Fire in the Sky

Last night the sky lit up with fireworks.

New Year in the Philippines. The view of the Metro Manila skyline from Monterey Hills in San Mateo, Rizal. Photographed by: Paolo Nacpil. From: Photographs by Paolo Nacpil on

In a fireworks crazy country like the Philippines, people spend crazy amount of money on fireworks to welcome the new year.  Manila was practically a war zone last night - fireworks exploding here, there and everywhere. Fireworks debris fell from the sky.  Ash fell from the sky.  My cars were covered  in ash and worse, my plants were covered in ash.  Smoke was everywhere.  The runway of Ninoy Aquino International Airport is usually closed every year on new year from twelve midnight until two hours later because of zero visibility.  Consistent with our government's tourism slogan . . .

. . . new year celebrations are more fun in the Philippines, unless you have asthma.


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Flora and Food

It is the  private residence of Claude (pronounced "cloud") and Mary-Ann Tayag.  A known "must-visit" for food lovers, gluttons and food bloggers. For avoidance of doubt, I belong to the first group.

People who know me well know that food is another passion of mine.  A passion thankfully shared by most family and friends.  It is therefore surprising that it took two long years for this visit to have finally come to pass.

The biggest hurdle was that the Tayags do not open their home to a group of less than 12 people. Secondly, it only opens on weekends.  Thirdly, it's at least 2 hours drive from Manila. Finally, I'm on a diet.

This was a 4-hour food experience.  To call it simply "lunch" is such an understatement. Feast is more like it.

I did not read other blogs prior to our visit and so it was a pleasant surprise to be welcomed by plants as well. Had it not been for the plants, I might not have blogged about this visit.  Mine is a plant blog after all and the food likely given better justice by food bloggers who had gone before me.

Bale Dutung (House of Wood) is located in a quiet residential area in Angeles City.  From the street the place looks no different from its neighbors.  Only a colorfully labelled narrow gate is the sign of things to come.

Bale Dutung exterior by Jay Cheng of Sights and Spices. Used with permission.

The first sight that greets you upon entering is a bonsai plant and a wooden sculpture.  Beyond these are glimpses of a pond and the Tayag home.  It then hits you that this place is so much bigger than what it initally seemed.

Moving further into the compound, one gets a better view of the lotus pond with the tall Balete tree (Ficus sp.) in the background.

The pond is guarded by a sculpture of a tikbalang, an evil mythical creature with the head and feet of a horse and a humanoid body. In Philippine folklore, the tikbalang usually lives in a balete tree. The sculpture is Steel, by Solomon Saprid.

The walkway to the house is lined by ferns ang bougainvilles.  The lower level is mostly an open dining area looking out to the garden on one side and apparently leading to the kitchens on the other side.  It was as if each step led one closer and closer to food nirvana.

The menu we chose had previously been praised by Anthony Bourdain, an American food writer/chef; Tom Parker-Bowles, a British food editor/writer for Esquire UK and numerous food bloggers.  The long drive out of the capital city was more than enough to whet one's appetite.

Claude was in charge of the kitchen and Mary Ann was in charge of the dining area.  A very warm and gracious hostess she made each guest feel welcome.  She knowledgeably led and paced us through the meal, introducing each course to us with anecdotes and personal requests.  "Give the first bite of each course to Claude and me.  Taste the food the way we like it to taste.  If you don't like it, then there are condiments for you to use.  But please give us the first bite."

Even before the actual menu, Mary Ann offered us a trio of crackers and spreads.  "Start with green and end with white."  The green spread was basil pesto made with pili nuts.  The yellow spread  was taba ng talangka (fat from small shore crabs).  The white spread was Balo-balo (fermented rice and shrimp).

First course:  Ensaladang Pako.  Fiddlehead fern salad with a honey/calamansi vinaigrette, more specifically not to mention scientifically, Athyrium esculentum.  Second course:  BBQ Paldeut at Claude'9 Talangka Rice.  BBQ chicken tails with lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) marinade and crab fat rice.  Third course:  Adobong Pugo.  Quail - Adobo Style).


There was an intriguing bonsai made of coconut palms (Cocos nucifera).

Huge Alocacia sp. that can double as a golf umbrella.

Highly ornamental Ananas sp. that is too pretty to be eaten.

Another view of the giant and eerie Balete tree. Good thing the tikbalang did not show up in this photo.

Fourth course:  Two kinds of sushi. Talangka Sushi. Sushi roll made of pure crab fat and topped with a slice of kamias or Averrhoa bilimbi. Hito at Balo-Balo Sushi.  Sushi of fermented rice and shrimp with fried hito or catfish wrapped in mustasa or mustard greens.  Fifth course:  Lechon Tortilla.  Crispy roast pork flakes on a tortilla.  Sixth course:  Bone Collector.  Bone marrow in XO Adobo sauce.  Straw provided. This is not for the faint hearted. You could almost feel your arteries clogging up but it was so good you couldn't stop. Mary Ann likened it to a drug addict sniffing Meth.

The Buddha belly bamboo (Bambusa ventricosa) trees also provided a welcome shade.

Seventh course:  Sinigang Kapampangan.  A sour, tamarind (Tamarindus indica)-based soup with okra, taro, milkfish belly, green chili pepper, water spinach and spareribs.  It was also served with crayfish, steamed rice wrapped in a banana leaf, fish sauce, Bird's eye chili pepper and calamansi (Citrofortunella microcarpa), a kind of local lime.    Eighth course:  Kare-Kareng Buntot.  Oxtail Stew in Peanut Sauce. 

Pandan (Pandanus amaryllifolius) is widely used in Asian cuisine.

Philodendrons making themselves at home in the Tayag's residence.

Ninth course:  Sisig Babi. Sizzling Pork in onion and liver sauce.  Tenth course:  Tibok-tibok.  Pure carabao's milk maja blanca.  Sinaunang kape.  Coffee prepared the traditional native way.

Wonder of wonders, we reached the 10th course and got a bonus course too. Thanks Mary Ann for sharing your Chicharon Bulaklak or deep fried pork intestines.  Our bellies were full and we were all satisfied.

Even better, as I was walking off that feeling of fullness, I found that the Tayag's had Tillandsias (Tillandsia paucifolia) and . . . 

. . . cycads.  Here is a fine specimen of a Zamia furfuracea.

I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon in Bale Dutung.  Being with family and friends, eating great food in beautiful green surroundings.  I guess the way to a man's heart is not just through his stomach but also through his green thumb.



For more information on Bale Dutung, visit their official website.

Videos are also available on YouTube:  here and here.  Click away.



As mentioned in my previous post, I will be away for some time.  My posts are scheduled to be auto-published while I am away so please do not think that I am neglecting to reply to your comments.  Rest assured that I will try to approve comments and reply as soon as I am able.  

Again, please take the time to answer the poll posted on the sidebar at the top of the page.  I have very limited time in each place and would appreciate help deciding which of the 3 gardens I should prioritize.


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Once upon a time when digital cameras were not yet invented there was a thing called film. After clicking the shutter button to take pictures, you bring the film to a photo shop to have it developed. You will be asked to choose the type of paper for your photos and usually you will be given two options matte or glossy. Things were more complicated in the past.

Last time I heard, film was already included in Appendix III of CITES (Read: threatened with extinction).

T. vernicosa outside our dining room window.


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