BULACAN, PHILIPPINES (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Bulacan is a big province known for its rich culture and history. It has 21 municipalities and 569 barangays. Located 11km north of Manila, it is also one of the country’s oldest provinces.
Bulacan was originally founded in 1578, seven years after the defeat of the native Macabebe and Hagonoy clans in the Battle of Bangkusay. Official records say Bulacan was established on March 10, 1917, during the American period.
Bordered by Pampanga to the west, Quezon and Aurora to the east, and Manila and Rizal to the south, Bulacan is a melting pot of Filipino cuisine and culture.
We found this out during a recent trip to the province.
Our first stop was Popular Puto & Cotchinta, owned by Dr Larry Castro. The store, located along MacArthur Highway in Marilao, will celebrate its 70th anniversary this October.
Its famous puto (steamed rice cake) is freshly made daily. Moist and sweetened just slightly, puto is a standard side dish, if not an indispensable partner to a number of Filipino staples such as dinuguan, a savoury stew of pig blood, vinegar and pork offal.
Cotchinta (commonly spelled as kutsinta) is a variant of the puto recipe. Popular Puto & Cotchinta makes its version with rice flour, brown sugar and annatto extract (for the colour).
The delicacy is consumed year-round by Bulakenos. Unlike puto, cotchinta has a more jelly-like consistency.
In the same town, we also discovered Simeona’s Pancit Marilao, owned by three siblings. The quaint restaurant's speciality is a variant of the pancit palabok, Pancit Marilao, which is topped with ground rice instead of pork rind. The rice is then fried in pork oil.
Traditional palabok ingredients are used for the dish, like the thin rice noodles and the thickened shrimp broth coloured with achuete.
However, the Pancit Marilao uses slices of kamias instead of calamansi. The sour kamias gives the dish a zesty new flavour.
Pancit Marilao is surprisingly light, compared with, say, Pancit Malabon. The sauce is not as thick and lends the dish a refreshing quality.
It is topped with okoy, deep-fried baby shrimps mixed with bean sprouts, sweet potatoes, eggs and ground pepper.
In Marilao, the contemporary Filipino pastime, malling, is prevalent.
The much-patronised SM Marilao boasts a wide selection of stores and restaurants.
Its foodcourt is full of home-grown and international food choices.
Kids can play the Kidzoona, while mums and dads can relax in coffee shops such as Starbucks and J.Co Donuts.
Japanese food chain Kitaro also has an outlet in SM Marilao. Worth sampling are its sushi, sashimi and other signature Nippon delights.
Dinner was at Cafe Apolonio in Bustos. The place is a well-preserved bahay-na-bato, built in 1858 and made of old adobe stones.
Officially called the Perez Ancestral House, its facade is built of stone, even the second floor - a unique design aesthetic, especially since most of the houses of that period used wood.
A double-eagle heraldic device or emblem is stamped on the pillars of the structure, proof of the house’s Spanish-colonial roots.
The restaurant is located on the first floor. The interior is colonial in design, dominated by stone arches or doorways which lead to the restaurant, the former cellar of the house.
We feasted on Gambas y Champinon, Seafood Pinakbet, Kare-Kare, Sinigang na Salmon sa Miso and the excellent Lengua Estofado.
Also served was deep-fried hito, accompanied with the Bustos variant of buro, or fermented rice - a definite must-try.
After that hearty meal, we stayed at La Florentina Resort, one of the newest attractions in old Bulacan.
The resort is filled with modern swimming pools, water slides and fountains. Accommodations are top-notch and a restaurant services overnight and transient guests alike.
Norzagaray’s crispy ‘pata’
In faraway Norzagaray, we discovered JL Jamie’s Crispy Pata - a counterpart of Malabon’s fabled Judy Ann Crispy Pata.
JL Jamie’s deep-fried pork belly is one of the best we have tasted. Its Chicharon Bulaklak, or deep-fried pork intestine, is chewy and savoury, but not for the weak of heart.
San Jose Del Monte’s buffet
The next destination was the Korea Gangnam Buffet in SM City San Jose Del Monte. The restaurant, riding high on the K-drama and K-pop craze, offers a buffet spread with traditional kimchi mixed into Filipino food like kare-kare and sinigang.
Guests can dress up like a Korean prince or princess and have their pictures taken while in costume.
Boat riding in Malolos
An interesting side trip is the Tena sa Latian food tour by Lihan Enterprises in Malolos. We went boat riding through fish pens, salt farms and mangrove-lined causeways to the ancient fishing village of Pamawaran.
The tour showed us the traditional way of making salt and catching fish. After the boat ride to Panasahan Fish Port, we were treated to lunch at one of the coastal houses in Isla Pamawaran.
The bounty of the sea was aplenty - freshly boiled crabs and shrimp, sinigang na isda, crawfish, dilis and adobong manok.
The wide windows of the house afforded views of the sea, Bataan and even Roxas Boulevard in Manila.
On our return to Marilao, we dropped by Rosalie’s Pasalubong Center. This is where you can find all the kakanin, cookies, biscuits and other local delicacies.
In recent years, Rosalie’s has become the one-stop shop for pasalubong . Among its specialities are Puto Pao, Green Suman and Bibingka, which is topped with its own coconut milk sauce concoction. Also available are sweet treats like the famed Silvanas from Dumaguete.
After all that food-tripping and sightseeing, we went home with bigger tummies and a head full of great memories.
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