Today I fulfilled that promise by making a culinary pilgrimage to San Fernando, Pampanga. The hour and a half that it took to get there from Manila was time well spent working up an appetite, not that my appetite ever needs working up.
Everybody’s is a typical provincial restaurant: it’s a cafeteria-style set-up, where the food is displayed behind a glass counter. Scan the dishes and hail the first server who happens to be walking by; they’ll take care of your order. There are waiters in white casual barongs who will bring your food to your table and attend to any needs you may have.
The place may strike you as a bit “tired,” it has been around since 1967, after all, although the business itself began in 1946. Get over the restaurant’s faÃ§ade and your initial impressions, and let your taste buds take over.
This is the star at Everybody’s ”“ morcon, or how they spell it, murcon. Traditionally a beef roll, this is made from a guarded family recipe. I’m told by the owner, Pette Jorolan, that it takes six hours to make — a dish that defines the spirit of slow food. The murcon glistens in its drippings, the color of what I imagine the sun would be if it were dipped in honey. Taking a bite, I taste deep meaty flavors echoing with saltiness.
Sisig, beer’s constant companion, originated in Pampanga. But ManileÃ±os have bastardized the sisig, making it a “crunchified” version of what it was intended to be. The photo here is true Capampangan sisig: chunks of pork and pork fat mixed with large slices of onion and whole chili peppers (sili) and given a good dousing of vinegar and crushed black pepper. Soft and slightly sour, with nary a crunch to be heard.
I can appreciate a good exotic meat or two, so I enjoyed this tapang kalabaw, cured carabao (water buffalo) meat. Stringy and quite gamey, it’s an acquired taste. It’s also an interesting mix of sour and sweet because of the fermentation the meat goes through.
Chicharon bulaklak is something that my uncle used to cook for me whenever we used to visit him in Pampanga. Almost 20 years later, its taste still haunts me, and every other chicharon bulaklak I’ve tried since then pales in comparison. The one they serve at Everybody’s comes pretty darn close. For my foreign readers, I won’t translate chicharon bulaklak for fear of turning stomachs with uh, less hardy constitutions.
All that meat needs some kind of respite, preferably in the form of vegetables. This is a pako (pa-KOH) salad, otherwise known as fiddlehead fern. It’s treated as a weed in Manila, but PampangueÃ±os revere it by eating it in a salad with salted eggs, tomato slices, onion rings, and a piquant dressing of (balsamic) vinegar and olive oil.
We had this tsokolate as our palate cleanser of sorts before we kicked into dessert. Fragrant with crushed peanuts and chocolate, this is as old-fashioned as tsokolate can get, complete with froth worked up with a batidor, also called a molinillo.
There’s an old nonsensical rhyme that speaks of the sweet potato’s “sound-inducing” ahem qualities: “The sweet potato is a fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot.” Whatever. I love sweet potatoes, yams, camote, however you call it, and this is one of my favorite ways to enjoy them: cooked in a sugar syrup and laced with melted butter. Mmm.
Leche flan. Enough said.
Main branch: Del Pilar, MacArthur Highway, San Fernando, Pampanga
(045) 860-1121, 961-7121
Branch: 105-106 BPI Arcade, Nepo Mart, Angeles City