Laguna food is more than Buko pie or Espasol. That was something I learned while eating my way through Pagsanjan.
I now understand why our National Hero, Jose Rizal, turned out to be a gourmand. Hailing from the southern province of Laguna, he was surrounded by myriad varieties of Spanish, Chinese, and Filipino dishes.
Rizal was known to cook whether he was living in Europe, Hong Kong, or Zamboanga. He would receive Filipino ingredients through mail sent by his family back home.
Reading Noli Me Tangere is like reading a cookbook. It's full of food and cooking references.
When someone says Laguna, I immediately think of comfort food. Buko pie, bibingka, espasol, palitaw, and puto puti are delicacies that are popular pasalubong to bring home after a trip to Laguna.
Living in Cebu for the past decade, one of my favorite restaurants is Cafe Laguna. Whenever I miss Tagalog flavors and cooking, this is my go-to food place. They offer many Laguna homegrown food here. Cafe Laguna reminds me of the Tagalog way of preparing and cooking food. But while eating, I still long for that authentic taste that can only be gotten when you are actually there.
A month ago, I was able to savor first-hand the real flavors of Laguna. I went on a short trip to Pagsanjan which is 92 kilometers away from Manila. Traveling to this town means both scenic and historical views along the way.
Pagsanjan is known for its celebration of the Bangkero Festival every March. It used to be the capital of Laguna from 1688 to 1858. One tourist spot that you have to see is the stone arch which was built in the latter part of the 19th-century. It survived three wars --- Philippine-Spanish, Philippine-American, and World War II.
Only a few bahay na bato at kahoy (stone and wooden houses) survived World War II. Pagsanjan even though there were less than twenty Japanese soldiers stationed here, the town was heavily bombed by the liberating Americans. Rumor has it that the Filipino guerillas who were either jealous or mad at the rich hacienderos of Pagsanjan deliberately reported to the Americans that there was a large amount of Japanese soldiers in town.
Laguna has an abundance of freshwater seafood which is harvested from Laguna de Bay. Tilapia is one of my favorite fish and was on my list to eat that day.
My food trip started with lunch, my dad brought me to Calle Arco which used to be the owners' ancestral house until they converted it into a restaurant. The house was built after the World War II.
The restaurant is divided into two parts: a cafe where you can have desserts and coffee while the other part is the main dining area.
The place was named after the centuries-old stone arch that welcomes visitors to the main part of the town. I'll tell you more about that arch in another post.
In Calle Arco, we ordered the following dishes:
Pork belly baked until meat is tender with crispy skin.
Sweet and Sour Pla-pla
Deep-fried pla-pla topped with sweet and sour sauce.
Pla-pla is the bigger version of Tilapia. The fish that was served to us must have weighed more than a kilo.
Seared eggplant con carne. Don't forget to dip it in ketchup.
Shanghai Fried Rice
Stir-fried white rice with ham, peas, onions, egg, and other ingredients that you fancy.
Calle Arco is located along Rizal Street which is part of the National Highway. Another restaurant found on the same highway is Tita Dels Fiesta Cuisine.
We had our dinner at Tita Dels and the restaurant has some eye-catching interiors. It's a newly constructed building that has the old world feels.
Here are the photos of what we had in Tita Del's:
The dish is made with tripe cooked until tender. It is sauteed in a tomato sauce spiced with sausage, chorizo, and garbanzos.
Fresh water spinach dipped in batter and then fried.
Tiny shrimps sauteed similar to bagoong with a little sweetness added to it. It is a standalone dish. Great with steaming white rice.
The rich heritage of Laguna extends to its numerous regional dishes. When you have the time, spend some of it exploring Southern Luzon.
National Highway, Pagsanjan, Laguna
(049) 501 4584
Tita Dels Fiesta Cuisine
National Highway, Pagsanjan, Laguna