Tuesday, March 29, 2011

ABE'S FARM / MARCH 26,2011 =)

With our recent road trip to Pampanga leaving us wanting for more, Hubby Sweet decided to use his one weekend off to go back. There were so many other places on the list that we have not yet gone to, but this particular weekend, he decided to reserve for Abe's Farm. Our original roadtrip for two eventually expanded to include Father, Sister Pusjing, Bro-in-Law G-Genius and Patita. Mother was feeling under the weather and decided to stay home in House Better. Bro I-gue and fam had somewhere else to go to. We also invited Panet (Eduardo's Executive Chef ;D), but she sadly had to go to work. Oh, well. Next time.

Abe's Farm is part of the LJC Group of Restaurants, and I suppose, among all the restaurants under its wing (Cafe Havana, Cafe Adriatico, Cafe Remedios, Fely J, Lorenzo's Way, Larry's Bar, etc.), the Farm is the showcase for everything that is important to its founder. First, it is quite a drive from Manila (take the NLEX, exit in Angeles. At the rotonda, choose the node that will take you down Magalang Ave., go straight until you hit Petron, turn left, then turn right on the first block, go straight until you hit an Munisipyo / Agricultural school, then just go down the offroad until you see the sign). It's pretty easy to find (much easier than Everybody's Cafe, haha), but it is far. Have you ever travelled with a kid in tow? Never mind that Patita is actually an adult in the body of a 7-year-old. The entire trip, we had to keep her entertained because as soon as she had time to think, the inevitable comes up: "Are we there yet?", followed by permutations of "How much farther?" and "How much longer?" Hahaha. =) The fact that the trip was worth it, however, can be seen in the way Patita lit up as soon as the farm gates were opened to let us in.

Now, be warned that the food at Abe's Farm is exactly the same as the one they serve in the Serendra outlet and in some of the other LJC restaurants. I put that up front so that you can manage your expectations (and in case you're the type who would go, "I travelled this far for food I can actually order in Manila?!"). That said, LJC food is good in any of its Manila branches, but it is much better enjoyed in the sanctuary that is Abe's Farm. (Same taste, different ambience, haha.) For this trip, we enjoyed the usual suspects, and then some. =)

Chicharon Bulaklak. No trip to any LJC restaurant is complete without it. There was a debate as to whether we should order only one (health advocates) or two (realists, haha). We decided on two, taking into consideration that we had both Hubby Sweet and G-Genius present at the table. Good call! The pic below is only half a serving. It was half-finished by the time I managed to get a pic. Like I said, two servings, good call! Haha. =)

Pako (Fern) Salad. Now the LJC group is not particularly known for this type of salad, but truth be told, I've always been intrigued by it ever since I read an article about how Patis Tesoro's guests would automatically look for it everytime they visited Kusina Salud. I therefore welcomed the opportunity to finally satisfy my curiosity. I figured, net of the dressing, what I really wanted to check out was how a fern would taste like. I tried. OK lang. I did not particularly like it. Haha. It was a bit "slimy" and I generally don't like slimy food (think okra and some types of seaweeds). Thought balloon: hala, curiosity killed the cat. Haha. =D

Kamaru. We rounded up the appetizers with this Pampanga delicacy (which, I think, is not served in any of the Manila restaurants.) Father and Hubby Sweet immediately dug in. G-Genius and Sister Pusjing decided to take a moment to collect their bearings before trying it. Patita was adamant. No. Haha. =D Still, the crickets at Abe's Farm looked less Fear-Factor worthy than those we tried at Everybody's Cafe. They were smaller, less plump and roasted much drier, plus the "adobo seasoning" at Abe's was much stronger compared to EC's sauteed version so the natural woody taste was a bit more masked and subdued.

