Saturday, December 22, 2018

Flavors of Pampanga: Cruising Aboard The New Scania Marcopolo Heading North For A Pampanga Food Trip

Cruising the north to experience its rich culinary heritage and history just got a whole lot more comfortable. And luxurious too. It's first class all the way...aboard the new Scania Marcopolo.

Duman, tidtad and buro at mustasa. Uniquely Capampangan flavors that continue to define the proud culinary heritage of the province making up the country's multi-colored palette of diverse flavors is given new light with the very latest in land travel. Scania Philippines introduces the sleek, elegant and modern Marcopolo with the turnover of the first batch of buses to P & O Transport Corporation. Showcasing the very latest in technology with its superbly engineered exterior and quality interiors, the new Scania Marcopolo lets you travel in style for a taste of Pampanga's famous traditional cuisine and cultural attractions. The sights and flavors of Pampanga and the ride aboard the modern Scania Marcopolo combine for a memorable experience up north...

The Scania Marcopolo can carry 48 passengers in total comfort with its luxurious seats and extensive noise insulation throughout the journey. The smooth automatic transmission gets in gear without any sudden or erratic jolts so you sit back and relax and just enjoy the passing views through panoramic glass windows. Think of it as your own magical flying carpet to your destination and adventure.

Great buses and coaches start here.  For more than a century, the iconic Swedish manufacturer of commercial vehicles focused on trucks and buses for city and long-distance travel. Years of experience culminated with the development of the K-Series chassis leading to the current Marcopolo model, the perfect ride for the road trip.

Inside, the spacious configuration is designed for both comfort and efficiency, with the vibrant colors of plush upholstered seats exuding a modern and contemporary vibe...

...each equipped with controls for reclining back rest adjustments all within an arm's reach. If you need just a little more space between you and the passenger beside you, simply push a button and the seat effortlessly slides to the side.

Comfort, luxury and style. Plus cool and functional features too. Modern conveniences include overhead controls for both lighting and temperature as well as USB chargers for mobile devices beside the foot rest, little things that make the long-haul road trip more comfortable.

The massive 13-litre diesel engine, a part of Scania's industry-leading platform of modular power plants, provides maximum power for any road condition with unmatched smoothness for total comfort. Along with its improved fuel efficiency, Scania remains high up on the list of smart options for reliable dependability.  

The well-designed driver station highlights ergonomic and practical functionality with its placement of essential controls forming a seamless unit. On-board computers provide cruise and downhill speed controls with the advanced Scania Opticruise system and Retarder Lever for safety. Great buses and coaches start here indeed.  

Ready and seated and raring to go, our ride aboard the Scania Marcopolo began early in the morning without a hitch. Accompanying us during the trip, Capampangan Poch Jorolan of OuterEater Tours and third generation owner of the City of San Fernando's Everybody's Cafe hosted the group along with Edwin the historian providing their own insights and historical perspective on the colorful yet complex tapestry of Capampangan cuisine and culture.

After roughly an hour and a half (time flies when you're traveling in style and comfort), we've arrived at our first stop, a sumptuous Capampangan breakfast at the idyllic Alviz Farm in Sta. Rita, Pampanga.

Just a short walking distance from the town's terminal takes you to the heart of the province's rural and agrarian roots. A rustic home built beside a rice paddy is a welcome sight, and the perfect spot for breakfast. A breakfast and brunch restaurant situated in a working farm, Alviz Farm lets you dive deep in Pampanga's rich flavors...

...immersed in a lush and verdant garden setting. Framed by colorful bougainvilleas, it's hard not to feel so comfortably at home at Alviz Farm.

Cely Alviz (L) manages the family's farm preserving traditional recipes and dishes with her popular rice planting activities as well as food and heritage tours. That morning, the group was treated to a full-blown and lavish early morning feast. For me, it was like going back to carefree childhood summers in Pampanga...

