Thursday, March 24, 2011

I Survived! --Bale Dutung's Porky Treats - 8 January 2011

Before leaving for the US, Bubbles and I were fortunate to have been able to travel to a few places, including Boracay. One of the places we were lucky to have been given time was Bale Dutung in Angeles, Pampanga, home of the world-famous Filipino architect-turned-chef Claude Tayag.

Bale Dutung, whose name is Kapampangang for "Wooden House," is a famous Filipino restaurant in Pampanga. This is by-reservation basis only, so you need to call up Claude or Mary Ann Tayag to be able to eat here.

Bale Dutung was made more famous by Anthony Bourdain, who feature Claude Tayag, Pampanga, and this restaurant in his show "No Reservations." Thanks to Petite and Concep's rave reviews of the place when they ate here last year, we decided to spend one of the post-wedding weekends with Bubbles' and my family here at Bale Dutung. 

Bale Dutung has a very "homey," warm and cozy atmosphere. It feels like you're just in your very own dining table, eating with your beloved relatives. This is because the hosts, Claude and Maryann makes you feel at home at their very own house! Maryann personally welcomes guests, guides them to their seats, and personally gives them the welcome drinks juice with "muscovado ice." This hands-on treatment is part of the entire package. 

There are three menu options to choose from at Bale Dutung. First is the traditional Kapampangan menu, which showcases hit Pampanga delicacies like the sisig and kare-kare. Another is the Anthony Bourdain menu, where the guests get to experience the Filipino dishes that were eaten by Anthony Bourdain when Claude hosted him at Bale. The third and our chosen menu, is the tasty, porky, cholesterol-packed 5-ways Lechon menu. Diet and health worries are put on the sidelines for this menu, as we will be placed under a flavorful, delightful, happy lineup of porky food, all meat based on the traditional national food, Pork Lechon. 

What is Pork Lechon?!

Lechon, Litson, or Lichon, however way you want it spelled, is the juicy, tasty pork evenly roasted with flame or coal, by regularly turning over the pork using a long bamboo stick and putting seasoning on the skin to give it the right crisp. Lechon is the Philippines' national food and was branded by Anthony Bourdain as the world's greatest pig. 

The Lechon menu in Bale Dutung is a serving of 5 different ways of cooking lechon. The 5-ways lechon, plus a flurry of tasty appetizers and capped with native coffee and sweet native dessert, make up the Lechon menu. 

WARNING: This is not simply a lunch treat. This is an overall dining experience. The usual time spent for a Bale Dutung dining is around 4 hours, so if you're planning a job interview or an airport pickup after eating, forget it, you might miss it. And make sure the kids that you bring are also food enthusiasts, or better yet, ask them to bring their favorite PSP game just to make sure.


I haven't taken pictures of the first-ever appetizer served to us: crackers with 3 kinds dip. Just by eating this, I am already satisfied. But of course, this is just 2% of the experience. :) 

We started off with Pako salad. Pako is an edible type of fern famous for its uniquely tasty and juicy leaves. 

Afterwards, Maryann will introduce the Lumpiang Ubod sa Oriental Sauce appetizer. She branded this as one of her favorites because given that she's not much of a vegetable eater, Claude made sure that she would eat the lumpiang ubod even if it's all veggies inside. Lumpiang ubod is fried egg roll with vegetable and bamboo shoot fillings.

Maryann then served Chicken Inasal with Talangka Rice. And that is NOT part of the main course yet, despite it having a serving of rice. After this, I am already starting to get full. 

Chicken Inasal is an original Bacolod delicacy, but of course grilled food is a universal way of preparing food, so they adapted it and paired it with a Pampango-famous Talangka Rice (Crab fat Rice). 

We have not finished digesting the Chicken Inasal yet when Maryann got back to our place and gave us a briefing of the next delicious appetizer: Hito (Catfish) wrapped in balo-balo leaf. The taste was very good! This is another veggie-filled food that I appreciated. Like Maryann, I am not a big fan of veggies myself, but these veggies made me rethink my favorites.

The last of the starters is another adapted food from our Japanese brothers and sisters. They served the Talangka sushi, sushi, with a Filipinized flavor. They topped the usual tuna sushi (rice, nori, tuna) with crab fat, and the Japanese delicacy was never the same. Whew! Appetizer lineup is over! And now, the main dishes. 

5-Ways Lechon

Note: All of these 5 dishes are made from the original roasted pig, Lechon!

