Sunday, April 30, 2017

Flavors of Catbalogan: Going Native at Rutchel's Eatery

It's been an amazing two days of continuous culinary delights, but my Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour had one more tasty surprise to round off my visit...

One last lunch on the way to Tacloban revealed yet another side to Samar's rich culinary heritage, with a tasty stop at Rutchel's Eatery, home of the famous Chicken Tinola. Using only native organic and free-range chickens for its signature tinola, Rutchel's Eatery is another establishment loved by locals for generations. Since the early sixties, Rutchel's Eatery has been serving their rustic Chicken Tinola in exactly the same way with no alterations and modifications. It's a testament to the enduring resilience of simple local cuisine, with real and honest flavors. From day one, my Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour with the Department of Tourism Eastern Visayas and the City Tourism Offices of Calbayog and Catbalogan showcased traditional and regional cuisine, lovingly preserved by restaurateurs and families that defined the distinct culinary heritage of Samar. And here's one more taste of a local favorite before the flight back to Rutchel's Eatery.

Two days of culinary adventures, kicked off by an early breakfast at Calbayog with traditional dishes at the City Tourism Office (see my post here at Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour: Flavors of Catbalogan), followed by a refreshing snack at a local favorite (view my earlier post here at Flavors of Calbayog: Chillin' at Rebelitos Refreshments) led to even more tasty discoveries at Catbalogan with a comforting lunch (more on that first lunch at Catbalogan on my post, Flavors of Catbalogan: Comforting Cuisine at City Grill), another refreshing snack at a local hang-out (check out my post here at Flavors of Catbalogan: Cooling Down with the Locals at Tina's Garden), a tasty encounter with the iconic Tamalo (more on the Tamalo on my post, Flavors of Catbalogan: A Tasty Encounter with Tamalo at Orlando's Grill), a light breakfast at a homegrown coffee shop (more on King Bean Cafe on my post, Flavors of Catbalogan: Breakfast at King Bean Cafe), and an epic mid-morning seafood breakfast with a view (see my post, Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour: Flavors of Catbalogan), each one a memorable experience in my Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour. On the road to Tacloban for the flight back home, a stop at roadside stalls along the way revealed once more the abundant harvests of Samar's fertile lands, from sweet bananas... luyang dilaw, the local variety of turmeric...

...and peanuts, a visual cue to the bountiful crops of Samar. It truly is a blessed region, reaping the benefits of abundance from both the land and seas, the same richness and diversity that shaped Samar's culinary heritage.

The vendors showed off their their fresh offerings, and a sweet pineapple would be a good idea for dessert after lunch. With everything you need provided by the fertile lands, my Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour takes on another facet to the many culinary attractions of the province.

My previous posts detailed the countless rice varieties of Samar, used in a wide assortment of native and local delicacies like steamed rice cakes, puto, and suman...

...including the dark-hued Brown, Red, and Black Rice, an indigenous type of local rice also used in various local delicacies. 

At the many roadside stalls, you'll find another local delicacy of Samar, the Binagol, an intricate layered dessert with sticky rice topped with finely ground taro and crushed peanuts steamed with coconut milk in a half coconut shell, which also gives it a unique and distinctive shape, and delicately wrapped in banana leaves. The center is filled with a sweet surprise, with taro, coconut milk, and condensed milk. It's always a good idea to bring a couple home to relive your Samar experience, and share it with friends and family.

Down the road is Rutchel's Eatery, and home to what many locals consider as the best native chicken tinola in the whole of Samar. A sip of the signature broth immediately coats your palate with the rich yet delicate notes of the native chicken, followed by hints of ginger for contrasting yet balanced flavors.

The organic native chicken has a firm bite, releasing full and rounded flavors you won't find in the usual processed chicken. Organic and free-range chicken, slowly simmered in a rich soup stock with ginger, fresh papaya leaves, a pinch of salt and perhaps some pepper and nothing else, it's a dish that is comforting from the very first sip down to the last bite of the native chicken. The deceptively simple dish is served exactly the same way as it was served more than fifty years ago, and little has changed since then. Rutchel's Eatery may be slightly bigger and a lot more spacious than the first establishment, but the chicken tinola remains the same, just the way the owners intended it to be, hearty and nourishing without any frills.

A typical meal with Rutchel's Eatery's signature native chicken tinola is paired with the local red rice, with its own distinct nutty notes that play well with the native chicken and tasty broth. The grains of rice absorb the flavors of the broth, releasing its richness with each spoonful.

During the tragic aftermath of Yolanda, Rutchel's Eatery answered the call for assistance by offering free meals to refugees and victims of calamity. A simple of bowl of chicken soup definitely goes a long, long way...

All too soon, it was time to say goodbly to Samar, as we headed to Tacloban for the flight back home. On the way, we passed through the famed San Juanico Bridge, the country's longest bridge spanning 2.16 kilometers or 1.34 miles over the San Juanico Straight connecting Samar with Leyte. The elegant and graceful serpentine structure leaves you with lingering views of Samar, and a fitting ending to an eye-opening Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour and a rediscovery of regional flavors. The flavors and the warmth of the people will definitely be missed, and thoughts of returning continue to pop up in my head just a few days after. As we neared the end of the San Juanico Bridge, the province of Leyte loomed ahead with the capital city of Tacloban offering another perspective of Eastern Visayas. The site of the famous landing of General Douglas MacArthur and his return to the Philippines during the final phases of World War II and the tragic Yolanda calamity, Leyte shares a common culinary heritage with Samar, with a few tasty surprises of its own. But Samar will always remain special. Thank you Samar for a unique "karasa" experience, and in the words of the great General MacArthur, "I shall return"...soon.

Rutchel's Eatery is located in Cabiga, roughly an hour's drive from Catbalogan City Proper, Samar.

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

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