By Sol Vanzi
Syrupy sweet was always our impression of cured meats from Pampanga, which we were introduced to by way of packaged ready-to-cook tocino and langonisa from supermarket freezers. It took years to develop a liking for them, raised as I was on Binakayan langonisa from Kawit, Cavite which are seasoned only with garlic, achiote, salt, and pepper.
And then I saw Anthony Bourdain devouring tiny langonisa from Guagua, Pampanga like they were potato chips. One bite taught me not to judge a region’s food by what’s sold at supermarkets. It took a Malate neighborhood bar and a legendary culinary icon to open my eyes.
HERITAGE ON A PLATE
The star of CNN’s award-winning series Parts Unknown was shooting a holiday episode at the Oarhouse Pub, a hole-in-the-wall oasis frequented by artists, writers, cinematographers, photo journalists, foreign correspondents, and young medics-to-be from nearby UP-PGH. He asked Oarhouse owner Ben Razon for local food and was served dishes handed down by generations of the Razon clan from Guagua, famous among foodies and culinary historians.
The tiny (one bite) langonisa was pure flavor from the first burst of sun-dried cubes of backfat and garlic-infused hand-chopped bits of lean pork. Nary a hint of sugar and just the right amount of salt. The small sausages tasted like gifts from pork heaven.
Ben describes it best. “I grew up having this as a purely breakfast langonisa, and because it’s sun-dried to allow the excess fat to drip off, its slim size shrinks further as it is fried directly in a little oil (no pre-boiling in water). You get a very concentrated, flavorful burst of pork and delectable fat with a hint of garlic, chorizo-style but not sweet, whose flavor is enhanced by dipping it first in cane vinegar. Of course it is best with garlic fried rice and a fried egg, but people at the bar often order it as pulutan, a perfect partner to cold beers.”
CLASSICS OLD AND NEW
Other Razon family specialties on Bourdain’s plate at the bar were adobong kambing (goat adobo) and kalderetang baka (spicy beef stew), both slow-simmered for hours. The two dishes have Mideast undertones and go well with either rice or bread for sopping up the rich gravy.
The multi-racial young TV crew feasted on more recently-developed family favorites acquired by the Razons through decades of working and studying all over the US: baked eggplant mozzarella and nachos which have become crowd favorites since their introduction. It could be because both are overflowing with very generously spread imported cheeses.
Like the clientele, food and drinks at the Oarhouse are a blend of classic and modern, with new craft beers brought in by customers-turned-brewers.
“It is an exciting time to be in the pub business. Filipinos are going out more. The young generation is so open-minded that it is a constant challenge to keep their interest and patronage,” Ben confesses.
Judging by the nightly crowds that come for drinks, food, and company, the Oarhouse Pub has found the perfect formula.
The Oarhouse Pub, 1688-B Jorge Bocobo corner Malvar, Malate, 02 516 7296