Pampanga is about an hour’s fast drive from the capital of Manila. It is a province that is widely acknowledged to possess exceptional cooks, and naturally, outstanding cuisine. The cornerstone of PampangueÃ±o cuisine is its slow cooking methods ”“ no shortcuts. The result: dishes that are highly flavorful and true to themselves. It is food where taste is allowed to come into its own without resorting to packaged mixes and high heat.
Everybody’s Café in Pampanga is an institution in the province. It was opened in San Fernando, Pampanga shortly after the end of World War II. It has grown from a two-table eatery to an expanded dining area that can take in about 300 diners.
I used to visit San Fernando often when growing up because my mom is from there, but oddly, I don’t remember eating in Everybody’s. How ironic then that Everybody’s came to me. To celebrate Filipino Heritage Week, the Hotel InterContinental’s Cafe Jeepney is bringing the renowned restaurant’s cuisine to us “deprived” Manila denizens from May 17-31.
My mom went to school with Pette Jorolan, whose parents are the founders of Everybody’s. It was on Tita (aunt) Pette’s invitation to my mom that we ended up having a delicious lunch of traditional Capampangan fare. It was for me an exposure to a cooking style that clings tenaciously on despite the times of fast food.
It was an offering of select Everybody’s specialties (see photo collage, from upper left corner): murcon, a beef roll made from a guarded family recipe that Tita Pette says takes six hours to make; homemade longanisa, native sausages that are sweet and peppery; and crispy hito (catfish) with mustasa (fresh mustard leaves). I also enjoyed the tapang kalabaw which is carabao (water buffalo) beef, which tastes a lot like wild boar, as well as asadong dila ng baka or braised ox tongue. One new taste experience for me was the pako salad, a salad of fern fronds accompanied with red onions, tomatoes and a sweet vinegary dressing.
I can imagine that the above food descriptions could quite possibly make lesser stomachs turn. One of my mom’s friends who joined us for lunch last Tuesday, Tita Jane, had never encountered many of the foods we ate. But she was a real sport, having a small taste of everything and thoroughly immersing herself in the situation. People like that have my highest admiration. They embrace the experience of food, and if they don’t like it, they leave it at that. But they pay attention to their food, trying to manage all of the various, wild announcements of new tastes. It’s an exercise in the experience of savoring.
During the meal, in between her duties as chef and host, Tita Pette would come over to our table and chat with us for a while. We rhapsodized about slow food, its pleasures and pains, and what deliciousness it brought. Tita Pette made mention of their restaurant’s branch in Angeles City, which is being overrun by fastfood giants like KFC and McDonald’s, which the younger ones prefer. Instead of lamenting the fact, Tita Pette says, “To steer them to us, I see that as my challenge.” What an indomitable spirit. And how blessed I am to partake of food that is even older than myself in tradition and soul.
PampangueÃ±o cuisine has plenty of desserts, most notable of which is the tibok-tibok (tee-BOOK.TEE-book), which is a kind of white pudding made from fresh carabao’s (water buffalo) milk. It is just a tad gelatinous in nature but when you put it into your mouth, it slowly melts, enveloping your mouth with the richness of dairy and a touch of sugar. The other dessert was the pili roll a sticky cake made from the pili nut, which is similar in taste and texture to a cashew.
Main branch: Del Pilar, MacArthur Highway, San Fernando, Pampanga
(045) 860-1121, 961-7121
Branch: 105-106 BPI Arcade, Nepo Mart, Angeles City
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