Binukadkad na Plapla. We moved on to the main course with this. The men raved about the mustasa and balaw-balaw that was served with it, rolling the fermented rice in the mustard leaves and popping them into their mouths in quick succession. Sister Pusjing and I gladly gave up our "share" as we did not see the point in eating (even trying!) fermented rice. =D

Gising-gising. We enjoyed our fried fish instead with this recipe of chopped up Baguio beans (or was it kangkong) with coco cream and--I'm fairly sure--a dash of bagoong and siling haba. I happen to think that gising-gising is eaten best with grilled meat, but we decided to stay away from dishes we can cook at home. Once the mustasa and balaw-balaw were wiped out, the men moved on to help us with this one. =)

Tidtad. The other native Pampanga dish ordered from the menu. It is a drier version of dinuguan. Love. Enough said. =)

Lamb Adobo. Rounding up the main dishes is another LJC specialty which G-Genius insisted on ordering. I do remember devouring Adobong Kambing in Cafe Havana with BFFs Cheffy and Mrs. Smith during The Wander Years, and actually looked forward to giving this dish a go. I loved, but I still think I like the Adobong Kambing version better. (Then again, the darn adobong kambing did not have to compete with other great dishes on the same table, haha.)

We also ordered Bicol Express but were unpleasantly surprised to find out that it was a Vegetarian version. Gulay only. No meat. Ngyar. =S

Cups of coffee and tea, served with shared dessert plates of Buko-Pandan, Sticky Rice with Mangoes and Banana-Ube Halaya Turon capped our lunch off. (Forgot to take pics, sorry. =))Busog to the max, we each wanted to sequester some of the daybeds that were made available for the guests in some of the sections of the house. Patita, unfortunately, beat us to the one nearest our table. Nancy Drew in hand, she seemed content with reading the afternoon away.

The adults decided to walk what felt like a ton of food settling in our stomachs. Roaming around, it no longer surprised me to find Hubby Sweet clowning around with the staff. Seeing them clown around with him made me realize that Abe's Farm is less of a restaurant than it is a house that we have been "allowed" to visit. =)

Beyond the menu, what made the trip worthwhile is the place itself. This was the view of the grounds from the dining area.

After lunch, guests can choose to laze around and read....

Or play pool.......

Or just explore the the grounds.......

...to eventually find your own sweet spot where you can choose to sleep an entire afternoon away. Nurture Spa actually operates within the farm, but we ran out of time. Next time, maybe. =)

My favorite activity in places like these? Walk around and take as much of it in. Oh, and yes. Dream. Dream that somehow, someday, I am going to spend my retirement years in a place just like it. Yey. =D

Abe's Farm sits at the foot of Mt. Arayat. For inquiries and reservations, call (045) 8651930 or visit their website for more details. =)

Friday, March 25, 2011


Yey! Search over.

When we first had Buster, he automatically gravitated towards the three gigantic floor pillows that Sister Pusjing and Bro-in-law G-Genius gave me as either a Christmas gift or as a "housewarming gift" (a misnomer really as I never really had House Pioneer blessed). And so it goes that when we first got Barrioca, he also decided he wanted a piece of the pillows. I figured, no prob. There were three.

What I did not count on was the Alpha-Dog-This-Is-My-Territory-You-Nincompoop struggle between the two (being of almost the same age). One evening, when Buster was (I suppose) particularly pissed at Barrioca, he ran and literally pissed on Barrioca's pillow. Of course he got a good "talking-to" from me and he looked properly apologetic.

There were two pillows left. I thought, still no problem.

And then, the following day, when Barrioca was (I suppose) particularly pissed at Buster, he ran and literally pissed on Buster's pillow! Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy......Gr. He, of course, got the same "talking-to" and he, too, looked properly apologetic.

One pillow left. Big problem. I did not want to buy additional floor pillows because, well, I was convinced that they would all just go the way of the two I had to throw.

And so it goes that after Barrioca went on to pet heaven, I took out the one pillow left. After all, there was only Buster again.

And then (!), Banzo came along.

Anticipating Banzo's size when he becomes a full-grown adult, we made sure that while he was still no bigger than a tennis ball, he KNEW who the Alpha-dog in the family was. (It's actually funny to see Banzo now. He can, technically, whip Buster's ass given his size and strength, and yet, he is literally scared when Buster starts barking at him. Big baby. Haha. =))

In any case, the single pillow did not seem to be an issue. When Banzo was small, Buster didn't mind sharing it with him. When he started growing, Banzo would, nonetheless, step aside everytime Buster approached it. So I really don't know what came over Buster one day when (I suppose), in one fit of major insecurity (he's not stupid; he knows Banzo is a lot bigger and taller), he pissed on his own pillow (!) just to officially mark it as his territory. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyy....Gr.

Thing is, they've been used to sleeping on floor pillows and not on hard wood floors. And so, it was just a matter of time when they started jumping onto our bed when it's time to sleep! I don't care what you say. A queen-sized bed would never be big enough for me, my giant of a husband, one mini-schnauzer and one Siberian Husky.

