Not so much has been said nor heard about my hometown of Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija, except that it is aptly called the Tricycle Capital of the Philippines.
Words and Photos by Chinggay Nuque
Not so much has been said nor heard about my hometown of Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija, except that it is aptly called the Tricycle Capital of the Philippines. While it cannot boast of pristine beaches and historic sites, Cabanatuan can definitely be proud of its great food finds and unique dishes. Don’t pass up the chance to try some of the exceptional food this city has to offer.
A mere 3-hour drive from Manila, Cabanatuan may be reached via SCTEX or Bulacan. You may also take the bus (around P200) from the Cubao or Pasay terminals; a bus leaves every 20 minutes. Here are some food finds that will make your trip worthwhile, and perhaps, may even make you want to come back.
You haven’t tried longganisa till you’ve tried Cabanatuan’s. Before there was chocolate covered bacon, Cabanatuan already had batutay–longganisa made of beef, coated with caramelized sugar. This sweet-and-savory specialty is best eaten tostado, just like the classic version that is made of pork with spices and lots and lots of garlic. There are absolutely no extenders in Cabanatuan longganisa, so you’re sure to have good, wholesome meat in every bite.
Available at the public market for P180-220/kg. Look for Annie’s stall in the meat section
Binabad sa Toyo and Sinampalukang Manok
Binabayad sa toyo is Cabanatuan’s porkchop– only much juicier and more tender because it is marinated in soy sauce and salt. Pair this with rice and tomato with bagoong, and you’ll have a more scrumptious version of a Pinoy breakfast.
While Sinampalukang Manok is not uncommon, Cabanatuan style is made with tamarind leaves making it more flavourful. Cook the dish with native chicken and fresh tamarind, eat with the chicken liver puréed in fish sauce, and you’ll relish Sinampalukang Manok like never before.
Gatas ng Kalabaw
Fresh carabao’s milk poured over rice, mixed in with sugar and eaten with tuyo or binabad sa toyo is the best breakfast, bar none. Some prefer to mix in salt instead of sugar, but I say the saltiness of the pork or tuyo best complements the sweetness. Be sure to be at the market early as stocks run out quickly.
Available at the public market for P250 for a 250mL bottle.
Homemade fresh every day, Cabanatuan’s kakanin are a must-try. Bibingkang kanin, maja blanca, bibingkang mais, kamoteng kahoy may be common in many towns in the country but the Cabanatuan kalamay sets itself apart as it is comes with latik and coconut syrup. At the market, be sure to grab the classic rice suman and suman sa lihiya which are best enjoyed with condensed milk.
Prices range from P10 – 30 per serving.
Puno’s Ice Cream
Back in the day, every birthday party in Cabanatuan had Puno’s ice cream or sherbet. People could have it only at parties because it used to come in a 2-gallon container, packed in a wooden barrel, with lots of salt to keep it frozen. Years later, the Puno sons and daughters decided to grow the business and sell their ice cream in pints and half-gallon and gallon packs, so sudden cravings can be satisfied. Their original and bestselling flavour, Cheese Macapuno Cashew, has the comforting homemade goodness taste that no commercial ice cream can ever beat.
P250 for half-gallon. Puno’s Ice Cream has a branch at Zulueta St. near NE Mall
Kesong Puti and Buro
Old Cabanatuan folks sure know how to ferment to perfection. Kesong Puti is simply carabao’s milk mixed and curdled with vinegar. While it is usually paired with hot pandesal, it is surprisingly a perfect match for olive oil and tomatobased pastas.
Buro is fermented rice with fish and best eaten with fried fish and eggplant, sigarilyas or kangkong. Be sure to sauté the buro before indulging.
Vicentico’s Edna’s Cakeland
If you’ve decided to visit Cabanatuan for a day, you might want to rest from food-shopping and have lunch at Vicentico’s, a Pinoy restaurant. They serve everything Pinoy from crispy pata and nilaga to karekare and inihaw. Be sure to order Panga ng Bariles with Lemon-butter sauce and ask for their sisig to be served on a regular plate, not on a sizzling one to retain the crispiness. The Buko Milkshake with Caramel is a novel and refreshing concoction and their chewy, crunchy-on-the-outside-yet-soft-in-the-inside carioca balls ensure there’s sugar in every bite.
Opened during the mid- 90’s, Vicentico’s is owned by couple Vicente and Cristina Salazar. The husband is an architect while the wife has a penchant for design–a combination that resulted in the restaurant’s quiet charm. Vicentico’s antique wooden interiors, native decor, and tropical garden take you on a true Pinoy dining experience.
Vicentico’ is located at Del Pilar St., across Freedom Park.
Before heading back to Manila, be sure to drop by Edna’s Cakeland and shop for pastries. Edna started selling cheese rolls, with cheese that is melted into the hollow walls inside the bread (and not a stick of cheese stuck into the bread like commercial versions) and eventually came out with ensaymada, cupcakes, cakes, yema rolls, revel bars, crinkles, Food for the Gods and even savory items such as sandwiches, pasta and embutido, among others.I recommend Cakeland’s siopao, which are always fresh, meaty and saucy, and their cheese balls which are sticky and chewy cheeseflavored pastillas–I have not found anything in the metro that comes close.Cakeland refuses to distribute nor branch out, making their products even more covetable.
With all of these amazing food finds, it is a wonder how this city has eluded the foodie spotlight for this long. Now that you know what to get and what to watch out for, plan a trip and discover the tastes and flavors of Cabanatuan for yourself.
Edna’s Cakeland is located at Don Manuel St., Kapitan Pepe Subdivision.