Calabarzon Food Trip: A Gastronomic Journey of Southern Tagalog (Day 2)

Previous Post: Gastronomic Journey of Southern Tagalog (Day 1)

There is no rest for the wicked, as they say. And for the group I’m traveling with, there is no rest in exploring the nooks and crannies of Calabarzon to search for more gastronomic finds.

Graceland Estates and Country Club – Tayabas, Quezon

Graceland Estate Tayabas
Our scenery while enjoying breakfast, the man-made lake across the restaurant at Graceland

Burping the last remnants of my several meals from the day before, I woke up to the immaculate grounds of Graceland Estates and Country Club. Located at the eco-tourism district of Tayabas, the 22-hectare property spreads out to accommodate a 2.2 hectare man-made lagoon, golf grounds, two swimming pools that I, unfortunately, wasn’t able to swim in, and several areas for recreation such as jogging, biking, and even horse-back riding.

Lucban Longganisa
Lucban Longganisa

To kick off our day of food sampling, the in-house restaurant – Memphis Garden Cafe and Grille – served us with a breakfast made for champions. Finally, I got to taste the famous Lucban Longganisa. I grew up devouring a lot of Vigan Longganisa because my mother is from Ilocos, and so I am partial to the garlic-y taste. The sweet ones from other provinces come off, for me, as sausaged tocinos; and so, tasting Lucban Longganisa was such a treat. Tomatoes with fish sauce would be a nice pair, but we were served with coconut vinegar and that was a match. My no-rice diet is still suspended. And although there were bacon and pancakes served, I had to limit my food intake to a minimum. I know, nobody says no to bacon. But when you are in Quezon, you have to eat like a Quezonian.

bonete
Pan de Bonete with Santan

To end my breakfast meal, I had a taste of Bonete. Apparently, Pan de Bonete, or simply Bonete, is the Filipino version of dinner rolls. This simple recipe requiring flour, yeast, sugar, salt, butter, and water is popular in the area, matching the classic Pan de Sal. A fellow blogger even mentioned that it is sold by students to have extra cash. As I did further reading, I found another food blogger who used to make a few bucks from these, as well. The Bonete experience was completed with Santan. Initially, I thought the chef had to comb all the nectar from santan flowers to produce a cup-full of syrup. It turns out that in this area, coconut syrup is called Santan. Truly, we learn new things every day.

Rodilla’s Yema Cake – Tayabas Quezon

Rodillas Yema Cake Factory
In front of Rodilla’s Yema Cake Bakery

Another inspirational story comes from our next destination, Rodilla’s Yema Cake. Juliet and Vincent Rodilla were once Overseas Filipino Workers like the de los Santoses of Kamayan sa Palaisdaan. They started selling brownies and cheesecakes in 2000, but their business did not take off until 2010 when they finally introduced what they are so known for now –the original Yema Cake. Many have tried to copy their success; however, the special yema recipe that is well-guarded and only cooked by the husband and wife tandem, is what sets them apart.

Original Yema Cake
Sponge cakes baking in the oven

how to make yema cake
The smothering of yema syrup all over the double layer of sponge cake

tayabas yema cake factory
The Pièce De Résistance, cheddar cheese covering the cake

We were invited to where the magic happens, Rodilla’s Yema Cake bakery. Like a well-oiled machine, the bakers were grouped into sections – the initial stage where all the ingredients are mixed, the mid stage where the batter is baked, and the final stage where the cake comes together, ready for eating. The bakery goes non-stop and I was able to see the precision of each worker, spreading the glorious syrup on the delicate sponges. They don’t know the meaning of restraint as each piece drowns with the special mixture. And as if that is not enough, loads of cheese rain on the almost finished product, packing more into the pound.

Yema Cake Flavors
Classic Yema Cake and the newest addition to the product line, Choco Caramel Cake

Yema Cake Makers
Juliet Rodilla, her sister Angel, and the wonderful bakers of Rodilla’s Yema Cake

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of bakeries copying this Yema Cake, even here in Manila. Juliet’s sister, Angel, says that it is tricky to distribute their products across the country because they give priority to freshness. A cake can last only up to three days, five if refrigerated. Personally, I know of someone who actually goes to Quezon to buy two sack loads of cake to distribute to an office on a per order basis, never on a distributer capacity because they are careful about the quality, as well. If anyone is interested, though, Rodilla’s is said to be open to orders in the Metro and they can send their cakes for pick-up at a metro bus station.

Casa Plaza Restaurant and Catering – Sariaya, Quezon

Rodriquez Ancestral House
Staircase leading to the main hall of Don Catalino Rodriguez Ancestral House, now known as Villa Sariaya

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Living Room Rodriquez Ancestral House Sariaya
The luxuriously spacious living room of Villa Sariaya

The road led us to Don Catalino Rodrigez Ancestral House, otherwise known as Villa Sariaya, to sample another meal prepared by Casa Plaza Restaurant and Catering, introduced by the owner of Kulinarya Tagala’s Cristina Decal. Villa Sariaya is declared as one of the few properties considered a heritage house by the National Historical Institute. Built in 1922, it was owned by Don Catalino Rodriguez, the town’s mayor during the American occupation. It is a classic Bahay na Bato or “Stone House” in English and is a perfect example of traditional grand houses that exude affluence and elegance. The grand staircase leads to the spacious living room and equally airy bedrooms decorated with Nuoveau Art on the walls. The majestic kitchen was where we were led to feast.

