Lunch At Bale Dutung (A Photo Essay)

Bale Dutung is the home of food writers and Filipino food advocates Claude and Mary Ann Tayag. Many mistakenly believe that their house and studio in Pampanga is an ancestral home but it’s something that Claude built from the ground up years ago. So much has been written and read and shown about Bale Dutung – much can be gleaned in fact, even from just their website – that to write about it would, I feel, be extraneous. It’s not new certainly, but it’s a new experience for me, and one I’d still like to share through my photos.

I’ve known Claude and Mary Ann for several years, we often bump into each other at various food events. They’re a gregarious couple to be with and both have laser-sharp senses of humor. I laugh a lot when I’m with them and I’m very happy and honored to be in their home.

I’m here on the invitation of my chef-friends, people who really know their food and they’ve decided on the clamored-for Anthony Bourdain Menu. This is purportedly what the famous chef and intrepid traveler was served during his go-round in Manila.

“Try everything first the way we mean for you to eat it and then, if you like, feel free to add your choice of seasonings,” Mary Ann exhorts. Here, a trio of sauces made in-house, as everything else to follow is. From top to bottom: pesto, taba ng talangka, buro. Buro refers to anything that is fermented, and I grew up watching my mom, a proud Kapampangan, like Claude and Mary Ann, eat this. The buro of my childhood was truly odoriferous however, and not at all gentle and benign like this one. “The smelly buro is the authentic Kapampangan one,” Mary Ann tells me, “but it would turn off a lot of people if we served it,” she quips with a wink.

Ensaladang Pakô
This fascinating frond is called fiddle head fern, tightly curled tendrils that taste somewhat slimy but are wonderful when paired with an acidic dressing and eggs (especially salted, red ones).

BBQ Paldeut at Claude’9 Talangka Rice
Didn’t you know that chicken bums/butts – or more crassly put by the supposedly “gentle men” in our group – “chicken asses” are the best part of the bird? Glazed with a lemongrass marinade, its citric tang tempers the cloy of the crab fat rice.

Adobong Pugo
Quail cooked adobo-style. The less dainty among us abandon cutlery and decorum and pick up the bird with bare hands. Crunching of bones and resultant groans ensue. The chopped chicken liver “mash” alongside is a delight to sop up with the tiny pandesal. I want more of this bread, made with lard no less!

A simple roll of rice ferrying a treasure of crab fat.

I think this may be mustasa (mustard) greens in which shredded catfish tangles with daubs of balo-balo. The two are fermented together and though that sounds explosive, the flavor was quite demure.

Lechon Tortilla
A sort of DIY tortilla piled high with lechon flakes accompanied with an endless array of sliced onions, tomatoes, house-made kimchi, and tendrils of aromatic wansoy. This is one of my favorite dishes.

Bone Collector (Bone marrow in XO Adobo sauce)

Rather ominously named, Mary Ann said that some have likened the effect of eating this to the aftereffects of taking shabu. We can’t attest to that but bone marrow and a straw to suck it through? Who needs drugs when you’ve got food this good?!

Bulanglang Kapampangan na may Tian ng Bangus, Ulang at Tadyang ng Baboy (Milkfish belly, spareribs, crayfish or prawn soup, flavored with native guava)
This is the most unique sinigang I’ve ever had, though Mary Ann mentions that to Kapampangans, this thick and sour soup is bulanglang and not sinigang. With a consistency almost like gravy and very sweet because it’s flavored with very ripe, fresh guavas, this dish is a collision of sweet and savory.

Sisig Babi (Sizzling pork in onion and liver sauce)
Eating this makes me realize that all the sisig I’ve eaten prior to today are impostors. This is the real sisig as it’s meant to be, cut from parts of the pig’s head and eaten with a choice of diced chicken liver, calamansi juice, and onions. Be gone, liquid seasoning and chicharon!

Kare-kareng Buntot (Oxtail stew in peanut sauce)
An edible poem pondering the pleasures of a peanut sauce that various seafood sit placidly in. A breathtaking dish and the very first kare-kare I’ve tried touched by gata. The silky coconut milk rounds out the dish’s nutty edges, edible elegance.

This is one of the luxuries of the Kapampangans, a profanity-inducing confection named after the quick pitter-pat of a heart: Tibok-tibok. The richer cousin of the maja blanca, it’s made from two kinds of milk: coconut and carabao. Its texture: lush and absolutely lovely. I look down and it’s gone. I’m so caught up in it that I don’t remember eating it, and now, only the memory of its flavor lingers. Suddenly I’m overcome by sadness.

But not for long.

Mary Ann swoops in and places a bowl before me. “Lori, only you will have this because you love dessert. “Lori loves dessert?” I hear one of my chef-friends mutter. “That’s like, the understatement of the year.” I ignore my friend, he only speaks the truth after all, and dig in. Called “Paradiso,” because it’s what eminent food writer Doreen Fernandez uttered after she tasted it, it’s a bevy of balls – yema, ube, and macapuno lounging in a hot lake of custard. The custard reminds me of yema, molten-like and rich with eggs. Each ball contributes its individual flavor signature to the custard so that every spoonful is singular in its uniqueness. I love it too much and want it for myself … but you’ll be proud of me – I remember to share this dish with the others.


For more information: Bale Dutung website

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