And so the search was on. I, unfortunately, couldn't find floor pillows as big as the ones I had to throw (Regalong Pambahay has since phased them out), so I just bought the biggest ones I could find. Buster would fit, and I figured Banzo wouldn't mind just resting a part of himself onto the pillow. Major fail! Buster, of course, took the opportunity to prance around hopping from one pillow to the other, showing Banzo (I suppose) that he was the true master and that he has two beds. Hala! Without a proper bed, Banzo continued to climb up--and while Buster would start the night in his floor pillows, soon enough, he'd be joining the midnight crush on the bed too.

So it was a eureka moment when in the S&R sale last week, I discovered the Kirkland Pet Bed. Definitely big enough with room to spare (because Banzo tosses and turns when he sleeps--in other words, magulo siya matulog!) Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeyyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!!! Yahoooooooooooooooo!!! I bought. I brought it home. The Hubby got excited, and decided to lay it on Banzo's favorite spot. Success! Bliss! Two floor pillows for Buster. One pet bed for Banzo. For the first time in quite a while, we had the bed to ourselves.

And then! Haaaaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyy....while Banzo was still busy wreaking havoc in the living room, I walked into the bedroom the other night to find this.

"Mommy," he seemed to be saying with his accusing stare, "I don't care if I'm kasya in the floor pillows. I don't care if there are two. I don't want them anymore. Banzo can have them. I want this pet bed! HMP! "

Haaaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyy.....@_@ Sometimes, I wonder if I would have an easier time raising kids. Then again, likely not. Haha....hay...=D

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Tummies full, Hubby Sweet and I decided to head out again, this time to Angeles where all the other stops seemed to be. We had a single objective: Aling Lucing's, the birthplace of the most revered of Filipino beer chow. If we could, we'd have lunch there. (The magazine article specified that it only opens 5:00 p.m. onwards.) It was only 10:45 on our watch. Would we really want to wait for dusk just to try it and brave the horrendous EDSA rush hour traffic once we enter Manila? We decided to just "cross the bridge" when we get there (all pun intended). For now, it would be good to just head on back to the NLEX.

Midway, we decided we were still too full to go straight to lunch so we decided to check out the Duty-Free shops in Clark. Instead of exiting in Angeles, we decided to exit in Dau instead. Three salescons and several ocular trips have taught me that, from the Dau exit, the Clark Airbase Main Gate is just a stoplight and a left turn away (allowing us to also skip the Angeles town proper traffic).

Now it must be said that whereas 10 years ago, one could spend an entire day skipping from one duty-free shop to the next, only Puregold seems to be thriving inside Clark these days. All the others have been boarded up, and even the selection in Puregold is a fraction of what it used to be. I suppose with all the "PX Goods" now being readily available in any Metro Manila supermarket (yes, kids, there was a time we had to travel far for a pack of Pringles and Chips Ahoy =)), the only advantage of duty-free shopping is its price. (For reference, a can of Spam is only P84.00 in Clark against the P100+ in Robinson's Pioneer). In any case, since we know how crazy duty-free shopping could be, I set a $100 limit for this particular trip. Once we go over, we have to start putting stuff back. (We must be prudent in anticipation of the House Mahogany turnover.)

Still, our big discovery on this trip wouldn't be the imported goods inside, but the adorable puppies being sold on a shopping cart outside the Puregold entrance. Hubby Sweet automatically gravitated toward the pups; I stayed a good distance (thus, no pictures). I knew it would be heart-wrenching to see the puppies and choose not to bring any of them home. Heck, it would've been heart-wrenching to bring home only one instead of all of them! When Hubby Sweet walked back, he quite expectedly, was begging to bring home a pup.

"They're a cross between a collie and a malamute. Bred and born in Baguio. Blue ang eyes. No papers nga lang, but P1,000.00 lang, Tweet. P1,000.00 lang! Banzo would have a proper playmate," he declared smugly.

I looked at him and momentarily thought, "Well, birthday naman niya....", but got hold of myself just in time.

"We could save one more puppy, Tweet!" he exclaimed, knowing exactly which heartstrings to pull.

