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Bale Dutung | The Flavorful Truths About Filipino Cuisine

 
In Bale Dutung, over-indulgence and extravagance are burping facts but never border anywhere near gluttony. With everything down to the last morsel consumed, it is never a deadly sin. So how one, in his extreme gustatory powers can possibly commit to make it to the 12-course finish line without feeling bloated? Lovely hosts Claude and Mary Ann Tayag share the truths about the finest & the best ways to enjoy the explosive Filipino food in each awesome bite.
 

THE HOSTS
I only keep 2 guidebooks on Filipino cuisine, that of the late Doreen Fernandez and Linamnam by Claude Tayag & wife Mary Ann Quioc. It’s every yummyeologist’s dream to meet the master chefs of Philippine culinary world. Although I haven’t met the man of the house during my first visit, Mary Ann was already able to bag the best host award. She was candidly lovable when she said “it’s expensive in Bale Dutung because I am here”. She meant it and well justified by her contagious humor, mastery of flavors and graciousness.
 
After so long I finally got my guidebook to Filipino cuisine personally signed by Mary Ann Quioc.
Claude Tayag’s Gallery
 
Claude is a chef, a painter, a sculptor, a writer and a photographer among others. He keeps a gallery of his artworks in his home. The generous gourmand couple travels a lot, exploring the different flavors of the world and gracing invitations from the culinary art industries.
The hosts run you through the stories of each food as it is served, how it is prepped and let’s you experiment with different dips and sauces. They share food secrets and even which restaurants to go to should you wish to explore. Claude and Mary Ann believe that each guest must not only walkout full but be filled with wonderful experiences.
 
THE HOME
The hosts refuse to call it a restaurant; instead just like any Filipino home that receives guests for a treat of the best Kapampangan cuisine. Reminiscent of late 19th century principalia mansion, Bale Dutung is made of a hodge-podge of salvaged bricks, planks, stones, scrap metal, Kapis windows and anything vintage sitting in an expansive garden.
 
Guests are received in the silong or the ground floor for dining but are free to move around the place. They started out on “by invitation only” in their personal abode but as the requests for exquisite dining grew, it progressed into “by reservation only”. An advance booking is necessary and you must at least be a party of 12 before you can be accommodated. Occasionally, they accept fewer than 12 if a prior party on your desired schedule has made their reservation. This means, Bale Dutung can squeeze you in but you have to take the menu of the majority party.
 
On my first visit, the Saysons, my good eating buddies happily towed me in and we dominated the floor, which meant our group commanded the menu.
 
THE MENU
Bale Dutung is a 10-12-course degustation that spans about 3-4 hours. This means sampling the chef’s best pieces in a perfectly balanced serving and in a well-paced manner. As each course progresses, the portion get bigger and the flavors becoming more aggressive until it all lightens back, relaxing your palate and tummy.
 
True, the menu may just be the ordinary Filipino favorites that you can probably buy somewhere else at a great fraction of a price. But Bale Dutung allows its guests to sample each food in a richer way without compromising the ingredients and the flavors, above being hosted by respected artists in the hospitality industry. This is what you call superb Kapampangan degustation only done best in Bale Dutung! 
Dalandan Juice in Frozen Moscovado Sugar
Bits of Crackers with Choiced Toppings
Host Mary Ann sure knows how to welcome her hungry guests when she says “come in hungry” upon confirmation of your reservation. A glass of sweating cold dalandan(lemon) juice in frozen moscovado(unprocessed sugar) sugar welcomes you in Bale Dutung. While she sets the mood for the show, bits of crackers are served with choices of topping such as balo-balo (fermented shrimp), taba ng talangka (crab fat) and pesto in pili nut.
Ensaladang Pako
The theatrics begin when Mary Ann brings out the Ensaladang Pako (fiddlehead fern), a once lowly weed but taken to the gourmet level with quail egg and tomatoes in honey-calamansi dressing.
Piniritong Lumpiang Ubod sa Cloud’9 Oriental Sauce
Inasal na Manok at Talangkang Sushi
As your palate starts to get excited, fried Lumpiang Ubod  (palm cabbage) in homemade Claude’9 sauce of Thai basil and coriander starts to roll down. This is shortly followed by Inasal na Manok and Claude’9 Talangka Sushi. Honestly, their version of this famed grilled chicken marinated in lemongrass is quite impressive. Sushi is sushi anywhere in the world but when this simple Japanese food rolls on Bale Dutung’s kitchen, it takes on a flavorful tweaking by topping it with aligue or crab fat.
Adobong Pugo
How can these lovely pigeons land on my plate, dressed and lifeless? In the Philippines, it is common to eat their eggs but not the bird itself. It was my first time to eat Adobong Pugo and I must admit, I momentarily waived my love for these cute lil fellas. Served with liver pâté and pandesal (wheat buns), this braised quail stew simmered in vinegar and spices gave me a new appreciation of this all-time Filipino favorite method of cooking.
Hito at Balo-Balo Sushi
Yes, it’s just a nori-wrapped rice and the Japs call it sushi. But the Tayags’ made it buro (fermented rice) stuffed with filleted and fried hito (catfish) wrapped in mustasa leaf (local mustard). All these ceremonious wraps are perfectly balanced by the salty aligue paste and the tangy taste of kamias (bilimbi/cucumber tree).
Lechon or spit roasted pig is perhaps the ultimate symbol of celebration in any Filipino table during fiestas, birthdays and whatever have-yous. Bale Dutung has what it calls the deadly Lechon 5-Ways but we only sampled 3.
 
