Lucban, in Quezon Province, is globally-known for the colorful and tradition-laden Pahiyas Festival but the quaint Southern Tagalog town is also known for its culinary tradition. The pansit habhab or pansit Lucban (flavorful stir-fried noodle), longganisang Lucban (sausage), hardinera (chunky meat loaf) are just some of the gastronomically arousing dishes that originated or are associated with the Philippine town of Lucban.
A visit to Lucban is always on the itinerary every time I go home to my hometown of Lucena City on my holidays, and recently, we (with my brother and his family), on our way to Taytay Falls, had a ‘pit stop’ for lunch in one of the best restaurants in the municipality, which I recommend to you to try if you happen to be in Quezon Province.
Isabelito’s Garden Resto or Isabelito’s Cucina Filipino does not matter, it’s just a name (I have no information if there was a change in the name/ownership). It’s the food and the environment/ambiance that people are attracted to this place. A semi-al fresco restaurant in the middle of Deveza Farm, dining on wooden and metal chairs and tables, cool breeze, swimming guppies in vases crafted out of re-purposed bottles, a garden of exotic plants, a slight drizzle, and good food and great companions are all you need to have a great meal.
The restaurant offers a menu of Filipino favorites and homegrown Lucban and Quezon dishes. The menu is given a Lucban twist or modern update, almost fusion-like. We settled for crispy kare-kare and sinugno. In a previous visit, I tried gising-gising.
Candida’s crispy kare-kare is a modern and Lucbanized take on the traditional Pinoy kare-kare. This thinly sliced and crunchy pork belly (instead of ox tail) and locally-sourced vegetables (okra, eggplant, string beans, and bok choy) in thick, creamy, peanut-based soup is one the best sellers in the restaurant. It is accompanied with a sweet-salty alamang or shrimp paste to enhance the flavor of the stew.
Sinugno is one of my favorite fish and coconut-based dishes in Quezon province. It is grilled tilapia (ikan nila in Indonesian), with mustard leaves and finger chili, cooked in thick, garlicky coconut cream. The fish meat and coco milk dish blends and melts in the mouth leaving a sweet, peppery after-taste. Yummy-goodness!
If I am not mistaken, sinugno was first introduced by Kamayan sa Palaisdaan, a floating restaurant cum fish farm in Tayabas City. Kamayan, for me, still has the best sinugno and Isabelito’s version comes a close third.
Another coconut-based dish is Gising na! Gising na!, Isabelito’s take on gising-gising, a dish made of kangkong (water spinach or watercress) stalks, ground pork, and chilis in coconut cream. The dish is akin to Bicol Express (chilis and ground pork in coconut meat) but with a milder hotness and a good crunch from the kangkong.
Quezonian cuisine is heavy on coconut cream as the province is a major producer of coconuts and coconut products with generous use of garlic, black pepper, bell peppers (paprika), and local produce. Every meal is, of course, with more-than-generous servings of steamed rice.
I love my Lucban food accompanied with ripe or green mango juice. I wish Isabelito’s serves fresh mango juice instead of the canned kind (the fruit is abundant).
Too bad, all desserts were not available (again!). I was hoping to have camachile blueberry cheesecake, as recommended by friends. Maybe next time. And maybe next time I will try the sinigang, Tsong’s chicken, and Lucban de lechon.
- Isabelito’s Garden Resto is located in the Deveza Farm compound, C. Arellano Street Extension, Lucban, Quezon Province, the Philippines. FB: www.facebook.com/Isabelitocucinafilipino/
- To reach Isabelito’s one has to navigate the narrow streets of Lucban. Most roads are ‘one way’, so better ask the Lucbanins (as locals are called) for direction. They are the one of the friendliest and most helpful citizens of southern Luzon.
- Our meal cost us PHP790 / USD 16 / IDR 208,000 for sinugno, kare-kare, steamed rice, and a can of mango juice. Isabelito’s provides complimetary peanuts and drinking water (which I guess is spring water, which Lucban is abundant with). There were four adults in our group.