"We've saved enough puppies for now," I said, walking away, mustering all the willpower that I had, lest I rush over to the Ale to buy an entire shopping cart full of Collie-Malamute mix-bred pups. Hay! =S Still, I tagged the place in my mind for the next time we get crazy enough to add another pup to our, uh, growing family. =)

We walked down each aisle quite leisurely as we saw it as a good way to let our heavy San Fernando breakfast go down. $105.00 later, we walked out with several bags filled with mostly hard-to-find Asian condiments and a few other stuff we would be hard-pressed to find in Manila. Everything else that we could buy in Robinson's Pioneer, we decided to leave behind. It was time to head out to the "railroad", the only landmark reference for our sisig quest.

Quite expectedly, as we drove out of the Clark Main Gate and asked for directions to Aling Lucing, we got a "derecho lang hanggang lampas ng tulay, tapos dun sa kalyeng pwede kang kumanan o kumaliwa (which we interpreted to be the first big intersection after the bridge =)), kumaliwa kayo. Malapit sa riles." Easy enough. Yes...=)

We arrived at Aling Lucing's to find no customers and only the "boy" mopping the floors. Uh-oh...not a good sign. Maybe they do really open only at 5:00 p.m.

"Kuya!!! Bukas ba kayo?" I called out through a rolled-down window. We had a back-up plan to go for any other Pampanga sisig, but we were hoping that we would get to try the one sisig that really mattered.

"Opo," he nodded. Yey!

Apparently, Aling Lucing is usually open for lunch, but primarily only for the "turo-turo / binalot" dishes that were laid out in several chafing dishes.

"Sisig, Kuya," I haltingly asked, "Meron?"

"Meron pa," he grinned. Yey!

That said, we ordered sisig, 2 cups of rice and a bottle of regular Coke and a bottle of Royal. (Kuya looked at me weirdly when I asked for Coke Light. Haha.)

When he laid down the sizzling plate, we got too excited and automatically dug in. It was only when we were halfway through that I realized I forgot to take a pic. Ay! =D (Must take pic from a different angle then, haha. =))

In No Reservations: Philippines, Anthony Bourdain declared, "For me, the Come-to-Mama-Moment of my trip so far is that most-loved of Filipino street foods, the strangely addictive, sizzling-hot melange of hacked-up pork face--a crispy, chewy, spicy, savory and all-together damn wonderful melange of textures that just sings. Everything I like on a smoking-hot sizzle platter. Oh, sweet symphony of pig parts. Oh, yes! The fierce love, the misty-eyed reminisces of Filipinos in the U.S. looking back on the food of their country, Sisig always comes up first and most emotionally, and I completely understand why...This is magical stuff. It's genius....This is just awesome. One more."

What a wonderful way to describe the experience that is Aling Lucing's Sisig. How particularly apt too . Even more impressive when you think that the late Aling Lucing did not really have any formal culinary training and only invented the dish from all the "free pig heads and excess onions" that used to be given away regularly at the nearby Clark Airbase. And yet with her one practical "invention", she has changed the way Filipinos eat and drink--not just in Pampanga, but practically everywhere else in the archipelago.

One serving wasn't enough for Anthony Bourdain. Neither was it for us. We had to order one more. =D Midway through the second, we decided to bring another serving home for dinner. Sadly, they had run out.

"Ubos na po eh," Kuya apologized, "Pag hapon po kase siya niluluto."

A father and daughter (who also looked like they were also from Manila) then arrived, looking to order sisig. The look of disappointment on their faces upon being told that the sisig had run out was directly proportional to the realization of just how lucky we were. We wanted one more, but there was no more. Oh, well. We'd be back again next time. Definitely. =)

Next on the agenda was a trip to Nepo Mart where all the landmark shops for native candies and kakanin seemed to be located. Susie's Cuisine for native kakanin; Rosie's Candy for supposedly really good pastillas. We decided to go there first before proceeding to the other food destination on our list, Armando's Pizzeria, where we had earlier decided to take our afternoon merienda.

We had to contend with traffic going to Nepo Mart, but it was something to be expected along provincial roads that lead to the palengkes. The palengkes are to the provincial folks as the malls are to Manilenos (never mind that Pampanga is more progressive than most provinces). The chaos brought about not just by cars, but also by people walking to and fro made it difficult for us to find our destination. In fact, we had almost passed Susie's Cuisine before Hubby Sweet spotted it from his peripheral vision.

