Friday, April 28, 2017

Flavors of Catbalogan: Cooling Down with the Locals at Tina's Garden

Chillin' with the locals at a favorite spot not only gives you a better understanding and appreciation of the local culture, it's quite refreshing too...

After a hearty breakfast of traditional dishes and snacks at the city of Calbayog (see my earlier posts, Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour: Flavors of Calbayog and Flavors of Calbayog: Chillin' at Rebelito's Refreshments) and a sumptuous lunch at Catbalogan (Flavors of Catbalogan: Comforting Cuisine at City Grill), the second part of my Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour with the Department of Tourism Eastern Visayas and the Catbalogan City Tourism Office continued with a stop at the Capital City of Samar's favorite establishment. Time to cool down with some classic Halo-Halo at Tina's Garden...

By mid-afternoon during a short city tour of Catbalogan, the scorching summer heat leaves you parched but thankfully, the locals of Catbalogan have sure-fire remedy. Locals always make a stop at Tina's Garden for a refreshing serving of their signature halo-halo and tasty bites to recharge and meet up with other locals.

Start with their popular Banana Fritters, with sweet bananas draped in soft dough and deep-fried to a golden crispness. The texture and flavors just takes you back to countless childhood summers, nostalgic and comforting bites that add yet another layer of flavor to a flavor-filled Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour.

The sweet and soft Cassava Cake, made from the local variety of indigenous root crops abundant in Samar, is another popular favorite at Tina's Garden. The dense and chewy texture delivers a nutty sweetness that's not excessively sweet. These little bites can be very filling, but I can't blame you if you go for just one more piece...

Like all provinces in the country, rice remains the staple crop, and the wide variety of rice in Samar is used to prepare different kinds of steamed rice cakes cooked with coconut milk. The colors of the rice cakes give a clue on the type of rice used, like these Puto Kalinayan from Tina's Garden.

From bold, dark tones to light earthy shades, the variety of rice cakes in Samar reflect the diversity and richness of the land. The weight of each steamed rice cake is immediately noticeable, densely packed yet soft with a light and airy texture. A delicate caramel-like sweetness comes with each chewy bite, and just like many of the steamed rice cakes in Samar, it isn't overwhelmingly sweet. 

After a few minutes, the signature Halo-Halo (P 38) arrived, with the glass revealing generous amounts of fruits and preserves carefully topped with shaved ice and evaporated milk. What makes Tina's Garden's halo-halo different from the usual halo-halo is the inclusion of sweet and tart pineapples in the mix. Each spoonful combines both sweet and sour notes, consistent with the region's love for contrasting flavors.

The love for contrasting flavors is also evident with the way locals enjoy their halo-halo, paired with a savory Pork Sandwich. Sweet and sour, sweet and savory, the pairing of different flavors are a recurring thread in my Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour, yet the distinct flavors blend seamlessly like it was meant to be, and surprisingly, it does work. It's these subtle nuances that make culinary journeys in the country's varied regional cuisines so richly rewarding and insightful. And if you still can't get enough of Tina's Garden's halo-halo, they also offer other shaved ice desserts, including Maiz con Hielo (P 39), Mongo con Hielo (P 37), Crushed Pineapple (P 37), Peach con Hielo (P 39) and Fruit Cocktail con Hielo (P 39), all topped with finely shaved ice and evaporated milk. 

Later that afternoon, I get a glimpse and a feel of the city's vibrant pulse, as locals prepare for a Marian Procession from San Bartolome Church, named after the Catbalogan's patron saint, St. Bartholomew (more on the Catbalogan city tour soon on my travel blog, Solo Expeditions). It's been a trip of many flavorful discoveries, and there's still more to come..

Tina's Garden is located at San Francisco Street, Catbalogan City Proper, Catbalogan City, Samar. 

For more information on Eastern Visayas, visit the Department of Tourism's cool FB Page for Eastern Visayas at

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