Susie's tibok-tibok, one of the dishes to be featured in the Big Bite food festival. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
MANILA – Here’s a good reason to go to Pampanga this weekend: over 100 food stalls from northern Philippines will serve their specialties in a big culinary event, which will also be attended by some of the country’s well-known chefs and home cooks.
Ayala-owned Marquee Mall will serve as the venue for “Big Bite! The Northern Food Festival,” a first of its kind in the country, which will be held from October 18 to 20. Here, visitors can sample everything that the North has to offer, from fresh produce to snacks, meals, desserts and even unusual delicacies.
For the event, Ayala Land collaborated with the Department of Tourism, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Mercato Centrale Group, which is known for putting up food markets in different parts of the country.
Christy's Bulacan Chicharon. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Maria Rowena Tomeldan, vice president and head for operations and support services of Ayala Land’s commercial business group, explained why they chose to hold the Big Bite in a provincial mall instead of Manila.
“It’s really suited for Marquee because Pampanga is the culinary capital of the Philippines… And as a group, we make sure that we don’t just bring in the strong Manila brands,” she told food writers during a preview of the event. “We make sure that we also bring in regional concepts.”
“Because you know, the Filipinos are actually so talented when it comes to food,” she added. “Even in the dining table, we talk about food while eating. That’s what makes us so different. We already plan the next meal. At saka ‘pag may party, ang tanong, ‘anong handa?’ Hindi ‘sino ang bisita?’ So that’s what we are as a race, it’s part of our culture. We want to highlight that.”
Tomeldan said visitors can expect to see at least two versions of a certain dish in the first ever Big Bite, citing the sheer number of participating stalls in the event.
For the media preview held last week, organizers handpicked some of what they believe are the most successful food stalls in the food festival.
“They’re very persistent,” Tomeldan said of these local food vendors, which have made it big in some provinces and even in Metro Manila.
She is hoping that other homegrown food concepts will follow suit. “Kasi some of them are hesitant, they’re happy where they are,” she said. “So we invited food retailers and chefs and cooks all the way from Bulacan to Ilocos.”
Among the more popular food brands in the Big Bite is Nathaniel’s, which now has branches in Katipunan and Timog Avenue, both in Quezon City. The Pampanga-based shop is known mainly for its buko pandan salad, a refreshing treat made of milk, coconut and pandan-flavored gelatin cubes.
Nathaniel's buko pandan salad. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Other Kapampangan favorites include Susie’s tibok-tibok, a white pudding made with carabao’s milk and topped with fried coconut bits; Pampanga’s Best tocino and ham; and Kuliat empanadas and Toll House’s baked macaroni which are a little on the sweet side, just how most Filipinos like their food.
Kuliat empanadas. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
“Masarap ang macaroni nila,” said Tomeldan, who admitted that she has always been a customer of Toll House. “When you think about it, sobrang simple lang ang macaroni. Pero parang ‘pag masarap kasi ang macaroni, everybody eats.”
There is also Kabigting’s Halo-Halo which, like Razon’s, is known for using few ingredients. Kabigting’s version (which has beans, sweet corn and carabao’s milk pastillas) is sweet but not overwhelming, although it tends to leave a chalky texture in the mouth because of the pastillas.
Kabigting's halo-halo. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Pampanga’s neighboring provinces were represented during the media preview by Sweet Heavens’ Leche Flan in Nueva Ecija, Christy’s Special Bulacan Chicharon and Bella’s Puto Calasiao in Pangasinan.
Rich and creamy, Sweet Heavens’ Leche Flan is a dream come true for those with a sweet tooth. It deserves praise for its firm and smooth texture, but easy on the syrup – it tends to become cloyingly sweet.
Sweet Heavens' Leche Flan. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
What hits the spot is Bella’s unflavored puto Calasiao, with the bite-size, sticky rice cake having just the right amount of sweetness. The flavored ones, like banana and mango, may be an acquired taste for some.
Bella's puto Calasiao. Photo by Karen Flores, ABS-CBNnews.com
Also noteworthy is the very tasty and indulgent chicharon from Christy’s, which is best enjoyed with steamed rice.
“We’re getting all the contacts of the best suppliers and putting them all together in one big event. So parang the best of the best,” said Sandy Espinosa, marketing manager of Ayala Land’s commercial business group.
“There will be stalls from Baguio, Ilocos, from different parts of the region,” she added.
Aside from the food stalls, Big Bite will also feature cooking demonstrations from top chefs and cooks such as “Junior MasterChef Pinoy Edition” judge Chef Rolando Laudico, Chef Sau del Rosario, Sabrina Artadi of “Sabrina’s Kitchen,” and Lilian Borromeo of the famous dining destination, Kusina ni Atching Lilian.
There will also be inter-school cooking competitions among culinary schools such as Philippine Women’s University, Systems Plus College, Angeles University Foundation, NorthPoint Culinary Academy and Bulacan State University.
Contests will also be aplenty, from eating showdowns to the search for the best heirloom recipe.