Bale Dutung: The four hour, 10-course degustation two hours away from Manila

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For the last day of the month, my friends and I decided to go to Bale Dutung in Pampanga for a 10-course degustation. The meal is prepared by Chef Claude Tayag who you might recognize from one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows (No Reservations, if I’m not mistaken) where he visited the Philippines.

Our group's table all ready for our half day lunch.
Our group’s table all ready for our half day lunch.
Details of the table setup.
Details of the table setup.

The degustation happens in the workshop/house of Claude Tayag, who also happens to be primarily an artist as seen in his galeriya right next to the dining area. The dining area itself is nicely set up, giving you a nice homey vibe that makes you feel extra comfortable as soon as you enter the space. This, for me, was a very pleasant surprise as the place originally appeared as if there was some construction work going on when you enter the gates.

It is an open air dining space but they do have a few industrial sized fans that spray the area with a light mist to ensure that all diners are kept cool. There’s no need to worry about the heat being too much unless you’re really sensitive to heat.

Candles to ward off any unexpected guests that might be flying around
Candles to ward off any unexpected guests that might be flying around

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Our 10-course Kapampangan Degustation Menu

  • Ensaladang Pako
  • Prinitong Lumpiang Ubod sa Claude’9 Oriental Sauce
  • Inasal na Manok at Claude’9 Talangka Sushi
  • Kapampangan Sushi (Hito, Mustasa, at Ampalaya with Balo-Balo)
  • Pan de Bagnet
  • Fried Lechon Flakes Binalot sa Tortilla at Claude’9 Oriental Sauce (Lechon Taco)
  • Bulanglang Kapampangan na may Tian ng Bangus, Sugpo at Tadyang ng Baboy
  • Begucan Tenga ng Babi at Ensaladang Talong
  • Kare-Kareng Lamang Dagat
  • Paradiso

Beverages

  • Melon Juice
  • Salabat Juice
  • Kapeng Baryo
  • Tsaang Pandan
Balo-Balo, Taba ng Talangka, Pesto
Balo-Balo, Taba ng Talangka, Pesto

To start, we were served some crackers with a trio of dips/sauces composed of Balo-Balo (fermented rice), Taba ng Talangka (crab fat), and Pesto. For the pesto, the Tayags used Pili nuts from the Bicol area instead of the traditional pine nuts used in most pestos. The sauces were great with the standout being the taba ng talangka. A common favourite for us in the table was to combine the taba ng talangka and the pesto for a fatty and fresh bite!

Fresh melon juice with melon ice cubes and fresh mint
Fresh melon juice with melon ice cubes and fresh mint

To go with the crackers and the sauces was a fresh melon shake which was very refreshing given the strong afternoon sun that day. They also used frozen melon balls to keep the drink cold without diluting the flavour.

Ensaladang Pako (Fiddlehead Fern Salad)

The staff preparing the plates of salad
The staff preparing the plates of salad
Digging in
Digging in

The pako salad had sliced onions, sliced tomatoes, and a hardboiled quail egg mixed in and dressed with a bright Honeymansi Mango dressing. I loved how the dressing added this fresh, sweet, and fruity element to the nutty ferns. The mango was really the star of the dressing and the acidity from the calamansi worked really well to balance the sweetness from the mangoes and honey. This was a great way to start our four hour long lunch!

Prinitong Lumpiang Ubod sa Claude’9 Oriental Sauce (Fried Heart of Palm Spring Roll)

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The second course was the fried lumpiang ubod drizzled with their Claude’9 Oriental Sauce on a lettuce leaf. This dish was just okay for me. I mainly watch out for the greasiness of deep-fried dishes like this one. The spring roll was crunchy and was not dripping in oil.

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Just one minor note on this: I found the filling:wrapper ratio a bit too small. I would have preferred more of the filling and less of the wrapper. If you factor in the presence of the lettuce leaf, the filling really just disappears in the myriad of ingredients.

Inasal na Manok at Claude’9 Talangka Sushi (Chicken Inasal and Crab Fat Sushi)

One chicken wing and two bite-sized pieces of taba ng talangka sushi
One chicken wing and two bite-sized pieces of taba ng talangka sushi

I enjoyed the chicken in this course. My only concern with it is that we were just served one wing each! I would have loved to have two to three more of these.

Taba ng talangka, kamias, rice, and nori
Taba ng talangka, kamias, rice, and nori

As for the talangka sushi, it was also topped with a fresh slice of kamias to add a sour element to the item. The crab fat and the kamias actually worked really well together with the sourness from the kamias cutting through the richness of the crab fat. I found that there wasn’t enough of the crab fat and kamias. By the time I can’t taste the crab fat, I still had a good amount of rice and nori that I was still chewing.

