‘Pancit’ Cabagan, ‘pinaksiw na’ Lisas, non-sweet longganisa, other Isabela food finds

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Delicious vegetable dish “inabraw,” which is similar to “pinakbet” but with soup

When I was 5 years old, my mom would take the family to our ancestral home in Batangas, Batangas. In the evenings, uncle Andy and I would hunt for rats in my grandmother’s poultry farm, or hang out in the old-style kitchen with its charcoal-fed stove.

I met my great-grandfather who was always seated in his lounge chair with long arms; the chair, I learned later on, was used by women giving birth. Whatever its use, it was the most comfortable chair I had ever sat on.

This chair was called a butaka. It was inherited by uncle Andy who loaned it to me once. I had it duplicated in narra.

The chair has since broken down, and I’m at a loss on where to have it repaired.

Isabela food tour

Our “Foodprints” TV show recently took us to the province of Isabela. I had never been there before, knew nothing about the place, and only heard of its pancit, longganisa and local fish ludong.

Driving from the airport to our first location shoot, we passed a giant butaka. Apparently, Isabela is known for making or even inventing the butaka. Gosh, my hopes lit up.

The best sources of information for good food in the province are politicians. They entertain a lot, get food as gifts from their constituents, and are proud to showcase what the place offers.

Our first Isabela food experience was the famous pancit Cabagan: flat noodles, semidried and semi-fresh, cooked in a delicious, rich broth, topped with pork tenderloin and veggies.

It is simply outstanding. One can have it either wet or guisado style. KCJM restaurant is said to serve the best pancit Cabagan in Isabela. So sarap!

We were guests of Anne Dy for lunch. She showed us how to make her version of pinaksiw na Lisas, a variety of fish similar in texture and taste to the now protected ludong, but a lot cheaper and just as good.

Lisas can be found only in Isabela. We had a delicious spread of inihaw (grilled food), veggies, manggang hilaw with a dark, sweet bagoong, and other dishes.

One that stood out was sweet, freshly harvested white corn. I was told it was part of the late harvest—the first ones were even sweeter, I was told.

Local delicacies

That evening, we were invited by Gov. Bodgie Dy. A foodie, he served us a lot of local specialities, but the ones that caught our attention were his kilawing kambing and the longganisa. It was the best tasting, non-sweet longanisa I have tried so far.

But the overall winner was his sinampalukan and papaitan na kambing. What a brilliant idea combining sinampalukan and papaitan!

The sauce was light and greenish, innards so tender and sticky. It was sour, pungent, slightly spicy and just out of this world. What a winner!

We were also shown how to make the delicious vegetable dish inabraw, which is similar to pinakbet but with soup.

We stayed at the governor’s mansion, and Vice Gov. Tonypet Albano’s chef Rodel cooked for us. For breakfast one morning, he served us his homemade longganisa. Oh my goodness, it was yummy!

I learned that Tonypet likes his longganisa lean, which is exactly my preference.

Isabela was an unexpected and very pleasant surprise, way past my expectations! The province is huge and when they say “malapit na,” that could mean 70 kilometers away.

I have to tell all my foodie chefs about the food in Isabela. They will love it, for sure.

And my butaka, now I know where you’re hiding! I’ll be back Isabela.

Happy eating!
My Hokkaido food tour will be on July 9-14. Fee is $2,150 for six days and five nights, inclusive of airfare via Japan Airlines, hotel accommodations, transport, and 90 percent of the food. This is the time of the year when the lavender fields are in bloom.
Send me an e-mail at sandydaza@yahoo.ca.

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