The steady stream of people coming in and out of Susie's seemed to validate the article's declaration that it was the go-to place for native kakanin. Hubby Sweet and I walked in to find the dining area with only a few empty seats left. Taking our cue from the people who walked in before us, we headed straight to the counter to check out the goods and place our orders.

We decided to take a sampler of the kakanins that intrigued us among the seeming million-and-one varieties (I exaggerate, of course) that were laid out for people to choose from.

Being a Cassava Cake Monster, Hubby Sweet just had to ask for a slice. It was good, but we both agreed that we have tasted better cassava cake elsewhere. We liked our cassava cake a bit more sinful. We wanted it a tad more chewy, with a topping so buttery, one's lips would glisten with it.

If the Hubby had cassava cake as a must-try, I had Bibingkang Kanin as mine. See, the dish always evoked holiday memories as it is part of the usual Christmas spread at Eduardo's (our ancestral home). I suppose it is convenient to have an entire bilao ready to be served as friends and family arrive for the usual Christmas visit. That said, I take my bibingkang kanin seriously, and the one at Susie's--while good--cannot hold a candle to the one we usually devour over the holidays. I prefer my bibingkang kanin much softer, and the latik topping much thicker (and consequently more indulgent =)) than Susie's version. Susie's version looked good though. =)

Next on the list of our must-try was the Mochi. We ordered it because I've heard so much about it at the office. Everytime there is scheduled trade visit to Pampanga, someone inevitably requests for mochi as pasalubong. I do remember tasting a portion once and liking it. (I only tasted a portion because it was a limited edition pasalubong and would therefore have to be rationed. =)) Mochi is sweet coconut (not quite bukayo but almost) and red beans wrapped in glutinous rice. Each is served topped with a generous serving of coco cream. Think deconstructed Ginataang Bilo-bilo, but simpler. It is pure love (if you choose to ignore the fact that too much of it would also lead to major love handles). =)

Our primary objective for the visit to Susie's Cuisine, however, was Tibok-Tibok, a type of kakanin so named because it supposedly jiggles like a beating heart when it is transported. The article sang praises to it and confidently declared that no other version comes close to Susie's.

I admittedly had low expectations as I thought it would only be akin to...uh...maja blanca (which I am not particularly fond of). A single forkful, however, was enough to turn me into a convert. It was the farthest thing from maja blanca. It was milky in taste, silky in texture. Think panna cotta, but lighter, with a distinctly Filipino taste. I would soon find out that the distinct taste comes from carabao's milk, laced with dayap. The dried coconut sprinkles broke through the creaminess and was particularly helpful in lessening the dish' potential for being cloying. Hubby Sweet and I wanted to bring some back to Manila for the usual Sunday get-together at Eduardo's, but were told that it does not really keep too long even when it is refrigerated. We decided to bring home Mochi instead.

We walked around Nepo Mart after Susie's, and quickly realized that it would take a lot to burn everything we've eaten so far that day. We decided to put off everything else on our list for another trip. We checked the time. A little past 4:00 p.m. Right enough to get back to Manila before the major rush hour traffic hits.

Everything else would have to wait until the next trip, Pampanga. Don't you worry. We'll be back soon. =)

Monday, March 7, 2011


With "plated food" coming out of the Hubby's ears, his birthday celebration had to be somewhere other than any Metro Manila restaurant. Whereas our past food adventures were about trying the latest Chinese, Vietnamese, Mediterranean, Persian, etc., etc. restaurant in the metro, Hubby Sweet was, this time, craving for something simpler. Something more basic. Something closer to the roots.

Inspiration came in the form of a complimentary copy of Food Magazine that was lying around in House Pioneer. A road trip! A food trip! Yessssssssssss. =D We haven't gone on one in ages (largely due to the vast difference in our scheds), and it seemed like the perfect time to go on. VL's were filed (it was the only way, really, we could sync our schedules these days). With nothing but a magazine on hand, we set off early Friday a.m.

Driving down the NLEX was a breeze (if a bit expensive). We were adamant about getting to Pampanga in time for breakfast, but a series of road signs leading to the Barasoain Church proved intriguing. Hubby Sweet decided it was just right for him to visit a church on his birthday, and he supposed the Barasoain Church would be as good as any other church. To cut a long story short, we got lost. A few stops, a few turns and a few u-turns (on a very wide highway!) later, we found ourselves on a very narrow street (like a barangay road, really) which was supposed to lead us to the historic church.

