Tons of exciting sceneries, history, and culture await those who travel in the northern part of the Philippines. Along with the rich heritage and views are wonderful cuisines that are unique in each town and province.
So, if you want to take on a gastronomic trip up North, here is a secret that we want to let you in. Discover these hidden food gems of the North and make your trip extraordinary:
In the Central part of Luzon is the City of Tarlac. A first-class component city, which is approximately 77 miles from Manila, that is rich in history as well as various delicacies influenced by other cultures and nearby towns.
In SM City Tarlac, a homegrown coffee shop Watz Bakin, boasts of its coffee, bread, and pastries that locals have come to love and cherish. The cozy café is owned by Teresa Maramba who is known in the area for her Korean Garlic Bread. The café embodies ethnic inclusiveness, just like its town's culture which is mostly a mix of the influence of the towns nearby.
Light and Salt Foods, another homegrown brand is known for their healthy salad dressings, beverages, and dry goods like gourmet tuyo and tinapa. Its owner Dina Cruz ensures that they source their ingredients from local farmers and suppliers to help reduce local supply waste which happens to farmers who are not able to sell their goods.
Tarlac's cuisine is one of the most diversified in Central Luzon. It flourishes in a fusion of flavors from nearby provinces with Kapampangan roots, which inspired the dishes of the restaurant Point & Grill
The first branch of Point & Grill was opened in SM Baguio last 2004 which was unexpectedly received well by the customers. The owner also shares how her family decided to put up a restaurant, "Filipino food is very close to my dad's heart since we are Kapampangan, we have a lot of dishes in Pampanga that we want not only people from Baguio to taste but also from different regions like in the north – we wanted them to taste what we can also offer," shares Kimberly Rodriguez Del Rosario, Owner of Point & Grill.
The restaurant is known for their pork barbecue and kare-kare, which Del Rosario proudly shares with their heirloom secret recipe. The restaurant also serves papaitan, sisig and its original beef ampalaya with tausi – which is a combination of savory, bitter, sweet, and the right amount of salt. The dish plays with flavors and texture that intrigues the tongue.
Del Rosario says that their menu is actually a different mix of different regional favorites aside from Kapampangan dishes, so that their customers can taste different dishes from places like Vigan, Dagupan, etc. without having to go to those places.
Other dishes that regular customers look for are their tender beef bulalo and grilled liempo. Aside from their delectable cuisines, what is unique about this restaurant is that they offer extra rice for only the price of one peso. Their owner, Kimberly Rodriguez Del Rosario shares that she wants people to know that their one peso still has a value. She believes that food should be shared and enjoyed and that her customers should walk out filled and happy with their meal.
"I think food is always in the hearts of the Filipino because whatever celebration we do, there is always food either binyag, birthday, weddings, and so, I just want to say that whatever food you eat it is the thought and memories that count," shares Del Rosario.
Meanwhile just around 50 kilometers away is Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija which was declared as the Rice capital of the Philippines.
At SM City Cabanatuan lies Nueva Ecija's premiere homegrown bakeshop: Edna's Cakeland. The couple who owns the bakeshop started selling their home-baked breads in 1996 which later grew into four branches. It became known for their cheese rolls, yema rolls, mamon taisan, ensaymadas, and banana bread.
Their HR manager shares how he witnessed Mrs. Gonzales work hands-on even now in her old age, "Very hands-on siya sabi ko nga sa kanya last time Ma'am you are getting old na sabi kong ganun sa kanya, but you still make a way na ikaw pa 'yung magtitimbang na ganito, ikaw pa 'yung gagawa ng ganito na supposedly kami na lang, 'yung mga tao na lang natin pero iba talaga 'pag passion mo – 'pag love mo 'yung ginagawa mo, wala sa age, wala sa kung anong estado mo sa buhay, basta as long as mahal mo 'yung ginagawa mo it grows talaga".
(She is very hands-on that is why I told her last time that Ma'am you are getting old, but you still make a way to weigh this, or you go and do this which is supposedly our task already, or our staff can do it for you, but it is different when you really have a passion for what you are doing – if you love what you are doing, age cannot stop you, your life status will not stop you, as long you love what you are doing it really grows.)
Now their daughter Anna Margarita Gonzales, runs the shops and has developed other products that locals have also grown fond of, such as their mocha walnut cake, red velvet cake, and their strawberry shortcake. Now they also serve silog meals for those who want a savory taste and cannot live without having a rice meal.
From humble beginnings to a heartwarming reason for starting up a business, Harvest Café and Bistro at SM City Cabanatuan may look like a quaint coffee shop that sits quietly in the outdoor garden, but it funds around 20 scholars from kindergarten to college, and provides employment to their scholars and other working students.
Mavi Ordonez, Store Manager at Harvest Café and Bistro shares that for every frappe and milk tea sold, five pesos goes to the scholarship fund. Mavi's sister who is her partner in the business has experienced difficulties in finances when she was still studying which is what inspired her to come up with the project.
Ordonez shares that they embrace social responsibility and that they have come up with a 3E plan to help people. "Ano 'yung 3E's namin na 'yun? The education, employment and then the entrepreneurship. Bakit? Kasi from the five pesos in a cup, namin magbibigay kami ng education, sa mga determinadong student, pero unfortunately gipit. Paano sa employment? We hire working students, especially our scholars. We prioritize our scholars, so if gusto nila puwede sila sa amin mag-part time."
(What is our 3E's? The education, employment and then the entrepreneurship. Why? Because from the five pesos in a cup we can provide education for determined students, but are unfortunately less fortunate. How about employment? We hire working students, especially our scholars. We prioritize our scholars so if they are willing, they can get a part time job in our café.)
Harvest Café and Bistro specializes in frappes, burgers, pastas, snacks, and rice bowls. Their motto is: soak kindness, reap happiness – is what keeps them inspired to continue sharing kindness to others.
As you head on further to the north, do not forget to stop by at Pangasinan. At SM City Rosales a couple put up a café to create a haven for people to share stories and for them to disciple, lead, and council couples like themselves. The Coffee Lounge, which started from a dream, is now flocked with people who want to just relax, socialize, talk, and bond with one another.
Their specialty is an alcohol-infused chocolate cake with generous chunks of chocolates on top. The alcohol gives the cake more moisture and flavor which their customers always come back to. They also offer chunky cookies and sugar-free mango cake for those who are not fans of chocolate.
These hidden food gems are only some of the treasures you can find up North. These local restaurants and cafés are part of the 6,000 participants of SM's Grand Food Festival. From September 1 to 30, customers can catch the Food Sale, Food Trip at SM with a fun TikTok video challenge, and the indoor picnic park. You still have a few days left, so make sure to head on to the SM mall near you.
Food lovers out there can get satisfying meal combos, delectable buy-one-get-one deals, exciting freebies, and pleasant food surprises will be up for grabs at one of the biggest and most anticipated food fairs around the country.
Local chefs will also be competing with larger-than-life dishes at the super-size food display that will be available for the audience to see.
Your fur babies can also join the fun as they can have a wide variety of treats at their very own Dog Food Buffet Party at Paw Park.
With so many food options to choose from, you can bring the whole family with you – even your fur babies with you at SM's Grand Food Festival. Food and stories always go together, so let your bond and relationship as a family grow while filling up with delightful food and happy memories.
For more information about SM Supermalls' Grand Food Fest, visit their website.
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