Bulacan Lugaw Kitchen
Restoring the lost glory of the province’s heritage cuisine
My father was from Bocaue, and though he always told us wildly entertaining stories of his idyllic childhood vacations in Bulacan’s farmlands, my siblings and I never got around to experiencing the province in the same way that we were able to embrace my mother’s Pampanga. Oh, we’d pass by Bulacan, on the old MacArthur Highway, every so often, and I have vague memories of stopping at Eurobake in Malolos for their famous “inipit”, finger sandwiches of chiffon cake with a condensada-like filling. There were also those mini pandesals from Baliwag, more sweet than salty, yellowish in hue, dusted with some sort of granular flour. I have vague recollections of a series of Café Valenzuelas that lined the original artery that connected Manila to my parents’ provinces. I seem to recall that I’d ask my folks to get me colorful plastic toys in these pit stops on the way to my grandparents in San Fernando.
But that’s about it for this food writer. There used to be a lot of Bulacan Sweets outlets all over the city that sold pastillas, preserved dayap, and other treats from the province, but many seem to have disappeared as well. These days, my primary food connections to Bulacan are those delectable chicharons from Sta. Maria, proudly and deliberately fatty. The other half of my heritage seems to have been lost or overshadowed by the loud glamour of its neighbor to the North, Capampangan cuisine.
I had a lot of questions for Bulakeño Joe Leonardo of Sta. Maria and San Rafael, the man behind the Bulacan Lugaw Kitchens; and while I realized that his new chain of extremely efficient and excellent comfort/ fast food outlets – three and counting in just one year: BGC, MoA, and very recently, Greenhills – were less about fine dining and fiesta fare, and more about everyday everyman street dishes, I suspected that he could satisfy my curiosity about Bulacan. He did. Joe should be given an honorary title as an Ambassador of Bulacan, specializing in its culinary history. We’re quite familiar with the menu (in French!) of our forefathers who ratified Philippine Independence during the Malolos Congress of 1898, but did you know that Jose Rizal, one of the OG Filipino Foodies, so loved Lechon Bocaue that he would have it delivered all the way to his hometown in Calamba, Laguna? And that when it reached him… the skin
was still crispy? Or so the legend goes. But it’s a great story, especially when Joe tells it.
Joe also posits that many of Bulacan’s old family recipes were passed on via oral tradition, and when modernization, and its proximity to the big city, made it lose its provincial character, it may also have dissipated its heritage. But they’re still out there. The Empanada de Kaliskis. The Longaniza from Calumpit. The Pastillas from San Miguel. The Chicharon from Sta. Maria. The special occasion Morcon and Embutido. Eventually, I suspect that Joe will expand BLK’s menu. But for now, his focus is on growing the business, and what a catchy hook he’s got: Great Filipino Food at Friendly Filipino Prices.
The dinuguan here is, pardon the pun, bloody good – with puto or with rice. And the star of the show? Let’s just say the LTB (Lugaw Tokwa’t Baboy) here can proudly be served side by side with PAL’s famous
Business Class Arroz Caldo. And for dessert? Joe’s tied up with Ian Carandang of Sebastian’s Ice Cream; many of the artisanal shop’s Pinoy flavors are offered: Sapin Sapin and Chocnut, along with one specially made for Bulacan Lugaw Kitchen, a ginataang bilo-bilo sorbetes, the “Paradusdos”. It has, in taste and texture, exactly what its name promises.
Gabby Cantero and I have been working together on this magazine for 65 issues03 now. She takes the pictures, and I provide the words. As we observed the hyperenergetic Joe in his small, but very busy restaurant -- charming his customers, supervising the kitchen, overseeing operations, and generally ensuring that everyone had a good time -- we both reached the same conclusion at the same time: Bulacan Lugaw Kitchen is bringing back that warm fuzzy feeling of fondness to heritage cuisine,
and we both feel that this old school good food restaurant could very well be the next big thing.
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