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Special mention also goes to this vinegar that, according to them, started it’s fermenting journey way back in 1998. Delicious.

Kapampangan Sushi (Fried Catfish and Fermented Rice wrapped in a Mustard Leaf)

Ampalaya and mustasa to transfer the balo-balo and fried hito to your mouth
Ampalaya and mustasa to transfer the balo-balo and fried hito to your mouth

This was a dish that I was familiar with from our family trips to Pampanga to join my uncle and their relatives. Funny thing is, yesterday was the first time that I’ve ever tried it. It was pretty different from what I originally expected. The flavours were quite mild and understated with a strange texture that I feel I just have to get used to. It was good and I wouldn’t mind having it again. They also had another version of this where the catfish and fermented rice were in a hollowed out ampalaya (bitter gourd) shell. I personally preferred the mustard leaves over the bitter ampalaya.

Pan de Bagnet

A whole roll of deep fried pork belly
A whole roll of deep fried pork belly

Bagnet is a personal favourite of mine. Bale Dutung’s version does not disappoint with an extra crispy skin and very juicy meat.

The Pan de Bagnet all assembled and carried by one of my friends
The Pan de Bagnet all assembled and carried by one of my friends

They served their bagnet slider style. They add some fresh tomatoes, onions, and coriander and a drizzle of their oriental sauce to round it all up. The pandesal they used worked really well with all the other ingredients. I really liked this one!

Fried Lechon Flakes Binalot sa Tortilla at Claude’9 Oriental Sauce (Lechon Taco)

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This dish is a sort of fusion dish combining Filipino, Mexican, Korean, Vietnamese, and Thai elements into one parcel that just explodes with flavour. The mix of textures from the crispy lechon flakes, onions, tomatoes, home-made kimchi, coriander, and their oriental sauce made for a great medley of textures and flavours that I would gladly snack on in the middle of the day. One thing I would have loved though was to have a bit more of the shredded lechon flakes for a more prominent pork flavour.

Bulanglang Kapampangan na may Tian ng Bangus, Sugpo at Tadyang ng Baboy (Bangus Belly, Prawn, and Pork Ribs with a Hot Guava Soup)

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This was something very new for me. It was explained by Mary Anne as the kapampangan version of sinigang that uses a very thick broth made of guava that was very sweet.

The guava broth being poured on the meat and seafood.
The guava broth being poured on the meat and seafood.

To balance the sweetness from the broth, we were advised to add the saltiness from the patis (fish sauce) or the bagoong (fermented shrimp paste). This worked really well and made the meat, seafood, and vegetables just delectable and well balanced.

Begucan Tenga ng Babi at Ensaladang Talong

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The Begucan Tenga ng Babi portion of this dish tastes like a tomato-based stew with pig’s ears on top of the ensaladang talong (eggplant salad). The eggplant was topped with a fresh salsa of sorts with tomatoes, onions, and coriander and a slice of salted egg. This was good as well but I would have loved more of the pig’s ears.

Kare-Kareng Laman ng Dagat (Seafood Peanut Stew)

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Traditionally done with ox-tails, Bale Dutung’s version made use of an assortment of seafood (squid, prawns, and New Zealand mussels). They also added gata (coconut milk) into their stew for an extra kick of richness. Sadly, I am not a fan of coconut and cream so I didn’t really try this. I must say though that the whole table loved this one and unanimously picked this as their favourite dish of the meal.

A little bit of everything
A little bit of everything

The serving size per person included one piece of each item of seafood on a pool of the peanut and coconut milk broth.

Paradiso

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The lunch was concluded by their Paradiso dessert which is kamote (sweet potato), ube (purple yam), and macapuno (coconut sport) on a carabao milk brûlée. Similar to the seafood kare-kare, I skipped on this so I don’t really know how it was.

Ginger Juice

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Accompanying all the dishes was this ginger juice. This one had a strong lemongrass flavour that I personally found to be a bit overpowering. It was also a bit sweet, similar to how sago’t gulaman (grass jelly) is.

Our group after a long lunch with Chef Claude and Mary Anne Tayag
Our group after a long lunch with Chef Claude and Mary Anne Tayag

Final Thoughts

Overall, the food was pretty good. I can definitely imagine bringing foreigners over to give them a good crash course on Filipino cuisine should their schedules permit. As a local though, I found that the whole degustation was pretty expensive (Php 2,260 per head) for what was essentially familiar ingredients prepared in a familiar way. I’m sure it would be possible to get equally good food for a much cheaper price.

At this point, I think it would just be proper to reiterate what Mary Anne said. What you are paying for is the experience and the entertainment which she enthusiastically provides. It will really depend on you whether the experience will be worth the premium.

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