Phat in the Phillipines: Tagaytay

Tagaytay is a little resort town about 40 minutes outside of Manila. It’s perched on top of a mountain overlooking Lake Taal, inside of which sits the world’s smallest active volcano.

Yes.. yes.. the volcano is nice and all.. but the FOOD is nicer! The fatness starts on the drive up from Manila. You’ll find sweet white and yellow Japanese corn being sold along the road, Mr. Moo’s fresh cheese stand, Loumar’s ube tarts, and roadside fruit vendors peddling the freshest, sweetest pineapples you’ve ever tasted.

There’s so much to eat in Tagaytay, I’m not even sure where I should start. I guess with the city’s most famous dish – Bulalo. Apparently, Tagaytay’s cooler climate and mineral-rich grasses produce the best beef, resulting in an incredibly flavorful and savory bulalo soup made from stewed shank and marrow bones. The broth alone is amazing, but spooning out the buttery, melty marrow from the shank bone only makes the experience better. LMZ makes a fine rendition of this dish. Have it with the bangus (fried milkfish) and a heap of rice and you’ll be all set.

Another Tagaytay specialty is fried tawilis, a sort of freshwater fish related to the sardine. According to wikipedia, these little guys were once saltwater fish, but as volcanoes erupted and the landscape changed, they eventually became freshwater fish exclusive to this part of the Phillipines. Try them fried up and dipped in vinegar. Leslie’s, a chain restaurant with a great view of the volcano, does a great fried tawilis dish. Order anything off their grill to accompany it, you won’t be disappointed!

R. Lapids, Pork Specialist, specializes in.. well.. pork. Stop into their store along the main road for a heart-attack inducing dose of crispy fried chicharrones, or pork rinds. They have several different varieties that vary in size, flavor, and spiciness. For the adventurous eater, try the bulaklak, deep fried flower-shaped nuggets of pork organs (for the love of god, can someone tell me what part of the pig I am eating?) that are both crispy and soft/chewy. Incredible when dipped in the accompanying vinegar.

Crispy pata is one of the most memorable dishes I had in the Phillipines. Imagine an entire pork leg (knuckles included) simmered in a spiced broth, air-dried, and then the entire thing is deep fried! For me, eating the pata is all about ratio – got to have a bite that includes both the crunchy skin and the sticky flesh around the knuckle. Dipped in a vinegar soy sauce and served over white rice – crispy pata is heaven!

Mr. Moo’s is a roadside stand that offers fresh cow, goat, and waterbuffalo milks and cheeses. Snap up a block of the freshly made cow cheese and a bag of pandesal and you’ll have a wonderful breakfast. The cow cheese is a lot like Mexican queso blanco, mild and crumbly with a deliciously creamy flavor.