When my friend L sent me a message about going to a restaurant called Bale Dutung, I didn’t even know what restaurant it was, what food they served or where it even was.
I asked L, “What’s that?”
She replied, “It’s Claude Tayag’s restaurant, in Pampanga. They serve lechon.”
As soon as she mentioned lechon, I was sold. “Count me In!”
For those of you that don’t know, lechon is a national dish in the Philippines. It may not be the official national dish (I think it’s adobo) but for me, it may as well be. In layman’s terms, lechon is whole spit-fire roasted pig. Yes, that’s right. A whole pig…with VERY CRISPY SKIN.
Anthony Bourdain wrote about it for The Travel Channel in an article called the Hierarchy of Pork. See article here: Anthony Bourdain put us on top of the Hierarchy of Pork because of this lechon. I fully agree with him on this one. I don’t really like Filipino food because I love the lechon.
So anyway, I was looking forward to going to Pampanga to eat at this famous chef’s restaurant and eat Lechon. I thought it was going to be an ordinary day, a road trip of sorts with high school classmates I have not seen for a while.
It was a 2 hour drive to the restaurant and met my friends near the start point, near my house. We were well on our way….and then we got into a car accident. A bus hit us from behind with a huge impact. It was so sudden, I didn’t even see it coming. I just heard a loud crash and then things flying at and over our heads. Thankfully, nobody was seriously hurt. My friend got shards of glass in her head. We had to rush her to the hospital and we came along to have x-rays done.
We stayed in some tiny hospital in a province called Bulacan from 10:30am to 3:00pm. That was over 5 hours of waiting in the hospital. I was beginning to lose hope that I wouldn’t be able to eat at Bale Dutung because the rain was pounding down so hard, we were also afraid of floods.
My friend L took me with her to the restaurant while the others went home. I refused to go home. There was no way I was going to go home starving after waiting 5 hours in a hospital. My father said I was crazy, but I’ve done crazy stuff because of my hunger and this was no exception.
I finally arrived at 4:30pm with L. Our companions had all already finished eating and all the other patrons were on their way out of the restaurant. It’s too bad that the sky was dark and rain was pouring down so hard because it was an outdoor restaurant and would have been a great ambience if the sun was out.
I’m sorry because most of the pictures are blurry. I had hurt my back and my arm from the impact so it affected how I held my camera. My hunger was also distracting me from taking decent pictures.
This is the restaurant. See how it’s so dark and empty!
This is the menu. We each had personalized menus but I didn’t get mine anymore because they thought we wouldn’t show up anymore because of our accident. =( I just grabbed one of the other girl’s menus and took a photo.
The owners, THANK YOU VERY MUCH, waited for us to arrive and let us eat after we told them about our accident. The wife of the owner, Mrs. Mary Ann Tayag, chatted with us while eating and asked about our accident. She also explained every dish that was coming to us which was great.
A lot of these dishes have local ingredients in them so I don’t know how to translate them in English. You will just have to come and visit and eat for yourself.
I brought two bottles of wine for this experience. I brought Taylor’s Promise Land Moscato from Australia, a light, low alcohol, with some sweetness and a Chianti Classico to enjoy with the pork. I chose a Moscato to start because I was under the impression that we would be enjoying the cold Moscato under the hot sun as it would refresh us but again, our plan didn’t work out so well. We were still able to enjoy the Moscato with the first few courses, however.
The first course was Ensaladang Pako. This is like a seaweed salad with citrus vinaigrette. The “pako” was like a chewy, seaweed fern like green. First time I’ve had it. I imagine they had to blanch it first as it may be tough to eat without par-cooking beforehand.
See how weird those things look! haha!
The next one is called Piniritong Lumpiang Ubod sa CLaude’s Oriental Sauce. This one I can translate. It is like a fried heart of palm spring rolls and oriental sauce made by Chef Claude Tayag. Heart of palm is kind of like eating lotus root, crunchy, and absorbs the flavors of everything else. I would say lotus root has a more distinct flavor though. I didn’t need the sauce anymore for this one because the spring roll itself was already good with the herb dressing on top.
The next one was Inasal na Manok at Claude’s Talangka Rice or can be translated as Chicken “Inasal” and Claude’s Crab Fat rice. “Inasal” is a regional grilled chicken dish, famous with the Ilonggos (also known as, “my peoples”). The marinade consists of annatto oil, lemongrass, garlic, ginger, among other things. It comes out orange cause of the annatto but it’s really juicy and flavorful when cooked.
It’s great even just on plain rice but of course, it was served with crab fat rice, which is another danger zone for me since I’m allergic to crab. After my accident though, I figured, I’m going to let lightning strike me twice, what the hell. HAHAHA! I didn’t get an allergy thankfully as I popped an antihistamine seconds before consuming it.
