Pampanga is dubbed as the Culinary Capital of the Philippines. No doubt about it, they truly deserve the title for every time I hear “Pampanga,” two of their most popular fare always come to mind – pork sisig and, my ultimate favorite, pork tocino. But stopping over at Binulo Restaurant in Clark, Pampanga for dinner after our short stay in Baguio proved that Capampangan cuisine has more delectable food to offer.
Binulo Restaurant is a single-storey establishment, but yet it’s quite roomy, and the tables are adequately spaced, providing guests more room for movement. The name of the restaurant is actually taken after a cooking method of the native Aeta, which uses bamboo or “bulo” as the cooking vessel for their food.
The first thing that landed on our table was a basket of Pititian with Atchara (Php 185). It’s the Kapampangan (or Capampangan) version of chicharon or fried pork rinds (if you love Cebu’s chicharon from Carcar, you will definitely love this too!), and it is served with vinegar and green papaya relish or atsara.
Usually at home, chicharon and vinegar would be more than enough for me, but coupling it with papaya relish added an interestingly sweet and tangy note that made it harder for me to resist stuffing myself full, leaving almost no space for the rest of our meal. 😀
Binulo’s version of Shrimp Okoy (Php 95) is far from what I was accustomed to eating. Okoy from Manila is made with mung bean sprouts and is fried using a batter that’s bright orange in color. The one from Binulo is a platter of crispy shrimp pieces laid on a bed of papaya fritters. I would say I liked this one better because it’s less oily, well-seasoned, and very crispy.
The next we had was their Paco Salad (Php 105). The greens are actually fiddlehead fern, mixed with tomatoes, slices of boiled egg, shrimp, and peanuts, all tossed in a light vinaigrette.
The salad is foreign in concept, yet the ingredients and flavor play a native tune. It’s definitely a nice dish to cleanse the palate after munching on some chicharon.
Binulong Nasi (Php 105) is fragrant rice cooked and served in a bamboo reed. It looks quite similar to rice cake, but it’s not sticky at all. And the texture’s somewhat close to the Cebuano’s puso or hanging rice.
This really appealed to my appetite since I prefer my rice to be cooked nicely moist and soft, so there’s little effort in chewing. And I also liked that it’s wrapped in banana leaves, which gave the rice such an interesting taste.
We were all looking forward to Binulo’s take on Sisig (Php 195). It’s probably the most popular dish from Pampanga, and I guess that puts a lot of pressure in the restaurant’s part because everyone would be expecting their sisig to be authentic and better than any adaptation one could order in Manila.
And to no surprise, their version of sisig was phenomenal. It was authentic, flavorful, and had a mouth-watering contrast of textures.
One of my favorite dishes that night was the Pangat Na Ulang (Php 250), which is fresh water prawns in sour broth, cooked utilizing a native technique of using bamboos as cooking vessels.
The prawns were very big and juicy, and the piping hot sour broth had richness that enhanced the flavor of the prawns.
Pork Bulanglang (Php 190) is Binulo’s variation of the all-time Filipino favorite Pork Sinigang, but instead of using ground sampaloc, they use guava fruit to provide tartness and body to the dish.
The broth was palatably thick, just the way most of us prefer our sinigang to be. The pork was tender because the part of the meat they use is the one with the most marbling, providing moistness and an interesting depth of flavor.
Another dish we had was the Kalderetang Kambing (Php 235). It is evident that the goat meat was stewed in its spicy tomato sauce for a long time for the flavor has seeped deep into the meat, and the meat itself is very tender, with a heavenly melt-in-your-mouth feel.
To be honest, I’m not very fond of fish. I would prefer a good roasted slab of meat over fish any day. But how can I resist when it’s as beautiful and aromatic as Binulo’s Binukadkad Na Hito (Php 195). Together with the fish, we were also served a plate of sesame leaves, which we were instructed to use as wrappers for the fish.
Here’s how to do it: You put a piece of fish on the leaf. Top it with some buro or fermented rice with fish. Wrap it into a bundle, and pop it in your mouth. The harmony of the saltiness of the fish, the flavor of the sesame leaf, and the sudden explosion of acidity from the buro is so addicting that you’ll definitely crave for more.
Another praise-worthy dish we had at Binulo was their Oxtail Kare-Kare (Php 395). And it’s very important to note here that the only meat they use is U.S. oxtail, so you can expect the meat to be of the highest quality and taste.
I also love the idea that they separated the vegetables from the peanut sauce because that would maintain the vegetables’ crispness, and it gives you a picture of how fresh they really are. 🙂
Binulo’s Crispy Pata (Php 405) or deep-fried pork knuckle was a sure hit! It’s very crunchy, perfectly seasoned, and tender to the bite.
This would go perfectly well with a whopping serving of steamed rice or a tall glass of ice-cold San Miguel Pale Pilsen. Or perhaps both, alternately. 😀
Now it’s time for some dessert.
Turon Saging (Php 110) is fried banana in lumpia wrapper with macapuno, ube, and langka filling served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Turon is a traditional Filipino dessert containing bananas or red beans, and then fried with a brown sugar coating.
Binulo’s interpretation was utterly surprising, because it wasn’t too sweet, and the partnering of the warm turon and the vanilla ice cream gave a good contrast in temperatures that I found very pleasing to the palate.
The second dessert was the Bucayong Camote with Gatas Damulag (Php 85), which is a plate of sweet potatoes in sugar and carabao’s milk syrup. Everyone in our table went crazy over this. It was very good, and the sweet potato was cooked just right that it was soft yet able to hold its shape.
Our last dessert for that night – Binulo’s Suman with Mango Ice Cream (Php 110) – brought fond memories of our childhood, when our Nanay would show us how to enjoy sticky rice rolls by eating them with fresh mangoes. That is why my sister and I were quite ecstatic that Binulo made this modern twist with mango ice cream, fresh mango slices, and mango coulis for garnish. The plating may need some rethinking, but, overall, what a wonderful taste of heaven this dessert was! 🙂
We really enjoyed dining at Binulo Restaurant. They are one of the reasons why we believe Filipino cuisine is the next big thing in the international culinary community. They are very successful in using indigenous cooking methods and ingredients to come up with extraordinary flavors that we’re sure even the most discerning palates would really appreciate. If you happen to be in Pampanga, don’t miss the opportunity of dining in at Binulo. 🙂
(Binulo Restaurant’s Menu – click to zoom in, press ESC or click anywhere to exit)
Specializing in Kapampangan Cuisine and Grilled U.S. Steaks
Bldg 6410-6413 M.A. Roxas Highway, Clark Freeport Zone (near Flying V)
Contact #: (045) 499-2238
Binulo Restaurant on Facebook
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