Friday, April 28, 2017

Flavors of Catbalogan: A Tasty Encounter with Tamalos at Orlando's Grill

"You have to try Tamalos." I've been told quite a number of times since I arrived at Samar for the Department of Tourism's Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour not to miss this unique dish. And I'm glad I did...

If there's one dish that distinguishes the local cuisine of Catbalogan and Samar, it's the iconic Tamalos. Tracing its roots back to the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade during Spanish colonial times, the Tamalos is the unique and savory local version of Mexican tamales, with slabs of fork tender pork belly slathered with rich peanut sauce on a soft rice flour base, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed for hours. Pampanga, Batangas, and Bulacan have their versions of the tamales, but Samar's tamalos is in a class of its own. It's one of many memorable and tasty encounters during my Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour with the Department of Tourism and the Catbalogan City Tourism Office, and it remains one of my lasting impressions in #CaptivatingCatbalogan...

Located high above the city proper along the new Diversion Road, Orlando's Grill offers breathtaking views of the city and Maqueda Bay. Time your visit during magic hour, and wait for the sunset. And you'll be glad you did. Have a refreshing beverage or a cold beer and enjoy one of nature's daily shows overlooking the bay...

An early and hearty breakfast of traditional local dishes and a refreshing snack at Calbayog kicked off my Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour (see my earlier posts, Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour: Flavors of Calbayog and Flavors of Calbayog: Chillin' at Rebelitos Refreshments), followed by a sumptuous and comforting lunch and a cool break at Catbalogan (check out my previous posts, Flavors of Catbalogan: Comforting Cuisine at City Grill and Flavors of Catbalogan: Cooling Down with the Locals at Tina's Garden), but the day was far from over. The Department of Tourism Eastern Visayas and the Catbalogan City Tourism Office prepared yet another feast featuring Samar's famous Tamalos. And they picked the perfect spot. High up the new Diversion Road overlooking the city's seaport and panoramic Maqueda Bay, Orlando's Grill offers local cuisine with grilled dishes as their specialty. But for tonight's dinner, Samar's very own Tamalos is on the menu. 

Our sunset dinner began with Orlando Grill's Kinilaw, with fresh fish marinated in coconut milk, local lime and chili topped with red onions and tomatoes. Samar's bountiful marine resources makes it one of the country's leading fish exporting regions, and seafood plays a vital role in the province's economy, culture, and culinary heritage. You don't have to complicate the day's freshest catch, and the kinilaw is the best way to enjoy the natural briny sweetness of seafood with its pure and clean flavors. The delicate notes of the fish are kicked up by the coconut lining your palate with its creamy texture, punctuated by the sharp flavors of the local lime and chili. Just perfect. 

The traditional Queseo was also served, a creamy local cottage cheese or kesong puti made from carabao's milk mixed with local vinegar for a creamy sourness. Often paired with bread, the queseo is also great as is with some slices of fresh tomatoes.

The local Pancit adds a celebratory vibe to our feast at Orlando's Grill, with noodles cooked in soy sauce topped with vegetables, seafood and pork. Filipino cuisine is a melting pot of diverse cultures and influences, evolving and integrating its unique flavors in the local mainstream.

But you can't have enough of Samar's fresh seafood, and Orlando Grill served up one of their signature specialties. The Grilled Malasugi, fresh and succulent local blue marlin, perfectly grilled. Tender and juicy with a light charred outer layer for that smoky hint, the grilled malasugi's delicate flavors are followed by a subtle sweet hint. This is pure freshness on a plate. 

Orlando's Grill's Pork Sisig, with tender pork mask and cheeks, is indulgently rich, with the egg adding yet another layer of richness. Pure pork love.

Next, a trifecta of pork dishes were served, starting with Catbalogan's version of the Pork Humba, tender pork cooked in a dark and rich soy-based sauce with quail eggs, peanuts, and tausi. The savory richness of the pork is layered by both sweet and salty notes that's just perfect with steamed white rice. The region's distinct pairing of contrasting flavors once again becomes apparent with the pork humba, and a second serving of steamed white rice is always a sure thing with this dish.

And here she is, Samar's very own Tamalos. A fragrant aroma rises along with the steam as you unwrap the banana leaves. The thick peanut sauce glistens revealing slabs of pork belly and slivers of pork fat underneath laid on soft rice flour. The dark and creamy peanut sauce delivers a refreshing sweetness capped by a soothing heat from the chili, so flavorful almost like a traditional kare-kare. But its the fork tender pork belly and pork fat that just makes this dish special. The blend of savory pork and the equally rich peanut sauce is a perfect match, with the soft rice completing the dish. It's comforting and satisfying, a meal in itself. And you can only find this in Samar. It's the perfect ending to cap my first day of the Secret Kitchens of Samar Kulinarya Tour with the Department of Tourism and the Catbalogan City Tourism Office. But there's more, tomorrow is a whole new day to discover even more regional flavors in #CaptivatingCatbalogan...

Orlando's Grill is located along the new Diversion Road, 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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