"Goodness," I thought, "Traffic must have been horrendous here when Erap decided to take his oath as the President of the Republic."

We arrived to find several busloads of high school students on a field trip. I suppose it's par for the course since the church was the site of the Malolos Constitution (that of the first Philippine Republic). As with most teenagers, however, the significance of the church was lost on them, as they seemed keen only on taking group photos beside the massive church doors in "Japan-Japan" poses. Haha.

In any case, the Hubby and I were there for a different matter entirely so we proceeded inside. Having said our prayers, we did proceed to walk around. There is something about old churches and old buildings that fascinate me. It always makes me wonder about how it was to live in a different (albeit, not necessarily better) time. More gentle, I suppose, yes, but also more restricted. I don't think I would have survived.

Before deciding to go, we also took pictures of the structures as pegs for the time when Hubby Sweet finally gets around to restoring the house he grew up in in Marinduque.

Now, if we got lost trying to get to Barasoain, we got even more lost trying to get back to the NLEX! Naku! Apparently, unlike the SLEX were the entry/exit points are matched on opposite sides of the road, that for the north version is slightly more complex. After a few starts and stops for directions (some correct, some not), we finally found ourselves crossing the bridge that would get us back on track. (Apparently, bridges are big as far as landmarks go as all the directions we received on this trip were in permutations of "bago mag-tulay", "pagkatapos ng tulay", "sa ilalim ng tulay", etc., etc. =))

We had earlier decided to eat breakfast in Everybody's Cafe. It was the home of authentic Pampanga cuisine, the article declared, listing two branches: one along McArthur Highway in San Fernando, the other in Nepo Mart in Angeles. I suggested that we go straight to Angeles since all other "stops" seemed to be close to the area, but Hubby was adamant about going for the original place in San Fernando.

Thus, "Along McArthur Highway" was all we had to go with. We both thought that would be simple enough, until we realized we have passed all the buildings and were already traversing on a wide highway with open fields on either side. Hubby Sweet decided to stop at a nearby precinct and asked Mamang Pulis for directions. True enough, we overshot in a major way and they advised us to drive back to town and ask for directions. A few stops and starts and a "wag kayong aakyat ng tulay, sa ilalim kayo dumaan, kanan tapos sa rotonda kaliwa" later, we found ourselves in front of an old house that looked like the 70's version of Boots Anson Roa would choose to live in. (OK, I apparently watched too many Tagalog afternoon movies as a kid. ;p) It was 9:30 a.m.--way past our normal breakfast hours, but we, at least, have finally arrived.

The people at Everybody's Cafe are the nicest people in the world. They had none of the airs about things being a certain way because that's how it's done. Surveying the turo-turo line-up, we asked how big the servings are, and were told that they were good enough for two. Yikes! =S We explained to the good Ate that we were actually on a road trip, showed her the mag, and really wanted to try as much of their cuisine as we could. Being only two, it would be virtually impossible for us to do so if we got the regular serving sizes. Her face lit up at our story, and smiling, she said, "Sige, pwede siguro small size na lang. Para lahat ma-try niyo." Yey! ^_^ And so it goes that we had these authentic Pampangueno dishes for breakfast.

Tapang Damulag. Sweet-sour cured carabao meat. Every restaurant in Pampanga probably has their own version, but the one in Everybody's Cafe is wonderfully balanced. Not too sweet. Not too sour. Not too gamey. Perfect! =) We also ordered homemade longganisa, but I forgot to take a picture. Caramelized perfectly, that one is also a must-try!

Kilain. Pampanga's version of adobo, but without the soy sauce--made with pork cube, liver and lungs. I also wanted to try the adobong dumara (wild duck), but the duck was too big and I realized we wouldn't have enough space for it. Next time. Next time. =)

Dinuguan. It was the Pampanga version with the blood coagulated as opposed to being added as part of the soup. We really should have skipped it because it tasted too close to the Kilain (save for the interesting flavor bouquet that Hubby Sweet said came from the innards), but the Hubby is a dinuguan monster. Oh, well. For the record, it was good, but it shouldn't be ordered in the same meal as the Kilain. =)

Mechado. This one was recommended by Ate, supposedly because it was one of their specialties. We decided to try it because, unlike the Mechado we grew up with, this one did not have any tomato sauce nor did we see any beef cubes. We thought it might be closer to Morcon, but wondered about why it was wrapped in I-forgot-what-it's-called which is usually used for wrapping embotido or longganisa. When it was served, we discovered why. It is so because it is a form of embotido, but saltier, more flavorful.

