The Philippines are known for their weird and sometimes admittedly crazy food: balut, anyone? – but the country isn’t exactly known as one of the top foodie destinations when it comes to Southeast Asia travel.
One province can change that reputation, as Pampanga, the culinary heart of the Philippines, offers delicious cuisine.
Located north of Manila, the province has long been known to Filipinos for serving up some of the best food in the country. This is the birthplace of Sisig, home of San Nicolas Cookies and you can even find a halfway decent Lechon although we are far from Cebu.
Centered around the city of Angeles, San Fernando and Mexico (no, not the country), Kapampangan cuisine is delicious and rich in history, stories and flavors. If there's one province in the Philippines that can change the negative opinion that travelers have about Filipino food, it's Pampanga.
Ah, but of course it isPhilippines. And that means, yes, there will always be something on the menu that seems odd and bizarre to a foreigner like me. At the end of the day though, it's the frogs and grilled pig faces that make this culinary destination so exciting, and just one more reason why things are actually more interesting and, as he fondly recalls at the tourist office, more fun in the Philippines!
To inspire your adventure into the culinary heart of the Philippines, here are the best foods to eat in Pampanga.
It is impossible to talk about Pampanga without talking about Sisig. That's because this sizzling grilled pork dish has its origins in this province, and Angeles City is often credited with being the birthplace of a dish that took the Filipino culinary world by storm.
Walk into any pub, bar or restaurant in the Philippines and you'll be greeted by a cloud of smoke and haze as waiters rush to serve hot plates laden with sisig. You get the best (or maybe the worst?) parts of the pig. That's the face, tongue, ears, and any other twisted bits you can get your hands on. Grill, roast and serve very hot with garlic, onions, chili and other ingredients of your choice.
emManila, Sisig is served with an egg, inLegazpi in Bicol, you'll probably find that it's covered in mayonnaise.
Lovers of traditional Kapampangan food will have none of it, and you'll often find it served more simply here and perhaps not even hot.
It's an extremely simple yet potentially creative dish, and you can try the most authentic versions of sisig in all of Pampanga.
I've tried Sisig in a few bars in Angeles. The original version of aling lucing is always said, however the idea of sisig as a cooking technique dates back to Spanish colonial times. My personal favorite was the non-sizzling kind I had at Annie Bea Eatery.
There's only one place in Pampanga for Tokwa't Baboy, and that's Mila's in Angeles City, the restaurant that made this dish famous.
Tokwa't Baboy was launched by Mila at her humble BBQ. It is similar to Sisig in many ways, but also very different. Tokwa't Baboy consists mainly of tofu, pig ears and pork belly. The resemblance really stops with pig ears and pork belly, although like sisig and many other dishes in the Philippines, this is a dish born of Filipino ingenuity and ingenuity as nothing is wasted here.
It's the tofu that makes this dish stand out, along with the vinegar-soy-chili sauce broth that gives it a distinctive Filipino twist. Take out the pork and you might as well have a winning veg, although nobody in the Philippines understands why you wouldn't want the pork!
Kapampan people really do know how to make a good Filipino-style meatloaf, but it has its own name here because it's seen a lot
as a precursor to the more common embedded, see elsewhere.
Morcon is delicious because no one takes meatloaf more seriously than Filipinos, and no Filipino takes food more seriously than a Kapampangan.
Murcón is a delightful dish that takes pork and chorizo and wraps it in great fillings. It's soft, pliable, moist, and delicious, and when done right, it's awash in sauce.
Along with the ground beef, you can add herbs and spices, peppers and peppers, tomatoes and onions, but just as important as the flavor, presentation and preparation, it takes a lot of work to get this dish right.
The best Morcon I had in Pampanga was at Everybody's Cafe in Angeles City.
I'm a big fan of pasta and I got lucky when I was taken to Susie's, a popular Angeles eatery that has been serving up inexpensive, happy and delicious local fare for years.
Here I was introduced to the wonders of Pancit Palabok, a pasta dish that ticks all the boxes for taste and texture for me.
Take a bunch of noodles, add pork, what else in the Philippines? – eggs boiled with garlic and other ingredients and finish with the all-important shrimp sauce.
The shrimp sauce needs to be thick and creamy, then you need to mix the palabok well with the noodles before eating to get an even taste, otherwise it's not worth it.
Who says Filipinos don't eat salads? Well I am guilty of this and I have said exactly that on many occasions. Filipinos don't eat salad. Unless there are ferns involved.
A local and healthy alternative to all that pork is fiddlehead fern salad or ensaladang pako. Ferns grow freely in Pampanga and I was often told that the person preparing dinner would just go into the garden, pick some ferns and make a salad.
The pako is simply harvested and washed and then salted eggs, onions and tomatoes are added to the mixture to make a delicious salad to combat all that meat you'll be eating in Pampanga.
As I said before, there will always be some niche dishes in this article, and one of the more unusual offerings in Pampanga is Wild Frogs.
Known locally as betue tugak, these wild frogs are stuffed and then fried.
This dish also has a unique history that once again demonstrates the ingenuity of Filipinos. Living in the shadow of Mount Pinatubo, the region has often been at the mercy of this highly active volcano. After eruptions, only wild frogs were often left to eat.