The next one was fresh sushi called Talangka Sushi, Hito at Balo Balo Sushi. I don’t know what Balo Balo is but Talangka is also crab fat and Hito is catfish.
This course is the best course for me because I had been anticipating this course ever since L told me we were going there. This is the “Balat ng Lechon at Liver Sauce”. In translation, it is LECHON SKIN AND LIVER SAUCE. It does not indicate in the description that it is CRISPY, which it is. It is crispy, crunchy, fatty and GLORIOUS!!!!!! The liver sauce (for reference: please buy Mang Tomas at your local Filipino store) is not like Foie gras in liquid form. It is something totally different and I would suggest that you do not ask how it is made and just eat it with the lechon because it is DELIGHTFUL.
The liver sauce adds a layer of umami and texture to the course because the lechon is crispy and fatty but the liver sauce is chunky with lots of earthy flavors. It’s kind of like wine. Well, the wine I brought which was a Chianti Classico that I had bought the day before, was sadly NOT a perfect match to the lechon. I didn’t have enough time to buy from my supplier the wine I wanted because I didn’t confirm my attendance to the restaurant until 2 days before. The Chianti Classico was too light for the lechon and for the liver sauce. Maybe a Barbera or a Nebbiolo based wine would have been a better match. Or actually, I think a Carmenere would have been a better match for this course, to jump the world to Chile. I just thought that since I drank a lot of Chianti while in Tuscany while eating porchetta, it would work but I was wrong. Lesson learned.
The “Fried Lechon flakes binalot sa tortilla at Claude’s Oriental Sauce” was my next favorite course. It is translated into Fried Lechon Flakes wrapped in tortilla. The pig meat was shredded and then fried and this is wrapped into a flour tortilla with cilantro and onion and dressed with the Oriental sauce. It was quite tasty with the crunchy texture of the lechon flakes and the soft tortilla and the kick of the cilantro and onion. I ate three pieces of this. They brought out extra portions for this course…as well as the lechon skin. =D
I don’t know what the next course is because I don’t know what “Tadyang” means. It is called “Inihaw na Tadyang na Lechon at Ensaladang Talong”. Ensaladang talong means Eggplant salad.
Oh now I remember, I think it was Grilled Pork ribs with Eggplant Salad. Now I remember because I liked it so much, I ate it so fast. I remember the ribs being really tender and flavorful and if I’m not mistaken, also had the inasal marinade.
Sinigang na Lechon is a native dish and is like a sour soup with a viand and vegetables. It is traditionally made with tamarind so it’s kind of like the Tom Yum Soup in Thailand. This had lechon in it and taro root which is my favorite! I ate this one pretty fast too. This dish is not really presented aesthetically because it is a comfort food kind of thing and is a one pot dish of some sorts. I have been eating this in a single bowl with rice floating in it since I was little. It doesn’t look good but it sure is tasty! Plus, it was perfect since it was raining and it was kind of chilly and it warmed us up.
How do I explain Sisig Ulo ng Lechon? Sisig is pork ears and face! We Filipinos do not like to waste our pork and we will use all parts of it. I have always known it to be crispy and sizzling as I eat in the local beer chain but traditionally it is marinated in a sour liquid such as vinegar and served. It is not traditionally sizzling so I was a bit apprehensive because I DO NOT LIKE VINEGAR. I had to try it though for my memory food bank and I was not turned off as expected. I did taste the vinegar but it was mild enough for me to tolerate. The texture also took some getting used to. The sizzling sisig took away all the elements that I did not like a) vinegar b) weird texture. I can’t say I like the traditional sisig but at least I’ve tried it.
Dessert was aptly named “Paradiso”. I normally skip dessert but because of events, my stomach was still 1/4 empty. I scarfed down the dessert. It was desserts made from rice in carabao’s milk! The purple one is ube or purple yam and the others, I’m not sure but I’m sure they’re made of rice. The carabao’s milk was so rich and creamy and together with the others really made it a luscious dish. They flambeed the dessert so the crusted sugar on the bottom gave it some texture otherwise it would all be one mushy dessert.
This was the first Filipino dessert I’ve had where I wished they gave a bigger portion. HAHA! I looked over at my friends to see if I could grab theirs but alas, they also scarfed it down fast.
We finished with coffee called “Kapeng Sinaunang Panahon”. This means “Coffee Once Upon a Time”. I think this was made from local beans. Better than Starbucks for sure!
Drop by Bale Dutung when you’re in the Philippines.
It’s located at Villa Gloria Subdivision, Angeles City, Pampanga
(02) 6684038, (02) 5024527
I’m willing to go back but right now, I’m still a little bit traumatized from the accident so I won’t be going on any long distance trips on the road soon. Flights yes, but not cars.
Next post will be international again!