Pan de Bagnet
Pan de Bagnet is a sandwich stuffed with the Ilocano favorite called bagnetor deep-fried pork belly. It is regarded as the king of all lechon, lechon carajay, lechon kawali, crispy liempo and prichon. Its inexplicable crunchiness from seemingly endless frying creates that mouth-watering bite beating all other sandwiches in the world.
 
Lechon Taco
Believe me, you’ll never be able to scream Ole! after sampling its Lechon Taco. It’s fried lechon flakes with Claude’9 sauce, tomato, onions and surprising Korean kimchi all rolled into a tortilla that eventually looks like a shawarma. Now with the best of world flavors bursting inside your mouth, you’ll be lost in translation!
 
Sinigang na Lechon
Sinigang, much like Adobo is any Filipino’s comfort food. This sour broth from acidic puree of tamarind, kamias or even the lazy vinegar can take on whatever meat on it and it will still be sinigang. But Bale Dutung braved the Filipino palates by bringing in Sinigang na Lechon. Have you ever wondered how the succulent lechon would taste in a sour broth? Divine!
Bulanglang Kapampangan
Another winning piece of Bale Dutung is Bulanglang Kapampangan. While it takes different names in different regions such as inabraw/dinengdeng in Ilocos or law-uy/bas-uy in Visayas and Mindanao, this stew of vegetable casserole takes on different variations as it lands on different Filipino tables.
In Bale Dutung lets you sample the literal rich version of bulanglangwhere everything on it are languishing in a thick broth. In the olden times, the masters of the house are served with the thick base of soup while the remainder of it was added with hot water for the servants to share. While the French may call the thick broth bouillabaisse, the Tayags’ jokingly call it Bayabaisse since it is made of pureed local bayabasor guava with bangus belly (milk fish), shrimps and pork. I truly enjoyed having departed from my usual indiobulanglang and be an 18th century illustrado, at least for 10 minutes or so.
Begucan Tenga ng Babi at Ensaladang Talong
After so much flavor pounding in the palate, a simpler course was served to sort of segue it with the next attack of Mary Ann. Don’t let this small serving of Begucan Tenga ng Babi at Ensaladang Talong deceive you because these bits of crispy fried pork ears in shrimp paste sitting on an eggplant salad is nonetheless explosive.
Kare-Kareng Laman Dagat
Mary Anne knows how to prepare your palate for Bale Dutung’s coup de grace and the food that landed on many international magazines, Kare-Kareng Lamang Dagat. It is a fiesta of seafood such as prawns, New Zealand mussels and squid lying on a thick sauce of atsuete (annatto/achiote) and kakang-gata (first press coco milk) gracefully garnished with knots of yard-long beans.
Paradiso
In between meals, Mary Ann would remind you to please make it to the finish line as a great and nowhere else to be found dessert awaits the gastronomic heroes. After more than 3 hours of the happiest struggle we came to the sweetest part, Paradiso. Stories have it that the late Doreen Fernandez, the icon of Philippine culinary disciplines coined the Tayags’ divinely sinful dessert. It is a trio of sweet balls of yema (custard candy), macapuno (coconut sport) and ube (purple yam) gently sitting on a bed of carabao pastillas (milk candy). After all, there was truth to her advertising and it was an excellent treat for the finishers!
 
Beyond the hype of being featured by Anthony Bourdain and many other international luminaries in the culinary sphere, both Claude and Mary Ann of Bale Dutung truly pulled up a higher respect, not only for the Kapampangan cuisine but also for the entire Filipino food fare. Bale Dutung is a delightful experience of haute cuisine worthy of anybody’s most discriminating palate.
Keeping your eyes wide open and not ever dozing off during the long drive back to Manila from Pampanga was more challenging than keeping an open tummy. We all agreed in fairness to everyone not to sleep or be thrown out of the car in the middle of the expressway!
-oOo-
Bale Dutung
Paul corner Francis Street,Villa Gloria Subdivision 
Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines
+63 45 625 0169
 
Notes
  • The full 10-course meal costs about P1,800 per pax (as of publishing date). Any add-ons are welcome for an extra fee.
  • It is common to request for breaks in between course. Meals are served all at the same time. Be punctual in coming to the venue.
  • Come in comfortable clothes as dining will be in a silong.
  • Sauces, dips, fermented vinegars (aged since late 1990s), bagnet may be purchased from Bale Dutung.

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Summary: Worth the journey & money. Fantastic experience!

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