Now what kind of foodies would we be if we went all the way to San Fernando to try authentic Pampangueno cuisine and didn't order these? =D

Betuteh. Stuffed Frog. Yes. It's breakfast, Fear Factor edition. Still, I do remember being forced to try deep-fried frog's legs when I was a kid because one of my aunts (who married a blood-tito) was Pampanguena. I do remember thinking it wasn't half-bad--that with eyes closed, one can actually fool herself into thinking she's only eating a chicken wing. But stuffed frog, I haven't tried. Especially since it was stuffed to look like a whole frog and goodness knows what they stuffed it with.

Ah, heck! Hubby Sweet just ripped the frog open and dug in. I watched him, waiting for him to lurch, but his eyes lit up.

"Masarap," he declared, nodding, "Not necessarily something I would choose to eat for breakfast on a regular basis, but it's not bad."

The frog was apparently stuffed with ground pork, tomatoes and aragao leaves. I dug in. Not bad really, not bad at all. Think relleno--except that this one's made with field frogs. Ngyah. =)

Oh, but my prior experience with frog's legs as a kid prepared me for the betuteh, but this...this (!), I have previously sworn I will never eat--EVER (!)--in my life. What kind of person would choose to eat an insect?! Then again, we went all the way to San Fernando, so I might as well try the other fear-factor breakfast option. Wah. =S

Kamaru. Mole-crickets, now harvested from the rice fields of Nueva Ecija (I suppose because the rice fields of Pampanga have since given way to development). Manong explained that they are actually sold in the palengkes, but those would still have the wings and limbs intact. To prepare the kamaru, the wings and limbs are taken off, then what is left is sauteed in tomatoes and onions then cooked/roasted until they are almost dry. Now, this, I really almost passed up on. I mean, really! Look at it. (OK, if you're squeamish, don't.) Still, I got it through my thick head that we drove all the way to San Fernando for an authentic experience and this (this!) is part of it.

Eyes closed, I picked one up and was half-tempted to just swallow it without chewing so I can finally lay claim to eating one without actually experiencing the grossness that has already been built in my mind. That said, my mind refused to let me cheat. My neurons probably sent some signal to my mouth because despite all my intentions, as soon as I popped one in, I automatically, almost involuntarily....chewed. @_@ It's not bad really. Actually good if you try real hard to think that you're not eating an insect. It's part-crunchy, part-chewy with a slightly woody taste (mole crickets feed on rice roots). It's like a mini-chicharon bulaklak, except higher in protein and lower in cholesterol. That said, would I eat it again? Uh, no. OK na ang one time. Haha! =D

While leisurely eating what remained of our breakfast spread, we decided to go somewhere else for dessert. There was a list of places we could go to, but they were all in Angeles, and really, we needed something closer to cap off our authentic Pampanguena breakfast. We tried calling some of the few ensaimada places in San Fernando, but a lot of them apparently listed phone details for their Manila branches and the Hubby Sweet thought it too much of a hassle to get directions to the San Fernando outlets.

Which is why we ended up at Razon's. Yey! =) We passed by it on one of the intersections along McArthur Highway while we were going around in circles trying to find Everybody's Cafe. While a kiosk now exists in Market, Market, I figured eating Razon's Halo-halo in Pampanga still counts as an authentic experience. =)

Razon's Halo-halo is relatively simple. No ice cream, no pinipig, no halaya, no beans, no langka. Just ultra-fine shaved ice, ultra-creamy leche flan, ultra-smooth macapuno and ultra-soft sweet bananas. Which is why, once you've mixed it up, every spoonful gives you a wonderfully-blended creamy dessert with an almost silky texture. None of the watery feel of coarsely-crushed ice, no need to bite on any of the ingredients. I also don't know if I'm just imagining things, but the Razon's in Pampanga tasted way better than the one I sometimes buy in Market, Market. =)

Over halo-halo, we did a quick run-through of the magazine article. With most of them talking about ensaimadas and native kakanin, we decided to just leave the rest of the San Fernando destinations for another visit. It was time to drive out again.