A Self-Taught Chef is cook­ing up a per­fect storm in Pam­panga’s most pop­u­lar private din­ing des­ti­na­tion.


Idon’t think any of Pam­panga’s great cooks of yore ever went to a fancy culi­nary school. When­ever I in­ter­view the leg­ends of the province, the story is al­most al­ways the same: they hung around in their mother or grand­mother’s kitchen, with a child’s in­sa­tiable cu­rios­ity and ap­petite, in­hal­ing all the won­der­ful smells and tak­ing in all the amaz­ing tastes. My Lola Sally was all ouido in the kitchen – she be­came one of Pam­panga’s first and finest cater­ers, and I be­lieve it was be­cause she had to learn to cook very well, and in vol­umes, in or­der to sat­isfy her brood of seven chil­dren, along with her politi­cian hus­band’s end­less stream of house­guests. Such is the case with an­other home cook – I hes­i­tate to call him a chef only be­cause it might make him blush – who’s be­hind Pam­panga’s most in de­mand din­ing des­ti­na­tion: Den­lim’s Kitchen, where there is usu­ally a ninety day (!) wait to get a con­firmed reser­va­tion.

Den­lim is Dennis Lim, who grew up in and around his fam­ily’s L.A. Bakeshop in San Fer­nando. The bak­ery has my fa­vorite Span­ish bread and is de­servedly fa­mous, province wide, for its cheese bread as well. The young Dennis, how­ever, never dreamt of a culi­nary ca­reer when he was a stu­dent in the Don Bosco Academy. But when he moved to Manila for col­lege, his child­hood friends and dorm mates: Pau Pau, Bo­bit, and the Diyco broth­ers, Ju­nie and Ray­mond, “as­signed” cook­ing du­ties to him. And that’s where the seed for Den­lim’s was planted a cou­ple of decades ago. Dennis, a typ­i­cal Ca­pam­pan­gan, even as a teenager, had an in­trin­sic knack for the kitchen, and he soon em­braced his du­ties. By cir­cum­stance, he’s self-taught, but you’d never sus­pect it, see­ing his knife skills to­day. But it was a process. To para­phrase John Green: “he fell in love with cook­ing the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once”.

Dennis’ dishes are in­evitably talked aboaut this way: ma­li­nam­nam and malasa. That’s why they lend them­selves nat­u­rally to fam­ily style din­ing. Ev­ery in­gre­di­ent is by it­self, al­ready tasty, and to­gether, all the com­po­nents, com­plete a whole which is so much greater than the sum of its parts. The dishes -- from that di­vine salad with can­died wal­nuts and toasted pinipig, drenched with a dress­ing of yo­gurt and sour cream, to the ir­re­sistibly pork­tas­tic pu­gon-roasted crunchy liempo served with au­then­tic buro (fer­mented rice) – are all best de­scribed in one word: as we say in Pam­panga: “ex­agg”!!! Truly ev­ery­thing on the menu is decadently, dev­il­ishly, deliriously rich.

The three month wait for a ta­ble, and the two to three hour travel time to Sin­dalan in San Fer­nando is all worth it. And when you fi­nally get there, leave your diet at the door, be­cause temp­ta­tion lies within. Give in.


2 Pu­gon Liempo Wrap

3 Ban­gus Pate

4 Gam­bas al Ajillo


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