Episode 32: A culinary adventure of epic proportions at Bale Dutung

Some time ago, I re-watched the Philippines’ episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations”, just for kicks. The episode was one of the first materials I gleaned on while writing about lechon, so I figured I could find other stuff to work on.
One of the places Tony visited in the episode is Bale Dutung, the culinary sanctuary of artist Claude Tayag in Pampanga. Bale Dutung was Tony’s second stop on his journey to understand Filipino cuisine, and what better way to do so than to venture to Pampanga, the culinary capital of the Philippines.
It was fun watching Tony learn about our cuisine while dining on Kapampangan dishes. In fact, this was the reason dining at Bale Dutung became a culinary adventure of epic epicurean proportions. Hey, if Anthony Bourdain dined there and said the food is excellent, then it surely is, right?
Thing is, having a chance to dine at Bale Dutung is an incredible feat. You have to get a booking months in advance, and you need to be in a group of at least ten. You also have to shell out P1,800/head.  I figured that it would take a while before I could try out Claude’s cooking.
That is until one day, I found myself in a busload of tourists on its way to Pampanga, and into the doorstep of Bale Dutung.

Bale Dutung (House of Wood in Kapampangan) is inspired by the Kapampangan camalig (rice storage house). The house, which also has the ambience of an ancestral home, was constructed for seven years from when Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991.

Upon entering, one would be greeted by some of Claude’s sculptures, all standing amidst a wide, forest-like dreamland. The house itself showcases Claude’s wide collection of furnishings, and other artworks.
While Bale Dutung is marvelous on its own, my attention was at the ground floor, the dining area and outdoor kitchen where all the action is – guests chatting and walking around while admiring the place, Claude and his wife Mary Ann preparing lunch, and the kitchen helpers going around to help fix the tables.
P1,800/head is expensive for a full-course meal, but you’re paying for a four-hour, slow-paced, authentic Kapampangan lunch prepared by one of the country’s best culinary experts. Experiencing lunch at Bale Dutung is worth the wait, or best enjoyed nice and slow.
Our lunch started with a glass of dalandan juice with “muscovado ice,” or frozen calamansi juice sweetened with muscovado (unprocessed sugar).
Several appetizers came next. The first was a set of crackers served with toppings of crab fat (aligue) sauce, buro and pesto. Mary Ann suggested that we mix and match the toppings to explore the blend of flavors (the pesto and aligue sauce seemed to be a good combination).
Next is fresh pako (fiddlehead ferns) salad with tomatoes, quail’s egg and a mango vinaigrette dressing. I remember seeing this in the No Reservations episode – Claude said pako was just a lowly weed that could be eaten anytime anywhere, to which Tony said that the “weed” commands a high price in the foreign market.
The third appetizer is fried lumpia ubod. Mary Ann advised us to “give us the first bite,” that is, taste the dish without adding any sauces. I ended up eating the whole lumpia without any sauce.
Next came chicken wing inasal (roasted) served with a small serving of aligue rice.
After finishing off the chicken wing, the servers passed around platters of talangka sushi, nori-wrapped rice topped with crab fat and kamias.
Not far behind is a type of fresh lumpia: buro and slices of fried hito wrapped in a mustasa (mustard) leaf.
Finally came the main course and the star of the show: five-ways lechon, roast pig cooked and served in five different ways, at which point we were told to serve ourselves. For food adventurers and lechon lovers, this is surely heaven on earth.


The First Way: crispy lechon skin (and some of its meat) with liver sauce. Pure, unadulterated heaven, lechon as we’ve always known and loved.
The Second Way: lechon tortilla – pritson or fried lechon belly wrapped in a soft tortilla with kimchi, tomatoes, basil, and onions. Crispy and fresh, bursting with flavors that enhance the taste of the fried lechon.
The Third Way: lechon sinigang. Hot, sour broth + assorted vegetables + juicy, fatty lechon goodness = a brilliant take on a classic Filipino delicacy.
The Fourth Way: barbecued lechon ribs – roasted lechon ribs with a grilled eggplant boat as a siding. Simple as it may be, seems like nothing goes to waste at the hands of Claude Tayag.