...with traditional delicacies like Suman Pasko, sweet and sticky glutinous rice cakes wrapped in banana leaves...

...and the famous Duman, the distinct green young rice harvested only during the colder months of November and December that can only be found in the town of Sta. Rita. Prized by locals, duman is both rare and extremely expensive with a typical one fourth kilo pouch fetching prices as high as P 5,000. That's a valuable commodity, almost like gold (for more on Duman, see my earlier post, Duman: Harvesting Green Gold from six years back).

As the weather gets warmer and warmer every year, harvests of duman get even rarer. The town of Sta. Rita holds an annual Duman Festival to preserve this tradition, and we came just in time for the much-anticipated harvest of this rare rice. The process of duman involves delicately roasting the young grains for its nutty notes, but this is essentially raw rice. But unlike regular raw rice, the grains are soft and chewy with just a whisper of sweetness. The old-timers enjoy this delicacy as is, but you can also enjoy this with a rich and creamy cup of Tsokolate Batirol. Just add a few handfuls of the precious duman to your cup of hot chocolate, and leave it for a few minutes. The fragrant young grains then slowly puff up, absorbing the chocolate with a consistency of thick porridge. One spoonful then releases the intense and deep notes of the chocolate followed by the subtle sweetness of the duman. There's just nothing quite like it. And you can only find it here in Sta. Rita. 

An actual working farm, the bountiful seasonal harvests at Alviz Farm dictate the tasty offerings from their kitchen. Just leave it to Cely Alviz and her staff to prepare a lavish traditional breakfast at Alviz Farm.

As farmers tend to the rice paddy (L), migratory flocks of white egrets find refuge in the fields. A common sight this time of the year, with many species escaping the harsh Siberian winter. The calm and tranquil scenery at Alviz farm is a welcome and cool change. But the farm has its perks, including an inviting pool (R). 

That morning, the table set up featured quite an impressive spread with garden-fresh Tomatoes and Salted Duck Eggs (L) to the local Pisto (R), a local Spanish-inspired breakfast staple with ham or chorizo sauteed in tomatoes with, garlic, onions and green peas and finished with eggs. 

For some reason, Pisto always tastes so much better during the holidays when ham and Spanish chorizo or local pork sausages are on everyone's shopping cart. That just makes the Pisto even more flavorful. Cely Alviz also served Guagua Longanisa (L), a specialty from the nearby town, and Kilawing Bangus (R) ... 

...along with Capampangan Tamales (L), a savory steamed rice cake wrapped in banana leaves topped with chicken, egg, peanuts and annatto for both color and flavor. The popular side of Ensaladang Talong with grilled mashed eggplant topped with onions and tomatoes flavored with vinegar pairs well with any dish... Taba ng Talangka Rice (L) flavored with the fat of fresh water river crablets and crunchy Pork Chicharon (R) or pork crackling. As with many provinces, the simple yet hearty cuisine reflects the agrarian economy built by the rice crop infused with flavors from the Spanish colonial experience. 

Yet Capampangan cuisine stands out with its bold use of fresh local ingredients and flavors like this childhood favorite, Tidtad, the province's version of the pork blood stew with tender slabs of pork that just melts in your mouth. The savory richness is perfectly tempered by the fiery hints of fresh chili for balanced flavors.

Duman, tidtad and pisto, buro at mustasa, comfortingly familiar flavors I grew up with, all masterfully recreated at Alviz Farm. After a sumptuous and satisfying breakfast, a leisurely walk around the farm brings you up close to nature's vibrant colors that dominate the property. I can stay here all day...

...and one last look at Alviz Farm sends you off to the next stop on the Pampanga Food and Heritage Tour aboard the new Scania Marcopolo. You can find a wide variety of flavors in Pampanga, from the hearty and traditional to the exotic. It's only in Pampanga where they do a different kind of egg hunt (see my previous post, Ebun Barag: Not Your Usual Egg Hunt). But if there's one place where everybody keeps going to for a traditional homestyle meal in Pampanga, it's Everybody's Cafe.

