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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