One Saturday, The Hub and I found ourselves at dusk on the way to Angono, Rizal, where neither of us has been. We were going to do a feature on Balaw-Balaw restaurant for a travel magazine – he was going to take the photos, I was going to write the story. Our expectations of the food, based on (what else?) the Internet, were high enough so that we just had a half-lunch to make space for dinner. But first, we had to get to the restaurant.
My concept of Angono was vague, at best. It was “out there,” as far as I was concerned. And so I spent two hours on Google Maps, zooming in and zooming out of streets and barangays, trying to find something familiar. Finally, I was able to put together some sketchy directions and we were off.
On Google Maps, the directions made perfect sense. Translated to my barely legible scribbling, though, we had to make several U-turns and stop to ask for directions many times (I love how The Hub is so in touch with his feminine side). The directions weren’t always helpful (“Dumiretso lang kayo. Sa gawi doon, kumanan kayo. Tapos kaliwa naman sa banda doon.”) and we missed several landmarks but we finally, obviously, found Balaw-Balaw.
From what we read on travel blogs, we knew we weren’t headed to a fine dining restaurant. It helped a lot that The Hub and I kept our expectations open. Because this place was definitely different from the rest. For starters, two huge busts of people we didn’t know guarded the entrance. Over it hung a twinkling Christmas lantern that, according to one of the waiters, had been there for the past five years. The beams over the dining area were covered with masks of higantes. (Every November, Angono celebrates the feast of St. Clement with a parade of Higantes, papier mache replicas of huge people which are three times taller than the normal person. Angono’s identity is tied to this fiesta.)
Beyond this dining area was an art gallery. And above this gallery was a room full of sculptures done by Perdigon Vocalan, the late artist who put Angono on the map with his art and who opened Balaw-Balaw with his wife almost 30 years ago. In his room of sculptures, there were lifesize statues of Jesus and his disciples sitting at a table, presumably to partake of the last supper. There were also gigantic busts of more strangers. I scuttled out of that room about 10 seconds after I entered it. To a more artistic eye, however, the room would have been a treasure trove.
Over the years, Balaw-balaw has become famous for its menu, which is adventurous, to say the least. They do serve normal food, like adobo. But they also serve Uok (larva of beetle), Nilasing na palaka (frogs marinated in wine), sinabawang balot (fertilized duck egg cooked bulalo style), binusang hantik sa bawang, kamaro (crickets from rice fields), Soup No. 5 (butt and balls of cow), and, for diners partial to some crunch, there was the variant Sizzling Butt and Balls.
I wasn’t sure if The Hub was considering Soup No. 5 or its sizzling variant but I definitely was not looking forward to the frogs marinated in wine (I pictured them alive and swimming in a vat half-filled with wine). I didn’t mind the Uok or even the Binusang Hantik because I could just pretend I was eating strange-looking peanuts. Anyway, my inner turmoil didn’t matter because we were having dinner with the friendly owner, Luzvimin Vocalan, and she had pre-ordered our food for us.
We were served Sinabawang Balut, among other nicer-sounding dishes. I think on Week 3 in this blog, I tried to eat an entire balut but didn’t because of a philosophical discussion I had with The Tactless Child about unborn ducklings. So with the bowl full of floating balut in front of me this time, I told myself, this is my big chance!
I began with the yellow part, the easy part. I looked over at The Hub and he was shoveling everything into his mouth at lightning speed. I figured I’d have to eat faster, too, before both The Hub and our host finish and notice how I’m just pushing around the dead duckling’s feet and beak and feathers in my bowl. First in were the clump of feathers and what looked like the back. It was at this moment, while I was chewing furiously and trying very hard not to vomit on the table, that our host answered a question I had asked about Angono artists. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done – attempting to look intelligent while keeping bile and duckling bits from coming up my throat. It took three more spoonfuls to finish my sinabawang balut. But, hurrah, I finally did it!
I’m itching to go back and try the other items on their menu. But I’d still stay away from the frogs.
Balaw-balaw Specialty Restaurant is at 16 Don Justo St., Dona Justa Village, Angono, Rizal. (There’s no need to make reservations, but if you still want to, call them at (02) 651.0110.)