Steam rose as Atching Lillian Borromeo opened the cover of a kawali simmering with fresh ingredients. The delectable aroma of what was to be our lunch wafted through the open-air kitchen. It was almost nine in the morning and together with the crew of Culture Shock PH, we watched with rapt attention as the Kapampangan culinary guru does her magic in her famous kusina.
We were in Mexico, Pampanga. I only heard about this small town was during the eruption days of Mount Pinatubo. Little did I know that this is also one of the culinary capitals of the province.
Our group alighted at one of the ancestral house in Barangay Parian, ready to discover the secrets behind the legendary Kapampangan food, Pampanga being known for being the Culinary Capital of the Philippines.
Warm greetings from Atching Lillian welcomed us before heading straight to her kitchen; such kitchen being an open-aired hut at her house’s backyard. Clay ovens line one of the walls with tables set up right across for preparing dishes. It instantly brought me back to my childhood days in Cabanatuan where such arrangements were the norm.
Pampanga’s food heritage dates back to the Spanish colonial period of the Philippines. Weaving the knowledge of the Spaniards with those from the Chinese, Mexicans and Malays; the Kapampangans were able to create a cuisine unique to this side of the world.
While Atching Lillian started to work her magic with her hands and kitchen utensils, I wandered off and found her Cusinang Matua or Old Kitchen. Antique kitchen utensils, award plaques, together with bygone era appliances line its wall. It’s a museum of sorts for the celebrated Kapampangan kitchen queen.
Our lunch started to materialize one dish at a time; Adobong Maputi, Pisto, Sisig, Quilayin, Bobotong Asan, Bringhe and Lagat Paro. Besides the Sisig and Adobo, I have no clue what these dishes are.
I guess you can call me a Kapampangan cuisine newbie.
I started with the familiar, Atching Lilian’s Sisig.
It was absolutely not what I was expecting from a sisig. I mean, where’s the sizzling plate? Pampanga’s sisig apparently does not come with such. It was instead served as it is, without the usual sizzling fanfare.
The Adobong Puti was next.
It looked similar to the adobo I’m used to, but without the dark sauce. In fact, it is adobo without the soy sauce. Quite interesting.
I spooned a serving of what I thought was dinuguan but was surprised to find an unknown dish sitting on my plate. It was Pampanga’s own Quilayin. From the name itself, it’s a mix between dinuguan, with its curdled pork blood, and kinilaw, with its sliced pork internals.
We also got to try out Atching Lillian’s Pisto (a menagerie of carrots, peas, onions, hams, ground pork and potatoes on egg), Bobotong Asan (stuffed milkfish) and Bringhe, which is the Kapampangan’s equivalent of Paella. I almost wasn’t able to try out the Lagat Paro (sautéed shrimp with kamias) which was gone faster than you can spell Atching Lillian’s name.
Our lunch didn’t end there though. After thoroughly stuffing ourselves, Atching Lillian started making her famous San Nicholas cookies. Simply called Sanikulas by the Kapampangans, this biscuit has its roots all the way from the church-building era of the Spanish period.
Like the world-famous Miag-Ao Church in Iloilo, most church walls in Pampanga were cemented together using egg whites. And what to do with the excess yolks? They made them into cookies. Atching Lillian’s version has a stamp of St. Nicholas, the patron saints of bakers.
It was a fun and very filling first stop on Culture Shock PH’s Pampanga Culinary Tour. Not only did I get to know and stuff myself with Kapampangan dishes, but I also got to know the stories behind them. Burp! That’s eating with your culture cap on!
Kusina ni Atching Lillian
Address: Brgy. Parian, Mexico, Pampanga
Contact Number: (045)966-0211 | (0915) 773-0788
Business Hours: By reservation, minimum of 10pax
GPS Coordinates: 15°03'41.7"N 120°43'08.2"E
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