A Capampangan institution that endured the test of time, it's been literally everybody's cafe since it opened back in 1946 at Everybody's Cafe. Noted culinary personality and our host Poch Jorolan now manages the family business, continuing the legacy that began with humble bowls of pancit, a local noodle dish...

...that evolved and flourished offering some of Pampanga's very best with dishes like Kamaru or mole crickets (I have to admit, I have yet to muster the courage to have a bite), Batute or stuffed field frogs (and this one too), Pindang Damulag or cured carabao meat (this I can have everyday), Kare-Kare (love this) and the classic Morcon (yes, more of this). It's reassuring to find dining establishments maintaining tradition without succumbing to culinary trends. More than seventy years later, one can still find the same dishes that made Everybody's Cafe, well, everybody's cafe. For Poch Jorolan, keeping it that way is more than just a bold statement but a promise that just gets stronger over time. And rightly so. The Ensaladang Pako or fiddlehead fern salad with fresh tomatoes, onions and salted duck eggs is just a prelude to another feast from the famed central region... 

Pritong Hito or crisp deep-fried catfish is just one component in an elaborate local delicacy...

...paired with Buro or fermented rice with shrimps and sauteed in tomatoes wrapped in fresh mustard leaves or mustasa. Taken together, the contrasting flavors and textures of sour and salty, crisp and mushy soft, come together for a vibrant burst of rich notes. It's one of those peculiar flavors that grow on you and take you back triggering so many fond memories. I remember my very first encounter with buro as a child, and it wasn't pleasant at all. But over time, your palate acquires a taste and liking for the dish. In Pampanga, every household has their own cherished recipe, a source of family pride. Everybody's Cafe's version strikes that delicate balance of sour, salty and mildly sweet hints enriched by the shrimps and tomatoes capped by the crispy catfish and subtle spicy notes of the fresh mustard leaf. It's a simple dish yet the flavors are complex and finely nuanced. Buro can also be paired with boiled vegetables like eggplant and bitter gourd. I simply top it on steamed white rice (for more on the Capampangan Buro, see my earlier post, What's In The Fridge...Burong Hipon).

The province is best known as the birthplace of a national favorite, Pork Sisig, made with pork mask, onions and fresh chili. Through the years, the dish has crossed regions evolving to the common crisp and crunchy sizzling variation which most are familiar with. In Pampanga, and in Everybody's Cafe, you'll find the Pork Sisig prepared in the original manner without the sizzle and the crunch. And no mayonnaise. This is sisig in its purest, original and uncomplicated form. And it still rocks. The soothing heat from the chili cuts the savory richness of the tender pork mask coating your palate with deep and bold flavors. The different cities and towns in Pampanga have their own versions too, each with subtle differences. Exploring the full range of variations from town to town is a food tour in itself.

Everybody's Cafe's Kare-Kare is another must try dish with fork-tender beef draped in a rich and flavorful stew made with ground peanuts and topped with fresh vegetables. Paired with the local bagoong or shrimp paste, you'll definitely go for extra rice.

Then, there's Everybody's Cafe's signature Morcon, a savory roulade of beef and pork with Spanish chorizo and salted duck eggs slathered in a rich gravy made even more flavorful with its own drippings. Based on a cherished family recipe, the dish reflects strong Spanish influences that have now become part of the culinary mainstream. It's this melting pot of culinary infusions, from Spanish to Chinese, Malay and American, that make Filipino cuisine so diverse and rich. And each dish celebrates this flavorful blend at Everybody's Cafe.

Another plate of Ensaladang Pako...

...and another serving of Buro with Crispy Hito on Mustard Leaf, and you're just about ready for the main courses at Everybody's Cafe.

Now you know why Everybody's Cafe is still everybody's cafe, with even more game after more than seventy years.