Thie Fifth Way: sisig – Having a taste of Claude’s take on the classic Kapampangan pork dish is exciting, to say the least. Add a few chili flakes, some soy sauce and onions, and you’re good to go.
Of course, this gastronomic adventure won’t end without dessert. First up was Paradiso, a bed of carabao milk served crème brulee-style and topped with a ball of macapuno, yema, and ube. Served along with it is a cup of brewed coffee and carabao milk.
One more dessert came up: tibok-tibok, a sweet and rich maja blanca enriched with carabao milk. At this point, my stomach was already full, not really bloated, but very satisfied nonetheless.
Just so you know, Bale Dutung serves three kinds of menus, which you have to choose from when you book your reservation. These are:

Menu #1: Kapangpangan Menu (P1,800/head)

Ensaladang Pakô
(Fiddle head fern salad)

Piniritong Lumpiang Ubod sa
Claude’9 Oriental Sauce

(Fried all vegetable spring roll with
lemon coriander Thai basil sauce)

Inasal na Manok at
Claude’9 Talangka Rice

(BBQ chicken wings with lemon grass
marinade and crab fat rice)

Adobong Pugo
(Quail – adobo style)

Talangka Sushi
Hito at Balo-Balo Sushi
(Sushi of crab fat and cat fish)

Tortillang Lechon
(Crispy roast pork flakes on a tortilla)

Bulanglang Kapampangan na may Tian ng Bangus,
Ulang at Tadyang ng Baboy

(Milkfish belly, spareribs, crayfish or prawn soup,
flavored with native guava)

Begucan Sisig Babi at Ensaladang Talong
(Pork cooked in shrimp paste with grilled eggplant)

Kare-kareng Laman Dagat
(Sea food cooked in peanut sauce)

PARADISO
(Dessert of yam, and coconut, eggyolk in water buffalo milk)

Sinaunang Kape, Tsaang Pandan
(Coffee and tea)

Menu #2: Lechon Menu(P1,800/head – highly recommended)

Ensaladang Pakô
(Fiddle head fern salad)

Piniritong Lumpiang Ubod sa
Claude’9 Oriental Sauce

(Fried all vegetable spring roll with
lemon coriander Thai basil sauce)

Inasal na Manok at
Claude’9 Talangka Rice

(BBQ chicken wings with lemon grass
marinade and crab fat rice)

Talangka Sushi
Hito at balo-balo Sushi
(Sushi of crab fat and cat fish)

Balat ng Lechon at Liver Sauce
(Crispy roast pork skin)

Lechon Tortilla
(Crispy roast pork flakes on a tortilla)

Inihaw na Tadyang na Lechon
at Ensaladang Talong

(Grilled pork ribs with eggplant salad)

Sinigang na Lechon
(Pork meat in sour soup)

 Lechon Sisig
(Pig’s cheeks with onion and liver sauce)

PARADISO
(Dessert of yam, coconut, egg yolk in water buffalo milk)

Kapeng Sinaunang Panahon
(coffee/ tea)

Menu #3: Anthony Bourdain Menu (P1,800/head) 

Ensaladang Pakô
(Fiddle head fern salad)

BBQ Paldeut at
Claude’9 Talangka Rice
(BBQ chicken tails with lemon grass
marinade and crab fat rice)

Adobong Pugo
(Quail – adobo style)

Hito at Balo-Balo Sushi
(Sushi of crab fat and cat fish)

Lechon Tortilla
(Crispy roast pork flakes on a tortilla)

Bulanglang Kapampangan na may
Tian ng Bangus, Ulang at Tadyang ng Baboy
(Milkfish belly, spareribs, crayfish or prawn soup,
flavored with native guava)

Sisig Babi
(Sizzling pork in onion and liver sauce)

Papaitan Soup
(Goat meat sour soup) or
Bone Collector
(Bone marrow in XO Adobo sauce)

Kare-kareng Buntot
(Oxtail stew in peanut sauce)

Tibok Tibok (dessert)
(pure carabao’s milk maja blanca)

Sinaunang Kape
(Coffee and tea)

The first showcases classic Kapampangan dishes, while the second (the menu we had) features the five-ways lechon. The third menu features the stuff Anthony Bourdain ate during his visit at Bale Dutung.

Kapampangan cuisine is fascinating. Pampanga’s food culture thrives on the province’s earthy abundance, meaning everything you see in your plate is fresh, natural, and taken straight from the farm or garden.

 The people of Pampanga are known to be great cooks. The cuisine highlights their creativity and talent, and their ability to make new delicacies from scratch, or existing food trends. It also helps that Kapampangans cook and eat anything that’s edible, thus giving rise to culinary jewels such as sisig, and oddities such as frogs and locusts.

Bale Dutung is worth traveling far and investing time and money for. Not to mention there’s nothing like having a slow, leisurely lunch featuring Claude’s culinary masterpieces that are, by far, the best I’ve tried in Filipino regional cuisine. It’s the greatest culinary adventure I’ve had.

Bale Dutung, House of Wood
Villa Gloria Subdivision, Angeles City, Pampanga 
Mobile: +639175359198
Telephone: +632 668-4038, 502-4527
Email: mquioctayag@yahoo.com, yhannguevarra@yahoo.com
Official Website: BaleDutung.com

Advertisements