We often look to food as reminders of the comforts of home—no matter how old we are or wherever in the world we may be.
In my case, coming from a Kapampangan household was as comfortable (and fattening!) as it could get. Growing up in Manila, I always found opportunities to take pride in my Kapampangan roots, eager to look for a cabalen (a term meaning ‘fellow Kapampangan’) in a classroom setting, letting people know that Pampanga isn’t as far from Manila as they think, and of course, being a lover of good food.
This last trait, I now realize, takes root in how much my taste buds have been trained every single time I’d visit my lola’s house in our hometown of Candaba, Pampanga. Hearing the words Mangan tamu! (let’s eat!) would open up yet another culinary curiosity for my childhood self’s Manileño tastes, whether or not I was ready to stomach it or not. Sometimes there were seemingly ‘exotic’ dishes on the table that my sisters and I weren't so sure about, but eventually, these would become delicacies we would often crave and request for every time we’re back in Manila.
Through several home visits, food trips, and countless town fiestas I’ve attended, here's my list of uniquely Kapampangan dishes you need to try at least once.
My love for Kapampangan food can most evidently be traced to my absolute love for sisig—and by absolute, I mean that it’s my go-to dish in any restaurant that serves it (complete with my handy-dandy Knorr Seasoning bottle). A dish with pig ears, pig cheeks, and a little bit of liver may seem like an odd thing to crave, but it isn’t one of the country’s most beloved dishes for nothing.
This sizzling dish was popularized by Lucia “Aling Lucing” Cunanan of Angeles City, and has since found nationwide popularity, garnering various arguably ‘bastardized’ versions of the recipe all around the Philippines. Whether you try the original recipe at Aling Lucing’s Sisig (which probably started my love for it in the first place) or eat it as pulutan in literally any inuman restaurant, this is a staple dish you can’t help but enjoy. Bring on the toyo, calamansi, and sili!
You’ve probably tried the Pampanga’s Best brand of tocino, but have you ever heard of Pindang Babi? Yet another dish I would be happy to eat at any given time, Pindang Babi (which can only found in the Town of Candaba) consists of fermented pork which brings the perfect balance of sweet and sour flavors. The dish is best served with copious amounts of rice, some tomatoes, and a little bit of suka and patis as your sawsawan. There are also several versions you can find of the dish, such as Pindang Damulag (using carabao meat instead of pork) and the typical tocino, but this is hands down one of the hidden gems of Kapampangan food you must try.
Frogs, you say?! Imagine my shock, being told that I had no choice but to eat these amphibians as there weren’t any other options on the dining table. Strange as it may seem, this delicacy—which comprises minced meat stuffed into deep-fried edible frogs—actually tastes pretty normal. Come to think of it, it’s actually reminiscent of chicken. So the next time you’re bored of eating “just” fried chicken, why not take your Zoology skills to the next level and try some tugak?
If you thought frogs were an exotic thing to eat, then you’re in for another surprise with Adobong Camaro: a dish that has deep-fried mole crickets as its main ingredient. The thought of eating insects may only be for the brave of heart (and trust me, I’ve only managed to do it only a handful of times), but this delicacy, cooked adobo style with soy sauce, salt, vinegar, and often with tomatoes and onions as well, is an experience that is worth a shot.
Move over, paella, ‘cause you’ve got competition. Growing up, I would see bilaos during fiestas and pretty much every big Kapampangan occasion; I'd peek into the circular containers and see it filled to the brim with a yellow-green paella-like rice topped with various ingredients. This, I would later find out, is called Bringhe, a savory dish that blends together glutinous rice in coconut milk and turmeric (luyang dilaw, in the vernacular), topped with ingredients such as chicken, chorizo, boiled egg, carrots, potatoes, peanuts, and many others. A fun fact surrounding this dish is that everyone almost always fights for the tostado part of the rice, as it delivers even more texture and an interesting flavor.
Another dish close to my heart (and my stomach, obviously) is the Burong Dalag, a fermented mudfish mixed with cooked rice, salt and angkak (fermented red yeast rice). This is a dish especially celebrated in my family due to the fact that my great grandmother is said to be one of the most popular makers of the delicacy in our town. In most cases, the dish is usually mixed with a little bit of patis and served together with Inihaw na Dalag or Fried Tilapia, and various types of nilagang gulay (such as mustasa, ampalaya and talong), and lots and lots of rice on the side. A common way of eating these is wrapping the fish and buro together inside the mustasa, burrito style. This may be an acquired taste due to its sour flavor, but it’s one that you’ll come back to again and again once you start to love it.
Taba ng Talangka
If there's one last Kapampangan delicacy that reminds me of home, it's Taba ng Talangka. This orange paste, considered to be a Filipino version of caviar, is made out of talangka (shore/river crab roe), and is best enjoyed with a serving of steaming rice and a splash of calamansi. Usually found packed in bottles, one of the most popular variants in the commercial market is by Navarro's, who have been producing the product since the '70s. While this is also utilized as an ingredient for some pasta dishes, taba ng talangka rice best justifies the expression "kanin pa lang, ulam na!"
The province of Pampanga isn't called the Culinary Capital of the Philippines for nothing. These dishes and delicacies are only a few that represent the many mouthwatering food choices one must try from my beloved province. I may not always be in the area, but the presence of familiar food on the table, fortunately, will always remind me of home.
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