For dessert, Poch Jorolan served the special Halo-Halo (L) from Arayat's Kabigting's. What sets Kabigting's Halo-Halo apart from the other iced milk and preserved fruit desserts is the addition of sweet and creamy yema, a local sweet custard candy made from egg yolks, milk and sugar for that perfect finish.

After lunch, the drive back to Sta. Rita led us to another of Pampanga's cherished institutions. It's a story that began back in the early twenties when a Dominican sister taught four sisters how to make the indulgent Turrones de Casoy and Sans Rival Petit Pourtunes. Since then, these handmade delicacies have become part of Pampanga's rich culinary traditions. Sans Rival, the decadent layered dessert of soft and chewy meringue covered in buttercream and sprinkled with cashew nuts has always been a favorite, and Ocampo Lansang Delicacies' version remains one of Pampanga's best. The Turrones de Casoy, with its sweet nougat-like cashew filling wrapped in edible paper is another childhood favorite. Heading to the source where these traditional treats are made was an experience. The ancestral home has no noticeable signage, but when you're looking for the famous Turrones de Casoy and Sans Rival of Sta. Rita, locals will point you in the right direction. 

And tradition runs deep at Ocampo Lansang Delicacies with their signature sweet Turrones de Casoy and indulgent Sans Rival. Vestiges of the shared Spanish link from the colonial past remain firmly rooted throughout the country, and this is evident once you enter the house of Ocampo Lansang Delicacies.

Ramon Ocampo (L) continues the tradition started by the four sisters, overseeing the tedious production of their handmade delicacies. Each room in the residence is assigned a particular function, from preparing and cutting the edible paper wrapper to forming the hand-rolled delicacies and the final packing of the product.

Since the sisters began preparing the delicacies, the recipe and ingredients as well as the meticulous handcrafted process has not changed. Maintaining the traditional recipe is a promise that Ramon Lansang swore to his mother, and to this day, the Turrones de Casoy and Sans Rival are made exactly the way it was since it started back in the early 1920s.

In one room, cashew nuts are delicately sliced into thin slivers for the Turrones de Casoy and Sans Rival. Sacks of cashews need to be sliced, one by one, for the volume of holiday orders. The rhythmic sounds of gentle taps on the chopping board continue all day long at the Ocampo Lansang residence in Sta. Rita. 

In the afternoon, Poch Jorolan led the group to one of Pampanga's old churches, The St. James the Apostle Parish Church, more popularly known as Betis Church in the town of Guagua. The Catholic faith remains the country's dominant religion and remains an enduring legacy of the Spanish colonial experience, and this is reflected in the many towns and cities where churches have always been part of the urban landscape. The ornate baroque-style church was constructed in 1660 by the Augustinian Order and declared a National Cultural treasure by the National Museum and the national Commission for Culture and the Arts in 2001.

Inside the church, your eyes are immediately drawn to the ceiling with its elaborate hand-painted murals...

...leading to the dome where both art and natural light paint a colorful sensory feast for both the eyes and the soul.

Often referred to as "the Sistine Chapel of Pampanga," Betis Church continues to inspire with its elegant murals...

...and equally impressive altar. It's attractions like these that made my Pampanga Food and Heritage Tour aboard the new Scania Marcopolo even more memorable, with moments for personal reflection adding even more layers to your experience.

Leaving Betis Church, we head to another iconic church in the town of Bacolor...

The San Guillermo Parish Church in Bacolor was built in 1576 by Augustinian friars, enduring countless earthquakes and wars. But it was the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 resulting in catastrophic lahar flows that made its mark on the historic church (for more on Mount Pinatubo, see my earlier post, Side Views: A trek To Mount Pinatubo, Bucket Lists And A Cochinillo). Buried in lahar ultimately covering half of its height, the features of the second floor are now on the ground level. Half-buried, the church continues to serve the community with daily masses reflecting the town's resilience. 

