Food Finds in Barako Country

Getting to Batangas City from a Pasay bus terminal last July 23 took us 1-1/2 hours. Arriving early for this year’s Sublian Festival, we saw a hefty crowd forming in front of the city hall and around the Mabini Plaza. The parade wasn’t scheduled to start until 9 am so at a little past 7, there was plenty of time to walk around the area and look for a place to eat. It was going to be a long and leisurely breakfast.

We shunned the familiar food chains nearby and opted for a coffee shop called Kapeng Barako. Batangas is famous for its Barako (also spelled Baraco) coffee, a type of Liberica coffee distinguished by its strong aroma and flavor. Barako is also a Tagalog word that means strong and courageous–traits commonly attributed to the Batangueño male. So it was kapeng barako for the hubby and hot chocolate for me.

The tablea chocolate, which is a by-product of the cacao, is equally popular in the province. I want my choco rich and creamy; better if it is thickened using a batidor or a wooden whisk. The one served to me that morning was a watered-down version, so naturally I was disappointed. I asked the hubby if his coffee was good. His answer came in the form of a gesture: a hunch of the shoulders a la Incredible Hulk. Strong coffee for a big guy. Sounds great to me.

kapeng barako

We ordered suman mahakot and tamales ibaan to go with our beverages. Tamales is of Mexican-Spanish origin, but in Batangas, especially in the town of Ibaan, it is given a local twist and the delicacy  has made the place famous. Instead of the sweet variety, Tamales Ibaan is nutty and spicy. When you cut through the white outer layer, you have a flavorful mix of chicken strips, peanuts, and slices of salted egg. The inner layer gets its orange color from annatto seeds or atchuete.

Since preparing this tasty snack takes about the same time as the travel to Batangas, I’d rather take the trip than labor in the kitchen to enjoy the real thing. 🙂

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The suman (rice cake) served at the coffee shop got its name from Mahakot, another town in Batangas. I tend to rate other types of suman, with our own latik in Catanduanes as the gold standard. I had initial doubts when I saw that their suman came with budbod (coconut and sugar sprinkle) instead of the creamy caramel sauce similar to our Bicolano latik. After taking a bite, however, I realized why some foodies are all praises for the delicacy. The budbod’s crunch complemented the melts-in-your-mouth softness of the suman—resulting in a yin and yang food experience that’s to crave for. The favorite show biz expression of Batangas Governor Vilma Santos immediately came to mind: “Heaven!”

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The parade didn’t start until past 10 am and lasted till noon, by which time my knees were all wobbly from standing the entire morning. I asked some locals where we could have some good bulalo, the trademark beef shank soup of Batangas. Turned out the nearest place it could be had was far from the town center. Alternatively, we were directed to a nearby eatery to try a local favorite called pancit pula.

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The intriguing pancit pula was actually miki noodles sauteed the usual way. It’s red because of the atchuete coloring;  otherwise, it’s just another cousin in the pancit family. Next time we visit Batangas, I’ll make sure to include a bulalo place. And I will definitely load up on suman and tamales.

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