When people think of Taal, the first things that usually come to mind are the Taal Lake and the Taal Volcano.
However, there is so much more to Taal. Many travellers call Taal “the Vigan near Manila,” and for good reason. As a heritage town, it is home to many beautifully preserved bahay na bato ancestral homes—most of them owned by historical figures and heroes—that offer a glimpse into our country’s past. Another reason to visit Taal is its food. There are certain types of fish that can only be found in Taal Lake, such as maliputo (a type of mackerel) and tawilis (the only freshwater sardine in the world). And with the number of new and inventive restaurants popping up in Taal, it might just be time for you to plan your visit.
Feliza Taverna y Café
Café Feliza is one of the newer restaurants in Taal, having opened only last May. The restaurant is named after the building’s original owner, Feliza Diokno, who served as Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo’s personal secretary. Conveniently located along F. Agoncillo St., a short walk away from the Taal Basilica and other historical sites, the restaurant also doubles as a bed and breakfast.
The menu, developed by executive chef Giney Villar (of Adarna Food and Culture), is nothing short of mouth-watering. Don’t leave without trying the Maliputo en Papillote, steamed maliputo topped with an olive and tomato concassé. The maliputo is a highly sought after fish that’s rare even in Taal; many tourists get confused with the terms “maliputong labas” and “maliputong loob.” Both fish actually start out as the same fry, but those that swim from the Pansipit River to sea are called “maliputong labas” and become “talakitok,” while those that swim to and are caught in the Taal Lake are called “maliputong loob,” and are said to have a better taste and texture by connoisseurs. The maliputo served at Café Feliza is maliputong loob, the clean tasting fish’s subtle sweetness beautifully accented by the acidity of the crushed tomatoes.
Another must-try is the La Favorita del Fraile, a rich and hearty dish of beef marinated in red wine and slow-cooked to tender perfection.
After your meal, don’t forget to check out (and take photos of!) the second floor which houses various antiques and memorabilia such as portraits and personal effects of historical figures, and a large flag used by the Asociación de las Veteranos de la Revolución in their assemblies.
FELIZA TAVERNA Y CAFÉ IS LOCATED AT 6 F. AGONCILLO ST., POBLACION, TAAL, BATANGAS. TEL. NO. (043) 740 0113
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live in the Spanish era, head on over to Villa Tortuga. A large taxidermy pawikan stands guard over the house’s doors: the house is actually named “tortuga” (turtle) for the turtles abundant in the Pansipit River which is located just beside the house. A bahay na bato converted into a bed and breakfast, Villa Tortuga is popular among tourists for its photo studio where you can rent period costumes for P250. Women may choose from a variety of baro, saya, panuelo and tapis, while men may wear the barong tagalog, camisa de chino, or even a friar’s robes! The house also serves as a museum: after your photo opportunity, climb the stairs to the second floor where old furniture, portraits of historical figures, and religious icons are displayed. Villa Tortuga also offers a day tour package inclusive of a guided tour, a five-course colonial-style lunch of Taal’s specialties, costume rental, and a free sepia portrait of yourself in period garb to be mailed to you.
VILLA TORTUGA IS LOCATED AT M. AGONCILLO ST. COR. NOBLE ST., TAAL, BATANGAS
Named after a Juan Luna painting, the hip and artsy Tampuhan Café is located just beside Villa Tortuga. Like Villa Tortuga and Café Feliza, it is also a bed and breakfast. Despite its namesake painting depicting a pair of lovers sulking after quarrelling (tampuhan), the café draws in love-struck diners, as evidenced by their cork board, where plenty of diners have left love messages.
“We have regular customers like these two nurses who are a couple,” Atty. Marj de Castro, the owner, says while pointing to a series of post-its. “Whenever they come here, they leave a little message—about their day, their feelings, their hopes and dreams. Reading [the post-its] is like getting to know their story!” Indeed, there is something about the cozy little café that invites sentimentality and encourages diners to sit back and savor good memories with good food, with dishes that are an excellent fusion of the traditional and the modern. Try the Taal Volcano Crêpe, a savory crêpe stuffed with spicy tapang Taal. Their Lomi is a must-order for the ravenously hungry: thicker, eggier, and starchier than your usual lomi, a small bowl is enough to fill you up. Batangueños love their lomi with “everything on it,” and this is evident in Tampuhan’s lomi, with toppings that run the gamut from squid balls, to kikiam, tapang Taal, liver, and chicharon! Wash down your meal with the Salabat Surprise, ginger tea with huge chunks of kamoteng kahoy to give your drink a sweet and earthy twist.
TAMPUHAN CAFÉ IS LOCATED AT CALLE MARCELA AGONCILLO, POBLACION 6, TAAL, BATANGAS
Also known as the Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours (so named after Taal’s patron saint, St. Martin of Tours), the Taal Basilica is the largest Catholic church in Asia, making it a popular destination among those completing their Visita Iglesia during Lent. The basilica stands proudly at 315 ft long and 148 ft wide. First constructed in 1575, it has been destroyed and rebuilt several times following natural calamities, like the eruption of the Taal Volcano and a strong earthquake. In 1755, the church was again rebuilt—this time in its current location, farther from the volcano.
Work on the present version of the church started in 1856. Designed in the Baroque style (characterized by features such as the dramatic use of light, ceiling frescoes or murals, and optical illusions like tromp l’oeil) by Spanish architect Luciano Oliver, the interiors of the church are said to resemble St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, although less lavishly decorated.
TAAL BASILICA IS LOCATED AT M. AGONCILLO ST., POBLACION 14, TAAL, BATANGAS
Don Juan BBQ
Don Juan BBQ is ideal for travellers who want to sample all of Taal’s specialties under one roof. Order the Taal Specialties Boodle, with tapang Taal, longganisang Taal, inihaw na baboy, adobo sa dilaw, fried tawilis, sinaing na tulingan, ginataang sitaw at kalabasa with sliced tomatoes, onions, pickled papaya, and steamed rice. The restaurant also doubles as a one-stop shop for edible pasalubong; frozen tapang Taal, longganisang Taal, and kapeng barako are sold here.
DON JUAN BBQ IS LOCATED AT CALLE JOSE W. DIOKNO, TAAL, BATANGAS TEL. NO. (043) 302 2486
Taal Public Market
After your meal, drop by the Taal Public Market just beside the restaurant. The market has everything from the freshest produce of Taal (and some seafood from neighboring Lemery) to popular street food such as pork and vegetable empanada. And since Taal is also known as the Barong Tagalog capital of the Philippines, one section of the market is devoted to pasalubong such as burdadong (embroidered) clothes, table napkins, and handkerchiefs.
Another thing that Taal is famous for is the balisong, or the butterfly knife. No one is entirely sure of the
balisong’s origins: while the first recorded butterfly knife is from France, it is undoubtedly in Batangas where the knife was refined, developed, and gained worldwide acclaim. Even the name is a point of contention, although the prevailing theory (proposed by author Jeff Imada in his book The Balisong Manual) is that it comes from the words “bali” (break) and “sung” (horn), a reference to how the balisong is traditionally made with carabao or stag horns. Batangueños also refer to the balisong as “veinte y nueve” (29), supposedly in reference to its length in centimetres once opened, although local folklore credits the name to a Batangueño who fought off twenty nine assailants with his balisong.
Stop by Brgy. Balisong in Taal, where these knives are made. Choose from a variety of balisong—from traditional ones made with carabao horns to more eclectic designs such as tiny keychains, kris-style knives, and even novelty spoon-and-fork balisong!
For more information, visit www.taal.com.ph.