Inside the church, Poch Jorolan led the group to the museum, the Recuerdos Sagrados de Bacolor, with historical artifacts and photographs documenting the cataclysmic destruction of the eruption. Nearly 400 years later, the San Guillermo Parish Church remains strong and ready for the next four hundred years.

It's hard not to notice Poch Jorolan's pride in his province's history, and there's still so much to see, taste and discover. The tragedy of the eruption made the historic church a world-renowned tourist attraction...

...with what used to be the second floor now the main level of the church.The old church has seen revolutions, wars, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, even half-buried by lahar flows, but it's still standing. 

The once tall belfry is now just a few steps up, and visitors can view the historic bells up close...

...and many of the church's main features remain preserved. Walking through the maze of enclosed pathways reveal hidden insights into the town's resurgent faith. It's what adds both color and character to the town of Bacolor, now a few meters higher above ground. 

From Bacolor, Poch Jorolan led the group back to the City of San Fernando through the San Fernando Heritage District with its immaculately preserved ancestral homes and municipal buildings...

...for the final stop at the historic San Fernando Train Station. Built in 1892 by the Manila Railroad Company, the San Fernando Train Station was part of the rail line from Manila to Dagupan. The station played a crucial role in the economic growth of the City of San Fernando spurred by the sugar boom, marking an era of prosperity. The station was also a regular stopover of national hero Jose Rizal who visited close friends Antonio Consuji and brothers Tiburcio and Cecillio Hilario. A statue of Jose Rizal seated inside the station holding a book with a rose also revealed romantic intentions in his trips to San Fernando. Aside from convincing prominent Capampangans to join the La Liga Filipina, there are persistent rumors of a more romantic agenda. The man apparently courted a local beauty named Rosario Joven but somehow things didn't turn out exactly as planned. Even heroes get friend-zoned.

The stately brick structure was designed by Tomas Fernandez Arguellez, with its main structure now preserved as a historical site by the City Government of San Fernando. It's classic architectural design and vibrant red bricks make it stand out from the surrounding residential area, literally stopping time. 

But the station also witnessed some of the city's darkest moments in history, including the infamous Death March in 1942 during the Second World War. As the last American and Filipino forces surrendered, the prisoners were forced to march from Bataan to San Fernando to the train station. The prisoners were then loaded to freight trains, packed to capacity during the height of the summer season, and transported to Capas, Tarlac. Countless deaths and atrocities were recorded along the route, and the fateful day is remembered and memorialized each year during Araw ng Kagitingan or Bataan Day.

Life-sized stone statues inside the station commemorate the sacrifices of the allied forces during the dark days of 1942, created by award-winning sculptor Juan Sajid Imao... volunteers from the City of San Fernando Tourism Office provide a detailed historical narrative of the San Fernando Train Station.

Inside the station, relics of war are displayed in glass cases as a reminder of a violent chapter in the city's history while the vibrant and modern art by Legazpi becomes an expression of renewed hope.

By day's end, we boarded the luxurious Scania Marcopolo for the long ride home. Insightful, flavorful and eye-opening, the Pampanga Food and Heritage Tour with Poch Jorolan was an experience that brought back so many fond memories. And the ride going to Pampanga and back aboard the new Scania Marcopolo made it so much more special.

Flavorful, insightful, and nostalgic, the day tour was one memorable experience. For our group, FourScene, it's one more destination checked with so many more to discover (for more on FourScene, check out our FB Page at

For more on the new Scania Marcopolo Tourer and Scania Philippines, visit their showroom at 1132 EDSA, Balintawak, Quezon City or call (02) 361-0088 for more information and inquiries. You can also check out their website here at

Alviz Farm is located at San Agustin, Sta. Rita, Pampanga or call 0906-449-1151 for inquiries. You can also visit their FB Page here at

Everybody's Cafe is located at Manila North Road, San Fernando, Pampanga or call (045) 860-1121 for more information.

Ocampo Lansang Delicacies is located in Sta. Rita, Pampanga or call 9000-027 for inquiries.

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