Nilagang Ubod
Nilagang Ubod, coconut pith with Tahure Sauce, marinated tofu

Sinaing na Tambakol
Sinaing na Tambakol sa tuyong Kalamyas or Kamias

Tinindag na Baboy
Tinindag na Baboy sa Sanga ng Bayabas or Guava Branch

According to Cristina, the meal we enjoyed is called an Encargado lunch. Encargados were educated right-hand workers of the master of the house who are coconut hacienderos during the olden times. It was such a pleasure to enjoy the dishes that were once served to the movers and shakers that shaped the province. Somehow, I felt a little bit of class brush over me and made me observe proper utensil usage on the dining table.

We were treated to Nilagand Ubod with Tahure Sauce. Ubod comes from the pith of a young coconut tree and the Tahure sauce is made of marinated tofu. Like all the food I ate in Quezon, this was one of the dishes that surprised me the most, aside from Kulawo in Casa San Pablo. So tender to the taste, I replaced my rice with it. I also enjoyed Sinaing na Tambakol sa Tuyong Kalamyas. A fish that tastes almost as the finest tuna, I sipped its soup like water. To top my main, I had Tinindag (tinusok) na Baboy sa Sanga ng Bayabas, grilled pork skewered with guava branches. This added another layer of flavour to the already delicious pork I love to eat.

Pinais na Alimasag
Pinais na Alimasag, Pako Salad, and different sauces

Something that I enjoyed throughout this trip is Calabarzon’s penchant for Pantapik or side dishes to make meals livelier. In Malabon where my father hailed, we also use a lot of Pantakip, although we consider them sawsawan or dipping sauces. Pinais means to steam something in its own juice and two of the most popular pinais in the area are Alimasag or Crab and Hipon or Shrimp were there for us to sample. Atchara or pickled young papaya was also served and the usual gang of vinegar, soy sauce with calamansi, and patis or fish sauce were available to everyone.

PCDI’s Lakan Extra Premium Lambanog – Lipa, Batanggas

Philippine Distillers Craft Inc
Philippine Distillers Craft Inc. (PCDI)

Lakan Lambanog
CEO Anthony C. Manguiat and Region IVA (CALABARZON) Regional Director Rebecca Labit

There’s is no other way to end a food tour than with a shot of alcohol. For our last destination, we found ourselves in the outskirts of Baranggay Bulaklakan, in the middle of a plantation of about 2000 coconut trees. Lawrence Lim, a lambanog maker for more than ten years, shared his sentiments about what we can consider THE national alcohol. He laments the fact that we are not able to move towards perfecting the drink that we can truly own. Anthony Manguiat, CEO of PCDI also says that it is sad that people would opt to order brandy, gin, tequila, and others in bars but no one really pays attention to Lambanog.

What PCDI did was to elevate the humble Lambanog from being sold on the highway in one-gallon heaps and made it into a world class drink; so much so that PCDI’s brand, Lakan Extra Premium Lambanog, has won the gold award at Monde Selection International Institute’s 53rd World Selection of Spirits and Liqueurs 2015 held in Brussels, Belgium.

Lakan Lambanog from Lipa
Bottling Lambanog

Lambanog Lipa
Each bottle is checked for inconsistencies.

Lakan is 90% proof and is distilled four to six times to make sure that we get the purest form of Lambanog. Unlike other competitors, Lakan doesn’t have any additives. Anthony explains that the coconut nectar that is used to make the native alcohol comes from the coconut flower. One flower only produces 2 liters of nectar or tuba in a day; and to make one bottle of Lakan will require 60 liters of tuba. If the tuba is kept for more than 48 hours, it turns to vinegar. Preparing Lambanog is a delicate and meticulous process; therefore, it cannot be mass-produced. Anthony and Lawrence proudly said that Lakan is produced by the bottle, never by batches. One would now question what is in the lambanog we see sold in regular supermarkets and liquor stores…

Truly, Lakan Lambanog exemplifies the capacity of Filipinos to produce high quality products that can compete and, not to mention, win international competitions. The level of excellence showed by PCDI is something that we should all strive for.

As I lugged several treats across the busy streets of the Metro, I could only wish to be transported back to the quiet gardens and historical houses and buzzing bakeries of Calabarzon. Not only was the trip made memorable by exquisite dishes that I, unfortunately, only discovered so late in my youth, the people I shared this gastronomic experience with will also be missed. I still am a small eater; however, I can stretch it if only to eat a little bit more of Southern Tagalog.

Graceland Estates and Country Club
Barangay Camaysa, Tayabas City, Quezon
Landline: (042) 793 2693 | (042) 793 2857 | (02) 697 5283 | (02) 697 7468
Mobile: 0917 597 5315 | 0917 592 9510 | 0922 818 7952

Rodilla’s Yema Cake
37 Regidor Street, Tayabas, Quezon
Landline: 042 7933265

Casa Plaza Restaurant and Catering
CJM Bldg., Valderas St, Sariaya, Quezon,
Landline: 63 42 5258700
Mobile: 639205763576 | 639229228818381

PCDI’s Lakan Extra Premium Lambanog
Unit 704, Common Goal Tower Finance St. Madrigal Business Park, Ayala Alabang, Muntinlupa City
Mobile: 6325569788
E-mail: dondizon@philippinedistillers.com

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