Dining at Claude and Mary Ann Tayag’s Bale Dutung (house of wood) in Pampanga has always been in my food bucket list. It took my cousin’s visit to Manila to make it finally come true.
Bale Dutung is located inside a typical subdivision that had normal looking houses. I’ve seen pictures of Bale Dutung and I would never imagine it sitting side by side with cookie cutter houses.
I thought the subdivision and other houses was built around this house that has been in the same spot for hundreds of years. Mary Ann explained that the house was built in the 1990s. Color me shocked.
Asides from being a chef, the master of the house, Claude Tayag is also a sculptor, artist, writer and photographer.
I always thought that you had to be a group of 12 or more to dine at Bale Dutung. We were only four and they were able to accomodate us. There were even couples there. You only need to send an email to inquire if they have room for your group irregardless of the number of people. If they don’t have any bookings on the day you wish to eat there then you need to form a group of at least 12 for them to serve you. Since we went on December 30, 2013 they had many customers dining there.
There was no air-conditioning in the dining area and it was a good thing the weather was quite pleasant. I can’t imagine eating there during summer. Lunch lasts from 3-4 hours so if you can’t stand being in hot, humid weather I suggest you go during cooler months.
We were lucky our table was right next to this huge blower but unfortunately it sprayed us with a mist of water that sometimes didn’t feel like mist at all so we had to keep adjusting it.
These are jars of fermented vinegar of varying age and compositions.
Our host Mary Ann Tayag would explain each dish and give interesting anecdotes.
We had the classic Bale Dutung menu. They also have the Anthony Bourdain and Kapampangan menus. I thought each group had a different menu but actually the menu for the meal will be set by the first one who makes a reservation for the day and everyone else follows. It was a good thing the menu I selected was the chosen menu for the day. You can see the video of Anthony Bourdain’s experience here.
We were given a glass of dalandan juice with muscovado sugar and a carafe of salabat juice to refresh us from the 1 1/2 hour drive from Manila. I wish the salabat or ginger juice was less sweet or even unsweetened and had more ginger flavor.
I don’t even remember what the dips were but we liked them so much we asked for more. The server gently reminded us that there was going to be a lot of food and we should stop snacking. Well she said it in a more diplomatic manner.
The fiddlehead fern salad was served with calamansi vinaigrette. I prefer the steamed fern they served in Batanes that softened the leaves.
It’s strange but I don’t eat lumpia ubod (heart of palm) but I ate and enjoyed the fried version specially with the Claud’9 oriental sauce made with lemon, coriander and Thai basil. Normally I can’t stand coriander but I didn’t notice it in the sauce which I really, really liked.
It didn’t look like a chicken wing but it was and I liked subtle lemongrass marinade. The sushi rolls topped with talangka or crab fat was divine.
My cousin, Sharon’s favorite was this sushi made with fried catfish and balo balo (fermented rice) wrapped with mustasa (mustard) leaves. A tips for picky eaters dining at Bale Dutung and it to just eat and try everything. Don’t even look or know what’s inside and you’ll enjoy the food more.
One of the things I liked about the Bale Dutung dining experience was not all dishes were just brought to your table. There were three times we stood up to get the food ourselves and it was a good way to stretch our legs and walk around a bit even if it was only to get more food.
I’ve tried their lechon taco or tortilla before in Mercato so it was the dish I most looked forward to. First step was to get your tortilla and have it topped with fried crunchy lechon flakes.
Next you add your own veggies. That’s my aunt below adding all kinds of herbs and veggies.
This was my aunt’s final product with lots of tomatoes and wansuy or cilantro.
I can’t stand cilantro at all that’s why I only put tomatoes, kimchi and oriental sauce on my lechon flakes. After eating this I suddenly became very full. Not a good thing.
I was surprised to see Claude Tayag cutting and serving the lechon skin.
Their lechon skin was one of the crispiest I’ve ever eaten. It just lacked a tad of seasoning. This was everybody’s favorite. We wanted to go back for more but was once again reminded
I found the presence of the lechon in the siningang to be a bit overpowering. Or maybe I was just too full to appreciate any food from this point on. I appreciated and enjoyed all the dishes before this more.
In the Philippines people eat sinigang (sour soup) with rice. I don’t.
I think I like lechon better au natural or cooked as paksiw na lechon. Or again maybe my tongue and tummy were just numb already.
They brought this large pan of sisig. One side they added onions to it. When you stand up and get your share you tell them if you want it with or without onions.
You add your own condiments. For the more adventurous there’s pig brain and liver. I added just salt and calamansi to mine. I’m not much of a sisig eater but it was quite delicious.
Rice with sisig is the best according to my friend Rochelle. Now I know why they didn’t want us to get seconds on any dish. I also know why they stretched meal service to 3 hours. You need time for your tummy to stretch for all these food to fit in!!!
I was happy to stand and get my own coffee. Any chance to walk around was a good thing.
My most FAVORITE dish was the dessert made with a base of pastillas de leche made with carabao milk which was TO DIE FOR!!! If that wasn’t enough they topped it with balls of yema (egg yolk custard), macapuno (coconut sport) and ube (purple yam). I scraped every last bit of this dish. It was so clean they dishwashers would probably think it was unused. The oldies in our table said it was too sweet and didn’t finish it. If I had room in my tummy I would have gladly eaten their share.
We were given cold towels after our long meal.
It wasn’t just cold. It was rock hard frozen!
After my aunt and her niece bought a couple of bottles of sauces we left because we were just so sleepy already after our 3.5 hour lunch. I wasn’t able to say goodbye to our lovely host Mary Ann. She later emailed me that I missed the fried lechon skin she prepared for us. Drat and double drat.
By the way Claud’9 sauces are also available in supermarkets. I’m going to get a bottle of Oriental Sauce in Unimart. They have a recipe on their website for bangus marinated in Oriental Sauce.
Dining at Bale Dutung was a unique experience. It’s a good place to bring foreigners and lechon lovers. I would go back for a double order of Paradiso though.
Bale Dutung menu (lechon 5 ways) is P1,750 per person plus VAT
Kapampangan and Anthony Bourdain menus are P1,850 per person plus VAT
Popular request is Bourdain or Kapampangan Menu with lechon for additional P300 or Lechon 5 ways menu with Kare kare Dagat for additional P300.
Famous crisp pan de bagnet can also be added to any menu for additional P100.
Children 7 to 11 years old are charged half rate and 6 years old and below are P200 each.