The Philippines is famous worldwide for our rich culture, heritage, and history. But aside from our eventful (and sometimes tumultuous) history, we’re also well-known for our flavorful and unforgettable cuisine. Our wide culinary offerings have made our country an essential culinary destination for tourists looking for a rich food trip experience. However, while there are numerous culinary capitals in the Philippines – including Pampanga, Bicol, and Cebu – each of our towns and provinces also has specific specialties that are worth knowing and experiencing. In this article, we’ve zeroed on three of the most underrated culinary destinations in Luzon: Albay, Laguna, and Bulacan.
Albay: The Heart of the Philippine’s Spice Capital
Around the Philippines, Albay is known as the home of the perfect-coned Mayon Volcano, the Bicol region’s most iconic landmark. While Albay has been a tourist destination for years and years, the local government has recently embarked on a culinary tourism move dubbed “Culinaria Albay,” which puts the exciting signature dishes of Albay in the spotlight.
While this move has helped tourists enjoy their tourist experience more in Albay, the more notable achievement is the raves that Culinaria got from global chefs in the Madrid Fusion held in 2015.
Dining in Albay is an adventure in itself because of the surprises that unassuming restaurants spring out to delight the traveler. Aside from the omnipresent pepper, most of the region’s dishes are awash with gata or coconut milk, whether be it meat, fish or vegetable. Savor the Bicol express, laing, pinangat, kinunot, cocido and fusion food to literally spice up your dining experience while swinging in Albay, beginning in the capital city of Legazpi.
If you’re looking for iconic Albayano cuisine, there are a few restaurants and food outlets that we’ve zeroed in on for a unique experience for your palates, including Small Talk, First Colonial Grill, and Ysabelle’s.
A mainstay since 1999, Small Talk has been charming guests ever since it opened to serve local Bicolanos. With an ancestral house-turned-resto as its home, Small Talk offers a quaint dining place that offers Bicol-flavored pastas, pizzas, and all-time Filipino favorites.
If you’re looking for a legendary culinary experience, however, the First Colonial Grill offers odd yet exciting flavors. Its claim to fame? The sili ice cream, which has the spicy biting after-taste that will surely keep you coming back for more. Other iconic ice cream flavors that you can get from the First Colonial Grill are pili, coffee, malunggay, and halaya!
For a fine dining restaurant choice, Ysabelle’s takes the top spot, priding itself for its cozy ambiance and delectable selection of both local and international cuisine. While their international cuisine does get attention from guests, they’re actually best known for their Albay’s Best in a Platter, which includes all the best Albayano food and dishes in one single spread. You can get the Polangui Sinarapan Pandan Rice, Albay Special Bicol Express, Guinobatan Longganisa, Sorsogon Assorted Grilled Seafoods, Camalig Special Pinangat and Crispy Fried Tilapia all in one go.
These restaurants are Culinaria Albay at its best, and it would be a mistake to miss experiencing the unique culinary prowess of Albay.
Laguna: Highlighting Modernized Takes on Traditional Filipino Cuisine
When you visit Laguna, it’s probably a sin not to get a piping hot buko pie as a pasalubong for your family or even as a snack on your way home. Known as the “Buko Pie Capital” in the Philippines, Laguna is home to delicious and mouthwatering dishes and desserts. From the iconic Colette’s and The Original Buko Pie Bakeshop to the Sta. Cruz’s Aurora Filipino Cuisine, Laguna may be considered an underrated culinary destination for many.
For your dessert needs, Colette’s and The Original Buko Pie Bakeshop are two of the top choices in Laguna, thanks to their wide selection of Filipino desserts and local delicacies. They’re actually two of the most well-known bakeshops that tourists flock to for their dose of delicious pies filled with the soft and sweet flesh of buko. Aside from buko pie, though, these bakeshops also offer other pastries and delicacies, including apple pies, banana bread, cassava cakes, and ube cheese tarts.
If you’re looking for Filipino dishes and full meals though, there’s one restaurant that perfectly encapsulates the Filipino heritage: Aurora Filipino Cuisine. Located in Santa Cruz, Laguna, the converted ancestral house of the Salongas now stands as a venue to try traditional, hometown cuisine taken to new heights. In Aurora, traditional cuisine takes on a different level, with homegrown Sta. Cruz classics and Southern Tagalog recipes get unique twists that will please your palates. Here you can get the Salonga’s family favorites, including their own pata estofado, binanging manok, kare-kareng baka, and crispy adobong tadyang ng bakang Angus. With a location that takes you back in time, Aurora offers both a nostalgic view and a modernized take on Filipino cuisine.
Bulacan: Unique Bulaqueño Food Tours for an Immersive Culinary Experience
Bulacan is considered the melting pot of Filipino cuisine, thanks to its neighboring provinces that offer unique culinary experiences. But while this underrated culinary destination does highlight the different cuisines of its neighbors, it also has a few tricks up its sleeve, including the Empanada de Kaliskis, pugon-baked pastries, ginataang binagkat, and the original Bulacan pastillas.
For an immersive experience of Bulaqueño cuisine, multiple groups have developed food trips that take tourists on a rich culinary experience for one day. And with multiple food stops, it’s safe to say that you’ll be coming home with a full stomach and a sense of fulfillment in experiencing a different culinary heritage. On one specific food tour headed by Rheeza Santiago Hernandez, a food historian in Bulacan, tourists are taken around the province to iconic restaurants and food places. Some of the most notable stops are Aling Mercy’s Empanada de Kaliskis and Bistro Maloleno.
Known for its crumbly texture, the Empanaka de Kaliskis is an heirloom recipe that can be dated back to the 1820s. According to Aling Mercy, she started making the dish when she was merely seven years old. In fact, because of its flavor and texture, it became the favorite food of former presidents Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, Elpidio Quirino, Carlos Garcia, Ferdinand E. Marcos, Corazon Aquino, and Joseph Ejercito Estrada.
However, if you’re looking for Bulacan dishes, viands, and just the original taste of Bulacan cuisine, there’s one destination that you need to plot of your maps: Bistro Maloleno. Dubbed as the “Home of Authentic Bulacan Heritage Cuisines and Favorite Food of our Heroes,” Bistro Maloleno prepares enjoyable dishes such as kinilaw na bangus; menudo; puchero; kitang with kamias; hamon Bulakenya; pangat na ayungin; nilaga; ginataang binagkat (iced sweetened gabi with milk and pinipig); and panotcha (molded roasted sugar).
They also serve dishes known as Filipino heroes’ food, such as the pochero ni Plaridel, tinolang manok ni Rizal, nilagang manok na puti na may asparagus ni Aguinaldo, Arroz ala Cubana ni Hen. Gregorio; nilitsong manok sa saha ni Bonifacio; and tempura ni Mariano Ponce.
Other notable food stops you need to visit in Bulacan include Naty Castro’s Pastillas, Francia’s Special Puto, and Nana Tasin’s Tamales.