You can experience this at a number of restaurants, but as with many local fare, Everybody's Cafe serves excellent stuffed frogs.
Saint Nicholas cookies
Food in Pampanga has a long history behind it, and that's what makes this foodie destination so amazing. Or, if you like history like me. I have already written an article fordark bellywhich encouraged the Spanish colonial practice of using egg whites as an emulsifier in local churches.
What does this have to do with food?
Well, all the leftover gems that weren't needed weren't thrown away. Instead, imaginative Filipino chefs began using them to create egg-yolk-rich desserts like leche flan and the famous San Nicolas cookies.
These rich yolk biscuits are famous in Pampanga and were made even more famous by legendary chef and local historian Atching Lillian, who showed me how to make them at her home and restaurant near Mexico.
They are usually brought out on special occasions and religious festivals, but head to the Atching house and you can purchase them anytime.
Lechon (not Chef Claude's restaurant)
Okay, so lechon can't really be called a classic Kapampangan dish, and I won't say that either. It's a classic Filipino dish and a dish that Anthony Bourdain called the best pork he's ever eaten. Many other islands often thought of as originating from Cebu also claim the Lechon crown, and one could argue for years as to who really has the best Lechon.
The concept is again simple. Take a suckling pig, stuff it with herbs and slowly roast it for hours. It's easy, but it takes time, patience, and an expert knowledge of the spices and herbs needed to flavor it and make the skin crispy enough to crack.
I've eaten a lot of lechon in the Philippines, and some of the best pork I've ever tasted was in Pampanga. But this was no ordinary restaurant, it was Bale Dutung, the renowned restaurant of chef Claude Tayag, the man who introduced many classic Filipino dishes to Anthony Bourdain himself.
The slow-roasted lechon was cooked to perfection, but instead of just being served with a drizzle of vinegar, it became a ten-course tasting menu. There was classic lechon (served with vinegar and liver sauce), non-sizzling grilled pork head sisig, fried lechon in tomato sauce, pulled pork, and even a lechin-based Sinigang soup. It was literally a lechon party and I never thought that so much could be achieved with so little lechon.
Chef Claudio RestaurantLocated in the city of Angeles, it truly is a dining experience like no other in Pampanga.
These are just some of the highlights and Pampanga is a great foodie destination as there is so much more to experience. Across the province, you can feast on sweet and sour carabao meat, devour crickets or snakes, or indulge in the inexhaustible goodness of noodles.
All words and photos by Richard Collett
Are you traveling to the Philippines? Sign up with Air BnB to book your accommodation using this link HERE and get £25 credit towards your first booking!
If you prefer to stay in a hotel, use this link. As an incredible gift for you, Booking.com offers a 10% discount on your hotel reservation!
Filipino Food: The Best Filipino Dishes in the Philippines!The Best Views in Legazpi, Philippines (And Some Things to Eat, Too)Roxas City: The seafood capital of the Philippines
Sisig, also called sizzling sisig or pork sisig is a traditional and much loved Filipino dish. It is the most famous dish associated with Pampanga and has earned Angeles City in Pampanga, the moniker “Sisig Capital of the Philippines.”What is Pampanga famous for? ›
Pampanga holds the title of being the Culinary Capital of the Philippines as they offer some of the best Filipino dishes, but there's more to this Central Luzon province that just good food.What is the famous appetizer in Pampanga? ›
Pork Sisig is a popular appetizer that originated from the culinary capital of the Philippines : Pampanga.What is Masarap in Pampanga? ›
Manyaman is "masarap", is "delicious".What is the best product in Pampanga? ›
Tocino is undoubtedly one of Pampanga's most famous products, having been a mainstay of Filipino breakfast for many years. If you've never heard of tocino, it's a processed pork meat that cooks up sweet and salty, ideal with rice and a sunny side up egg on the side.What is the number 1 dish in the Philippines? ›
1. Adobo. No list of Filipino food would be complete without adobo. A ubiquitous dish in every household in the Philippines, it's Mexican in origin.What is the number 1 Filipino dish? ›
Adobo. The most popular Filipino food and referred to as the unofficial national dish of the Philippines, Adobo is commonly chicken (though pork is a 2nd favourite option) simmered in vinegar, garlic, black peppercorns, soy sauce, and bay leaves.What is delicious Pampanga? ›
“Manyaman!” (Delicious!) “E ku balu.”What food originated in Pampanga? ›
Another reason why Pampanga is the culinary capital of the Philippines is because of the food that originated in the province. These dishes are sisig, tocino, bringhe, and morcon.What is the traditional of Pampanga? ›
Giant Lantern Festival –
20 feet diameter lanterns with thousands of dancing lights are being judge and display every Saturday before Christmas. Duman Festival – this tradition of pounding and winnowing unripe glutinous rice till it turns to a green delicacy called duman with a sweet and delicious small.
Farming and fishing are the two main industries of the province. Major products include rice, corn, sugar cane, and tilapia. In addition to farming and fishing, the province also supports a thriving cottage industries that specializes in wood carving, furniture-making, guitars, and handicrafts.