There was no other place to take lifestyle empress Martha Stewart on her first trip out of Manila. It had to be Pampanga, the country’s culinary capital.
“Pampanga has such a rich food culture,” says Kapampangan chef Claude Tayag. “The province sits on fertile land right at the heart of the Central Plain of Luzon, irrigated by the Pampanga River. In the cycle of wet and dry season, the first sign of rain would follow an avalanche of creatures from the fields: kamarú (mole crickets), talangka (shore crabs), frogs, bulig (mudfish), ulang (freshwater prawns).”
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All these and more were served to Martha Stewart. First, in her trip to Alviz Farms in Santa Rita, and at her lunch in the Lazatin Mansion in San Fernando. The trip was organized by Kapampangan Ricco Ocampo and Magsaysay Group CEO Doris Magsaysay-Ho, who went knee deep in mud to plant rice with Stewart.
Tayag tells Stewart that Pampanga was our food basket during the Spanish-period. This was influenced by the province’s rich hacienderos, how the people lived and entertained there as well as its wide base of affluent Chinese mestizos whose main preoccupation was having a good meal. During parties and fiestas, a Kapampangan host will pull out all the stops to make sure guests have had more than enough food—so much so that there’s something for them to bring home. “We have a Pampango term, kurilyo, which means ‘to run out of food.’ That is the fear of every Pampango host. If it happens, it's considered a loss of face, and you’ll be the talk of the town,” the chef says. “A Kapampangan home-cook’s philosophy can be summed up ‘papaano ko pa mapapasarap ito?’ Give him a recipe that asks for a tablespoon of butter, he’ll put two.”
And so you can just imagine the spread laid out for the guest of honor and her party—Lisbeth Barron, chairman and CEO of Barron International Group and known as the Broadway dealmaker, and real estate developer Robbie Antonio, CEO of Revolution Precrafted, who struck a friendship with Stewart five years ago in New York.
Feast to feast
The Alviz family brought out their heirloom dishes with the matriarch Trinidad Pascual Alviz, watching over the cooking.
At the entrance was a hut serving bibingka and puto bumbong, followed by a refreshments station with your choice of pandan sa le (lemongrass tea), or buco sherbet. Across it was a taho vendor. Then came the delicacy station with tamales or bobotu (depending on which part of Pampanga you’re from), calame biko made from squash, tsokolateng batirol thickened with popped duman, patco (a traditional local crepe with coconut), barquillos, suman pascu, sumang bulagta, and turrones de casoy.
The savory stations were along the bamboo lined walk to the farmhouse and among these were asadung Matua (thrice cooked pork asado), bringhe, quilo bangus, balut, lechon, sisig, adobung camaru, betute (frogs), fried lumpia, and derang manuk (chicken barbeque).
Farmer and theater director Andy Alviz toured Stewart around the farm, which included a gift shop showcasing handmade embroidered shawls and jackets by Philip Dizon Torres.
At the next stop, the Lazatin ancestral house that was built in 1923, Stewart was happy to meet Tayag. Before coming to the Philippines, she was told by a Filipino friend that he’s the number one chef here. She was also glad to meet fellow baker and Wildflour owner Ana Lorenzana de Ocampo, whose sister Margarita Lorenzana-Manske owns Republique in Los Angeles and whose cookbook she has been enthusing about.
The lunch menu at the Lazatins included paco salad, served with shrimp and salted egg, different viands of pigeon on a bed of couscous, bringhe with Lazatin style adobong kapampangan, sinuso (the udder of a lactating cow) cooked arroz caldo style unlike others who just fry it, crabs with aligue, fettucini in aligue sauce, topped wtih crab meat and splashed with parsley oil. Let’s not forget their Tita Meng’s version of tidtad bigak (Kampapangan dinuguan) where she uses piglet.
A Kapampangan lunch is not complete without buro. For this dish, they made small portions of buro on a mustasa leaf and topped with catfish. There was also cochinillo, which was baked until the skin crackled.
Stewart loved two Lazatin desserts in particular. The Tocino Del Cielo that uses one egg yolk per serving and the orange jelly. The latter is a whole orange, its juices scooped out and replaced with different layers of different jelly combinations. Upon seeing the orange jelly, she quipped “I’ve never seen anything like this before!” to which Marco Lazatin replied “that’s how we grow oranges in Pampanga.”
At lunch, Stewart told us how pleased she was about the media coverage of her talk at the ANC Leadership Series, and the accuracy of the articles which she reviewed the following day. She tirelessly signed books and photos after dessert, even several plates of her hosts, using different fonts. As to whether she was going to say yes to an emailed proposition of a date she said she was mulling over during her talk at the ANC forum, she firmly said, “NYB, none of your business,” while graciously posing for an endless requests of selfies and group photos.
Tayag elaborates more on the Kapampangan influences: “Let's not forget about the 90 years of American presence in Clark Air Base. At its peak in the 1970s, it was employing more than 30,000 Filipinos. Imagine their contribution to the Angeles economy. Their families lived off-base, their children studied here. Plus some 8,000 houses being rented out to American servicemen off-base.”
The chef says that local handicrafts and furniture makers had a heyday then; there was so much disposable income for the locals to spend on food, clothing and US goods from the black market. “Locals ate out and entertained at home as a way of life,” he says.
This extravagance was put on display by famed furniture maker Betis Crafts in their sprawling compound in Guagua, Stewart’s last stop. An array of handicrafts from other regions were also laid out in a pop-up with products from as far as the Ilocos and Laguna. All were eager to catch the eye of the lifestyle maven, before she boarded a helicopter back to Manila.
We asked her assistant of 20 years, Jocelyn Santos, what items struck Stewart. And true to the Kapampangan brand of hospitality, the Filipina exclaims, “I don’t know, she’s had so many gifts!”
Click on the arrows for slideshow
Yes, Martha loves the patco (traditional local crepe with coconut)!
91-year-old Trinidad Pascual Alviz, matriarch of the clan whose heirloom recipes were showcased, meets Stewart.
Martha photographs the tamales.
Puto bumbong catches Stewart’s eye.
Stewart, like everyone else, took photos with her phone of anything that was unique and interesting. It’s the stuffed frogs that caught her eye.
Filipina Jocelyn Santos (behind Stewart) busy documenting Martha’s every move. She’s been working for her for 20 years now.
Andy Alviz of Alviz Farms joins Stewart in the rice paddies.
Washing off the mud from rice planting.
The Lazatins brought out their silverware including this pineapple shaped toothpick container mentioned in Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere.
Kapampangan buro on mustasa leaf with a slice of catfish.
Taking photos of the cultural show.
A musical number performed for Martha Stewart.
Photos by Ronald Reciña, Mon Eugenio and Ces Drilon