Caldereta & ‘que at Countryside

This eatery is my idea of a hole-in-the-wall, and it’s one of my favorites.

Countryside was one of those restaurants that I’d drive by everyday when I was in college. I never ate there though, I was too busy with Full House and Sally’s (gosh, I miss those places). Plus, my boyfriend at the time once pointed at Countryside and stated, “I’d never take you there.” He never told me why and it’s ironic that the man I ended up marrying once pointed to the same place and said, “I’ll take you there.”

I’ve been told many times that I “… don’t look like the type of person who could eat in places like that.” You’d be surprised. I met my good friend K, at Aysee’s 11 years ago and I knew I had a friend for life when she also asked for a raw egg atop her already-heaving, heart attack plate of sisig. I’m attracted to people with hearty appetites; I think it says a lot, and not just about their eating habits either.

Cheeky wit, Pinoy style.

When I think hole-in-the-wall, I think of a place like Countryside: a roadside eatery with the day’s dishes displayed in aluminum pots. Most often they’ve got a grill going off on the side, its aromatic fog contributing to the fug and fumes perfuming the food. One look at the meat on heat automatically gets my mouth watering.

Barbeque (P28/stick) is what made Countryside. After a failed attempt at a steakhouse in 1970, owner Nerissa Aquino started up a sari-sari store and small canteen offering just two dishes, dinuguan (blood stew) and menudo (diced pork and liver stew).The barbeque came soon after.

Restaurant owners who make their fortune from the glories of the grill have a special formula that keeps the crowds coming. Countryside is no different. Its meat destined for the ‘que is marinated and then basted with an entirely separate sauce that boasts of 16 secret ingredients – some say 12 – apparently, it’s one of those ever-changing codes like those digital passwords that modify every minute. Took a decade to perfect too, I’m told. Whatever it is, it works. The sauce sticks to the meat, brushed on as it is and aided by the magic of charcoal and fire, offering barbeque that yields to bite. A shot of sweet first, then the pucker of pepper and vinegar and then sweet overshadows again. Obviously, it’s impossible to stop at just a single stick.

I’m also a big fan of the binagoongan, yet another viand that rages for rice.

I also like the other stuff on sticks, especially the pork liempo (pig belly); on the menu it’s called inihaw baboy on stick and it’s unique to this eatery. Chopped up liempo pieces all perfectly-sized, are skewered and grilled. It tastes so much like charcoal probably because of the disproportionate amount of fat to meat but it’s wonderful when dipped in my self-made condiment of finger chili, vinegar, and soy sauce. It also goes without saying that Countryside’s selection of grilled innards is exceptional. I cut my lifespan short sating myself with sticks of chicken butt, isaw, and chicken liver. I’m told the chicken barbeque is much recommended but there’s something else I come to Countryside for.

Countryside’s caldereta: not a looker but a real king in flavor

Everyone knows that Countryside’s caldereta is killer, and it isn’t just because regular servings of it will, in fact, send one early to that dessert place in the sky. There was one time I took home several orders of this star dish. As the girl behind the counter used this huge ladle to fill up my equally huge plastic container, she proudly related (in Tagalog) how Countryside used “… real olive oil, pimientos, and green olives. That’s why it’s so good!”

Too good, really. Countryside’s caldereta is so flavorful (malasa), it’s in one’s best interest to eat it with heaps of hot rice because to eat it as is makes the implosion of tastes on tongue almost too much to bear. A marvelous demonstration of the cook’s patience and skill allows unprepossessing ingredients to take flight in a flurry of flavors sitting and simmering, setting then softening. To eat it is to have a moment of some description where tomato sauce reveals its piquant secret of beef seared in olive oil then stroked with liver spread and cheese. Sometimes the meat is tough but never so much that I swear I’ll never come back.

All brown, all beautiful.
Drinking from this 8oz softdrink bottle adds a retro touch to my meal.

Uncanny really, how it’s possible to experience such fits of delicious delight in a restaurant where roaring motorcycles are the soundtrack, smoke is the perfume, and legs stick to seats because of sweat and plastic. But I like it. I should’ve come here in college even if my then-boyfriend was insistent he wouldn’t take me here. No wonder I didn’t marry him.

Countryside Restaurant
228 Katipunan Ave., Blue Ridge, Quezon City
(02) 647 1448.
Open Monday to Sunday, 10am-2:30am.
P100/dish. Barbeques P28 and up.

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