a new addition, Cuisina Manuela, which sells an assortment of baked goodies and desserts, most specially its best-selling premium leche flan and empanada which has some of Pampango dishes as filling.          

Hamanda Hotel at Souq

Apag Marangle still serves its all-time favorites ginisang camaro, an exotic appetizer of field crickets; betute tugak or dressed frog; sizzling balut; begukan babi, a local variant of the binagoongang baboy, and pork humba to name a few. These are best paired with nasing marangle or flavored rice teeming with vegetable and meat ingredients.

For those still wary of eating outside, there are Kapampangan Specials frozen packed ready-to-eat food which can be partaken at home.

Kusinang Matua. Food trippers and culture vultures would brave driving through the congested town of Mexico if only to taste the fabled cooking of octogenarian Lillian Borromeo in her centenarian ancestral house.

Dubbed as the “Gatekeeper to Kapampangan Cuisine,” she operates a by-appointment only specialty kitchen-slash-restaurant, which looks like a museum with the antiques on display. On top her delectable sisig, biringhe, heirloom dishes and her trademark San Nicolas or sanikulas cookies, it is also a soulful journey with her insights on local food history.

Armando’s Pizza of Camalig Restaurant

Countless prominent celebrities and political personalities have feasted at this humble kitchen, most notably former President and House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who has organized a culinary tourism program for food trippers.

Armando’s Pizza. Deep in the heart of Angeles City’s old poblacion is Historic Camalig Restaurant, a reincarnation of a circa 1840 Antillan storehouse, and a mainstay in the local food landscape. The four decades-old dining haunt is home to Armando’s Pizza, a homegrown brand which served as the resto’s core product.

Named after its founder Armando Nepomuceno, it prides itself as the “Pambansang Pizza” with an assortment of unique flavors, namely, Armando’s Best, Doy’s Kapampangan, and Sisig, topped with local ingredients such as salted eggs, anchovies and chorizo.

Camalig is a veritable showroom of antiques from a bygone era—old furniture, classic electric fans, dining sets, vintage beverage bottles, household implements and what-have-yous taken from a treasure chest of history. It recently opened an al fresco dining area for grilled food, live band and also doubles as space for visual artists.

Pampango dishes at Apag Marangle

To reach out to a more diverse crowd, it opened a stall at the Comercio Central’s Mangan Tamu, a weekend open-air food colony at the Clark Parade Grounds.

Hues Restaurant. A hotel isn’t among the typical places to look for authentic cuisine, but there’s always an exception to the rule. This dining outlet of Park Inn by Radisson Clark can whip up an exciting feast of Filipino and international favorites, fusion fare and regional delicacies, which taste like your mother’s cooking.

This chic all-day dining outlet also serves internationally themed buffet breakfast, while observing health and safety protocols. It is open to walk-in travelers or tourists who want to peek into the province’s food culture in a hotel setting.

The hotel has also concocted freshly baked goodies such as banana cakes and muffins, granola bars, and chocolate chip cookies and sold at its Dash grab and go snack corner.

Hamanda Hotel. This intimate lodging in San Fernando City, is a designer hideaway where one can hit the sack after a filling food crawl across the province. Situated away from the madding crowd, it has six industrial aesthetically-designed rooms with distinct Filipino interiors and artistic touches. This Instagrammable boutique hotel has its own swimming pool, gaming and reading lounge, swimming pool, veranda dining area, pocket garden, furniture showroom and a lobby with an Old World feel with its bric-a-brac design.

Guests can feast on a unique fare at the adjacent Souq restaurant, a melting pot of gastronomy, art and inspiration, which approximates the feel of an Arabic market with its Mediterranean ambiance and Filipino and fusion delights.

Image courtesy of Bernard L. Supetran
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