Kulinarya Tagala, Part 2

Everyone had worked up a sweat (and an appetite) after all that primping in pre-war costumes at Villa Sariaya.  Lunch, we were told, was about eight miles away and would be served fine dining-style.

All shook up in Graceland

Elvis Presley, or at least his spirit, is alive in Graceland Estates and Country Club, a 22-hectare property thousands of miles away from Memphis. The owner/developer of this eco-tourism spot in Tayabas has been an avid Presley fan since his teens, and naming the property after his idol’s estate was his way of honoring the King of Rock and Roll. Graceland in Tayabas, however, has a character quite distinct from its Memphis counterpart.

The lagoon viewed from Memphis Cafe

A couple of hours were all the time allowed by the tour for this Tayabas stop, and that didn’t give much chance to explore everything the place has to offer. The Memphis Café and Grille provides an unobstructed view of the man-made lagoon where club members and guests can go boating, fishing and jet skiing. The trail surrounding the lagoon is ideal for jogging and biking, or simply strolling. Apart from this, we could only view the Spanish/Mediterranean-inspired apartelles and townhouse villas from a distance.

A path that leads to the meditation garden
A row of huts surrounded by lush vegetation. The huts serve as massage and steam rooms. A brook gushes nearby.

But we came here to dine, and we were just so ready to do that. Like a gastronomic strip tease, the food came one by one, each one building up expectations for the next delight.

Sinigang na hipon sa mura is shrimp soup with strips of young coconut (mura in Tagalog) served in coconut shell. Not too sour, but it did what it was supposed to do—perked up the taste buds
Crispy tilapia with tartar sauce gave just the right level of creaminess following the tangy flavor of the soup.
Crispy pork binagoongan. With green mango slices on the side, how can this go wrong?
Pork hardinera. The Quezon version of embutido or meat loaf is as tasty as it is colorful. And that means VERY.
Kulawo is ceviche or kilawin with a nice twist. It uses banana heart, coconut cream and vinegar, but each cook has his or her own way of producing that wonderful smoky flavor.

I was hoping they would serve pilipit, those doughnut-shaped squash crispies for dessert; instead, yema cake it was. As it turned out, my slight disappointment quickly melted away after taking bites of the cake with butter caramel swirls.

Overall, the food had all the right flavors to match the masterful plating. Elvis would have been pleased. It was rock and roll all the way.

Ugu Bigyan’s Pottery Shop

A quick stop at this famous pottery shop in Tiaong owned by Augusto Bigyan (nicknamed Ugu) was next. It was my second time to visit this ceramics haven, but I found the new pieces even more enchanting.

Please click here to read my earlier write-up about Ugu Bigyan’s studio. I wasn’t in a shopping mood this time, but I took note of some interesting pieces that are worth coming back for. Once a year, Ugu sells his creations at discounted prices usually in August, which is his birth month. The discount percentage is equal to his current age, and this generous artist is turning 50 this year. 🙂

From Tiaong, we made a final stop at Sulyap Gallery and Café in San Pablo City on the way back to Manila. This unique destination merits a blog post all to itself, which will be what Part 3 is all about.

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A potter’s haven in Tiaong

Barangay Lusacan in Tiaong has become synonymous with its famous resident Augusto “Ugu” Bigyan, a landscape and ceramics artist whose creative works have adorned well-known resorts and houses of influential people here and abroad. His Mexican-inspired house and garden lure visitors to take in the cool Tiaong air, relax in one of the quaint huts, or walk around for an up-close look at the decorative tiles, accent pieces and dinnerware displayed all over the place.

Leaf and fish patterns are used extensively in his works, giving them a Zen-like feel. Any attempt to describe Ugu’s place and his art pieces might not do them justice, and reading about them can take one only so far; thus, any nature and art lover’s list of must-see places should include his Tiaong address.

His place was the first stop in a 3-day media tour called San Isidro Festival Cultural Trail last May 13-15, 2011.  The tour was organized by Quezon Province Governor David Suarez and the Provincial Tourism Office to show how the feast of San Isidro is celebrated in four of their municipalities.

Tiaong is the entry point to Quezon and Ugu’s pottery workshop/garden is a most fitting showcase of a Tiaongin’s talent and creativity. After touring his garden and feasting our eyes on his artworks, we took a break from our visual trip for our mid-morning minindal  (Tagalog Quezon term for merienda or snacks). Ugu, an accountant  by training, is known not only for his ceramic artistry but also for his innovative ways with Filipino food.  Although he was not there to personally meet us, his staff made sure that we got to sample his lumpiang puso ng saging (banana blossoms) na may sotanghon (rice noodles), rootcrop salad with cream and palm sugar syrup, espasol, and a local delicacy called inabayan. We washed down the carbs-laden fare with refreshing gulaman and banana juice. Every item on the plate was a winner, but everyone seemed to go for second serving of the lumpia. A merienda spread like that makes one want to go back for Ugu’s famous kulawo and other lunch delights, even if this means gathering, and making prior reservations for, at least 10 people.

Some places are just worth visiting again.