Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pinác: Heirloom Kapampangan Cuisine in U.P. Town Center

 Pinác: Heirloom Kapampangan Cuisine Right at Your Fingertips

Angel Pelayo-Ty would like to dispel the notion that Filipino food is easy to make. It is not. Without all the instant mixes, powders, pastes, and what have you that are available in the market, properly prepared and cooked Filipino food is complicated. One has to learn how to properly balance the gamut of ingredients that go into one single dish. So yeah, Filipino food is not what one would call a piece of cake. But at Pinác, a newly opened Kapampangan restaurant situated in the U.P Town Center, they make cooking heirloom recipes look effortless. 'Pinác' is Kapampangan for farm or swamp. It is a nod to the owner’s hometown of Candaba, Pampanga. We sat down with owner Angel Pelayo-Ty who seems to embody what her restaurant stands for: welcoming, friendly, and with absolutely no pretention. She mingles easily with customers, always ready to answer questions, quick to address complaints (which were few and far between), and for no apparent reason gives away free food to unsuspecting diners.

Pinác Heirloom Kapampangan Cuisine
Located at U.P. Town Center, Katipunan
Once you enter the light and airy restaurant, you will notice the diverse clientele: prominent politicians, families, college-age barkadas, young professionals, other restaurant owners, lone diners, and so on. No matter where you come from, Pinác makes you feel at home with is cozy interiors, comfortable chairs, and laidback décor. And then there’s the food. When I asked the owner to describe the kind of Filipino food that they serve she told me that the menu is 50% classic, 30% something new, and 20% exotic. Classic Pinoy staples such as kare-kare, adobo, sinigang, et cetera, are of course on the menu. And then there are classic Filipino food flavors that have been given a twist such as the first two dishes that we tried that day. Our meal began with an Ensaladang Pako with Fried Itik Floss (P125) that was served with Pinác vinaigrette which is basically a lime and patis concoction. Pako, or fern, is typical in Kapampangan cuisine. The twist is the crunchy itik floss that sits atop a fruit and vegetable combo of green mango, tomato, cucumber, and a salted egg. The slightly bitter salad is an excellent start to a heavy meal.
Ensaladang Pako with Fried Itik Floss
The Pako salad was followed by a scrumptious deconstructed version of lumpiang sariwa: Lumpia Ubod Taquitos (P185). Thin and crispy fried wonton serves as the bed to a mixture of julienned ubod (heart of palm) mixed with shrimp, shitake, beans, and carrots. All this drizzled with peanut sauce on top. Don’t be shy and dig into this dish with your hands, the owner assures me that it was meant to be eaten that way. It is a different yet fun take on a well-loved Filipino classic.
Lumpia Ubod Taquitos
The first two dishes were followed by something that’s a little more exotic: Crispy Hito Balls, Mustasa at Buro (P235). Buro is the Tagalog word for “preserve” or “pickled”. In this case, rice is fermented together with fish or shrimp. It is typically eaten as a side dish to grilled seafood or steamed vegetables like talong and okra. A lot of people, myself included, shy away from eating it because of the strong odor. Anything fermented is bound to smell a little funky. There are, however, a lot of people who absolutely love it. Buro has a sour-salty taste accentuated with garlicky undertones. Pinác’s buro doesn’t smell like the ones that I’m used to. That is to say, it doesn’t smell bad. Take a mustasa leaf, spread a little (or a lot depending on your preference) buro over it, wrap it around a crispy hito ball, and dip it in the accompanying Pinác vinaigrette. After that experience, I developed a new found appreciation for buro and its delicate flavor.
Crispy Hito Balls, Mustasa at Buro
Our main entrees consisted of two classic and labor intensive dishes: Pinác’s Crispy Pata (P545) and Lengua (P275). Pinác’s Crispy Pata takes a whopping six hours to prepare and cook. When it gets to your table, make sure that you eat it immediately so that you can make the most out of the crispy skin and the tender fall off the bone meat. The Lengua, which takes about 3 hours to cook, is familiar and comforting. But instead of the usual cream sauce, it comes in a brown sauce that is just as, if not more, delicious. You can never really go wrong with braised ox tongue as long as it’s prepared properly. And at Pinác, they do just that.
Pinác’s Crispy Pata
All throughout our meal, we sipped on a very refreshing Tanglad Dalandan Iced Tea (P60). You may also try their highly recommended Kamias Calamansi Shake (P85) if you’re looking for something that’s out of the ordinary.
Tanglad Dalandan Iced Tea
In typical Filipino fashion, we ended our lunch on a sweet note. Pinác’s Brazo de Mais at Salabat (P185) is a superb way to conclude a meal. The meringue is fluffy and a little chewy while the creamy custard in the center is compact and not too sweet but oh so yummy.
Brazo de Mais at Salaba
I asked Angel what heirloom cuisine means and she told me that it’s basically old recipes and cooking methods that have been passed down and perfected from generation to generation. Pinác’s menu is a collection of food from Angel’s own family as well as food from her beloved hometown of Candaba. Whatever you’re served in the restaurant is not necessarily the Kapampangan food that you’re used to because they’re prepared the way the owners want them to be. Pinác is a restaurant that comes from the heart with food that, no matter where you come from in the Philippines, tastes like home.

Photos by Albert Peradilla.

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