Around 30 minutes away from Ortigas without traffic is one of the most talked about restaurants in the country. It is located in the art capital of the country as well, in the town of Angono in Rizal.
The Balaw-Balaw Specialty Restaurant may not probably be new, and you may probably have seen it being featured in several travel and food shows. It has even gained international recognition through Andrew Zimmerman's Bizarre Foods.
It is known for its bizarre menu, but more than that, I think what sets it apart is its setting - a mysteriously beautiful old house.
Angono is known for its colorful Higantes Festival. Huge cartoon-like mascots made of bamboo and paper mache are paraded on the streets of Angono on the feast day of St. Clement, every November 23rd. That's coming up quite soon, so better mark your dates. Balaw-Balaw has these miniature higantes as its table markers.
As an art restaurant, you will see several creative installations around. I particularly liked the antique piano in the center of the dining area. It reminds me of my old piano that was swept away during Ondoy.
After ordering, we were taken to a tour of the galleries in the ground and second floors. I was amazed at the collection. They were all of Filipino and Spanish influences, from paintings to wood carvings and even furniture.
Most of the works displayed are done by local Angono artists, hence, the reason why they are called the art capital of the country. It is the hometown of two national artists, Lucio San Pedro and Carlos Francisco. Add to that the Blanco family, who is well known for their realism works.
Art in the Philippines is also religious. As the Philippine culture is rich in Catholic heritage, you will see several interesting religious pieces. Some actually look quite eerie.
I was exploring the smaller rooms, and they had religious statues that looked like they were looking back at you. It was a bit creepy, but nevertheless, I was still amazed. There is a certain tranquility that engulfs the room as you enter.
After the tour of the house, we were called for lunch. First up is the Adobong Pata sa Gata. This was a spicy dish, and the pata was given a new twist of flavor by combining the adobo method of cooking and drenching it with coconut milk.
We also had the Crispy Itik (Duck). I found it a bit dry, but still tasty. The sweet sauce that came with it also works well with the duck. This is a good pulutan dish I think.
We got a Pinaputok na Tilapia which was really a disappointment, hence, no picture. The centerpiece of our lunch was this: a HUGE platter (still an understatement) of several Filipino favorites such as alimasag (crabs), inihaw na liempo (grilled pork belly), adobo, shrimps, all surrounding a mountain heap of steamed rice. There were also red eggs, tomatoes, grilled eggplants and kangkong on the side.
It's called Minaluto, an order good enough for 10 people. They serve on a large bamboo container, and you even use sandoks (large spoons) as serving utensils.
I wouldn't say Balaw-Balaw is one of the best Filipino restaurants I have visited, but the charm truly adds to the experience. There are also several exotic dishes in the menu, but we were too traditional to try these out. I would love to try out the Uok (Larva of Beetle) and the Kamaro (Crickets). So, if you're in for something truly different, head up to the nearby province of Rizal, and visit Balaw-Balaw in Angono. It's definitely worth a visit, for its unique dining experience.