A spread of pancit bihon, steamed veggies, barbecued pork liempo, lumpiang shanghai, salted eggs and buro on fresh banana leaf greeted us at Crystal Waves Resort in Nueva Ecija. It was lunchtime and we’re expecting a Jollibee meal, the spread was an unexpected suprise, it’s gonna be a boodle fight for us! Superb as the food was, this was but ordinary. During our two-day Lakbay Norte 6 romp across the province of Nueva Ecija, we’ve come across dishes and snacks most people would probably find quite weird—but for certified foodies, weird is good.
TINIIM NA MANOK AT GENERAL TINIO
HAVE A TASTE AT: MINALUNGAO NATIONAL PARK, GEN. TINIO, NUEVA ECIJA • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 15.298281, 121.121852
This odd chicken dish was the first thing that caught my eye as we entered one of the restaurants along the Minalungao National Park. Based on looks along, it looked kinda gross—the roasted native chicken lathered with what seemed like a thick brown paste with a consistency and color that leaves our imagination going to places you’d rather not dwell upon when at the dining table. Upon tasting, the sauce appears to be made from peanut sauce and the whole thing was actually quite superb. Thank goodness. Lol.
BATOTAY & GARLIC LONGGANISA AT CABANATUAN
HAVE A TASTE AT: HARVEST HOTEL, M.H.DEL PILAR STREET, CABANATUAN CITY • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 15.492820, 120.972394
Like most provinces, Nueva Ecija has its own version of the Filipino breakfast favorite, the longganisa. The best can be found along the market stalls of Cabanatuan City. Surprisingly, the city has not one, but two versions of these. The sweet ones, made from beef, are locally dubbed as batotay, while the garlicky ones made from pork, are simply called Cabanatuan longanisa. I personally prefer the latter. These are far more garlicky and bigger in size than the Baguio longganisa or even the more famous Vigan longganisa.
SINIGANG SALAD AT GENERAL TINIO
HAVE A TASTE AT: PMP PARADISE FARM & RESORT, GEN. TINIO, NUEVA ECIJA • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 15.378253, 121.080524
Ever tried the Filipino favorite sinigang sans its sour soup? At the PMP Farm & Resort in General Tinio, they offer just that. Alright, this is really not sinigang salad, but it really does taste like it. The whole deconstructed shebang of kang kong stalks and leaves, chopped onions and sliced tomatoes topped with red salted eggs and chilis are set on a wicker plate ready for chowing down. They use the leaves of alibangbang as souring agent, but if that’s not enough for you, add in a dash of calamansi for extra oomph. Be sure to try their more traditional fares of kakanin, like palitaw and nilupak right after.
CARABAO DAIRY PRODUCTS AT THE SCIENCE CITY OF MUNOZ
HAVE A TASTE AT: MILKA KREM, MUNOZ, NUEVA ECIJA • CONTACT: (0926) 886-6416 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 15.741419, 120.941589
Located on a roadside café in Munoz, Milka Crem offers beverages made from Carabao milk like it were Starbucks Coffee. Yes, they have the usual hot coffee, cold beverages, frappes and smoothies, but what really sets this café apart are their carabao dairy products. Check out the freezer section on one corner of the store and get yourself a few bottles of Nutri Rice Milk, Choco Milk and Blueberry Yo!Gurt Drink. These are, surprisingly, amazingly delicious. Besides those, you can also purchase other carabao dairy-based products like, pastillas, gouda cheese, kesong puti and silvanas!
PUNO’S ICE CREAM & SHERBET AT CABANATUAN CITY
HAVE A TASTE AT: BRANCHES IN CABANATUAN CITY • CONTACT: (044) 464-8694 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 15.500274, 120.976994
For desserts, forget about the usual brands of ice cream when in Cabanatuan City, they have their own local brand. Puno’s Ice Cream & Sherbet, a family grown business has been delighting locals with their ice cream since 1960. From a single store, put up to support their nine children’s schooling, their products are now sold on 24 outlets within the province. Besides the usual ice cream and sherbet flavors, they have Ube Cheese, Corn Queso and Langka Cheese Cashew.
BANGUS SPAGHETTI AT THE SCIENCE CITY OF MUNOZ
HAVE A TASTE AT: CHANOS CHANOS, MUNOZ, NUEVA ECIJA • CONTACT: (0925) 737-2152 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 15.713308, 120.908358
Naming themselves after the milkfish’s scientific name, Chanos Chanos is a stall operating on a gas station compound that sells more than the usual gas stop snacks. They mostly offer bangus products that locals usually take home, but they also have spaghetti, a not so ordinary one at that. Instead of the usual ground pork as ingredient, their pasta uses, what else, but bangus in lieu of pork. Not only is it healthier, but it taste just as good as your typical sweet Filipino spaghetti.
BUKO LUMPIA AT CABANATUAN CITY
HAVE A TASTE AT: CAFFE LA TEA, CABANATUAN • CONTACT: (044) 960 1653 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 15.459800, 120.950210
Malls have been sprouting all over Cabanatuan City like mushrooms. But as commercial as they are, there are still interesting food finds within these air-conditioned behemoths. One such is the Chiz Buco Lumpia by Caffe La Tea, a local coffee house. It’s basically shreds of coconut meat mixed in with vegetables, ham and cheese, wrapped in regular-sized lumpia wrapper and deep fried. The result is a subtler version of the Pinoy afternoon snack favorite, the lumpiang togue, that’s best eaten by dipping in vinegar.
TILAPIA ICE CREAM AT THE SCIENCE CITY OF MUNOZ
HAVE A TASTE AT: CHS - CLSU, MUNOZ, NUEVA ECIJA • CONTACT: (044) 456-0107 • GPS COORDINATES MAP: 15.730280, 120.929833
And to top everything off, it can’t get any weirder than an ice cream made from fish. And it isn’t just any fish, it’s made from tilapia to boot! I cannot get over the fact that there is an ice cream made from fish, I can accept Albay’s sili ice cream, but this one just takes the cake!
The weird concoction was developed by a professor of the College of Home Science and Industry from Central Luzon State University (CLSU) when challenged to come up with new recipes for tilapia. Lo and behold, after mixing in steamed tilapia flakes with carabao and condensed milk, cream, walnuts and cheese, the tilapia ice cream was born.
We tried their ice cream sandwich, but they also have regular gallon-sized ice cream, sansrival and ice cream pops. To be fair, weird as it is, it tasted quite like your ordinary ice cream, textured with bits of tilapia flakes every now and then.
THIS TRIP IS PART OF NORTH PHILIPPINE VISITOR’S BUREAU’S (NPVB)LAKBAY NORTE 6 TOUR,
A FOUR-DAY MEDIA FAMILIARIZATION TRIP AIMED AT PROMOTING NORTHERN DESTINATIONS IN THE PHILIPPINES.