#1: The Lechon Tortilla

The Five ways lechon started with the Lechon tortilla, an adaptation of the Mexican dish. The big difference from the usual tortilla is that it is stuffed with the yummy roasted pork flakes! The Lechon was made into flakes, and made a little crunchier to make it fit for the tortilla dish. 

#2: The Lechon Sinigang

Pork Sinigang has been a favorite of every Filipino home. It competes with Adobo as the all-time favorite way of cooking pork in the Philippines. I am a self-confessed fan of my wife's sinigang! What if we turn some of the Lechon meat into sinigang? The answer is for you to figure out! As for me, I have experienced the sinigang zeal, the sinigang of sinigangs in Bale Dutung. 

Sinigang is the Filipino version of the Hot and Sour soup. It is a mixture of vegetables and pork cooked in either sampaloc, kamias, or tomatoes. If the Thais have their Tom Yum Soup, we have our very own Sinigang.

#3: Lechon Skin in Liver Sauce

Pork Lechon is famous for its tasty, ultra-crispy skin. As for the 5-ways lechon, this is my favorite part, where Claude gets to cut the Lechon's skin, and people just binge away! You can already feel the crispiness of the skin just by looking at how Claude easily cuts away the skin from the Lechon. Yum! How's your nape, buddy? :) 

The liver sauce makes the skin even tastier. This is our sweet version of the American Gravy. 

#4: Inihaw na Tadyang ng Lechon with Ensaladang Talong (Grilled Spareribs with Eggplant Salsa (?!))

There's no better way to eat the Lechon's ribs but to reheat it by grilling, partner it with the healthy eggplant ensalada. The contrast in flavor gives you the emphasis of both food, which will make you want some more. By this time, I am now full, but I just couldn't stop eating. One tip in this experience is the pacing. After all, this is a 4-hour lunch. 

#5: Sisig Lechon

The original Pampanga delicacy, the Pork Sisig is also one of the many favorite Filipino delights. People would go to Pampanga just to dine in karinderyas (eateries) with Sisig. Lechon sisig is the grand finale of the 5-ways lechon. 

As mentioned by Claude in his briefing of the 5th way, Sisig originated in Pampanga, but has been adapted by many Filipino races, and often substituted one ingredient from another. The original sisig offers chopped pork ears, skin, liver and meat filled with pork brain. In the absence of pork brain in some places, some Pinoys resort to using substitutes, like egg or mayonnaise. In Bale Dutung, Claude cooks the bare sisig lechon, and  you have the choice to make it authentic by applying pork brain filling, which I did! The sisig is never the same without the pork brain, but of course, this needs to be taken moderately. Attention, 50 years old and up. :)


For dessert, Claude and Maryann served old-fashioned coffee, plus a plate of Paradiso, an original homemade dessert made of coconut, yam, egg and fresh milk. 

The 4-hour experience is capped with Claude and Maryann's tour of their house, which is located in the 2nd floor of the restaurant. Being an architect as his original profession, Claude applied his architectural expertise in designing a house that truly represents the Filipino culture. And his penchant for antique art gives his home more of the rustic atmosphere, relaxing inside out. 

Bale Dutung is truly a memorable experience for every person who gets to try it out. Anyone who loves food must try this out, not only for its good food, but because it gives our culture much more meaning, it reinvents the Filipino food character and brings it at par with the packaging of our Asian neighbors; With restaurants like Bale, we can aptly brag our hometown food, not just for its taste, but for its overall gastronomic value. 

Claude and Maryann Tayag, Mabuhay kayo! I pray that people like you who appreciate the value of Filipino food would spread around the nation, and if possible around the world. I hope that next time, a similar Bale Dutung will be put up in Cebu, Negros, Davao, Bohol, Ilocos, and many other places! 

I also hope that Filipinos put up decent-looking Filipino-delicacy stores around the world. Ahem, Virginia! 

Some photos of the 5-ways lechon survivors*: 
*All photos taken with Canon Powershot A590is

Quinito: Yummy!
The Apostol Ladies

Claude with the Lechoneros
Senior Survivor: He Gets to take home the shirt
The Ultimate Survivors
The Reyeses
The Acostas
Joaquin and Dondon

The Newlyweds with Claude
Bub and Pet with Claude and Maryann

The Duloses with Claude and Maryann
Autograph signing with Mommy Es

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