Located in the heart of Rizal Province is the municipality of Angono. Dubbed as the “Art Capital of the Philippines”, it is the birthplace and hometown of two National Artists – the painter Botong Francisco and the composer Lucio San Pedro – whose legacy is still present among the town’s numerous painters, sculptors, and musicians.
Angono might be a small place but it is a very lively. Whenever November comes, the people spare no expense in preparing for the town festival (San Clemente, the town’s patron, was one of the earliest Popes and was consecrated by Saint Peter himself; his feast falls on November 23). Whenever Holy Week comes, the people also spare no expense in displaying their piety, particularly with the somber yet colorful procession of sculptures depicting the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What happens for the rest of the year then? Well, they serve delicious food! In fact, Angono is the address of Balaw-Balaw Specialty Restaurant and Art Gallery – yes, that restaurant that serves exotic Filipino food. Balaw-Balaw is already famous and numerous blogs and articles have been written about it, so you’ll have to excuse us if we skip much of the details behind this successful restaurant.
The first thing you will notice is the entrance arch of Balaw-Balaw beckoning you to come inside. At the top the words “Perdigon Vocalan” are inscribed; that is the name of one of Angono’s famous painters, whose family owns and manages the restaurant. Fortunately, Atomic Traveller is proud to have a friend in Andre Vocalan, a member of the family who is keeping the restaurant alive; he actually prepared the food that you will see as you read along!
Upon entering the restaurant, you can see the Panalubong corner at the right side. The word “panalubong” is used for welcoming guests to Balaw-Balaw and it also contains food items and figurines of Angono’s famed Higantes (“giants”), which guests can buy and bring to their loved ones or friends. This makes it also as the area where you can buy “pasalubong” from the restaurant. With just a change of one letter – from pasalubong to panalubong – Balaw-Balaw instantly exudes Filipino authenticity.
A waiter will guide you to your seat and provide the menu. While waiting for the food, why not enjoy the view? Better yet, you can take a walk inside the art gallery inside the restaurant. You can see Mr. Perdigon Vocalan’s works as well as contributions by various artists from Angono. Most of the works are paintings and sculptures and you can practically spend the rest of the day just wondering at the details!
But you will have to come back to your table, because your food is ready! Or at least, if you ordered a full-course meal, the appetizer will be waiting at your table. Make way for: nilasing na hipon! This is a simple meal of wine-marinated crispy shrimp, but it will whet your appetite.
Coming next to our meal is the Filipino’s regular staple, rice. Only this time, it is mixed with squid ink (giving it that black coloring), with mussels and shrimp, among other seafoods. This black rice actually resembles a seafood paella, but its taste is distinctively Filipino.
Along with the black rice, the main staple for our meal is la-oya, a concoction of beef and vegetables with broth cooked in an earthen pot. It is a far cry from the regular nilaga because of its ingredients. This is truly a sumptuous meal, and you should never leave Balaw-Balaw without having a taste of it!
Now, fried tilapia is a regular cuisine in the Philippines; after all, this fish is very common and can be bought cheaply at the local public market. But in Balaw-Balaw, like everything else, this meal comes with its own taste. This mouth-watering fish comes with its own seaweed salad, and the combination of fish and salad complement each other powerfully. You can practically eat it on its own, but you can savor it with the black rice as well.
Having sampled everything, is there any else? The dessert, of course! The maruya with ice cream might be the last course for the meal, but it is far from the least. The fried bananas do not disappear with the flour (unlike the regular maruya found at sidewalk stores) while the frozen ice cream serves as a counterpoint to the sweetness of the banana. Topping it all off is a flowering gumamela, which shows that Balaw-Balaw loves its nature as much as it loves its food.
And that’s it! With these kinds of delicacies, you would practically eat to your heart’s content.
We are very grateful for Mr. Andre and the staff of Balaw-Balaw for the opportunity to savor their meals. Truly, their efforts of preserving Filipino food will never go out of style for as long as people visit Balaw-Balaw and eat there. We hope this post and the pictures we showed will encourage you to go to Angono, the Art Capital of the Philippines, and have your lunch or dinner in Balaw-Balaw.
Now, I know something’s on your mind. If you already know Balaw-Balaw, then you might be asking, “Where’s the exotic food?” Don’t worry, Mr. Andre will be serving those! Just check our page every now and then for Part 2 of our story in Balaw-Balaw. Thank you for dropping by!