The best cup of coffee I have ever tasted happened on this tour, a footnote to lunch, something optional. It was a cup of barako, the liberica variety that Batangas is famous for. This particular cup, on which I have based all the coffee I have drunk since, was deep, dark, sweet, and faintly smokey. I asked if there was any sugar in it. There wasn’t. It had been brewed from freshly ground beans bought that morning at the nearby market. I have always wanted to return.
That chance came six years later. Beth Angsioco and Giney Villar, the women behind heritage restaurant Adarna Food and Culture in Quezon City had opened Feliza Taverna y Cafe, a B&B in a house that dates back to the Spanish colonization era and I thought it would be perfect to spend the Independence Day weekend there. A couple of friends and I drove down to Taal, a three hour trip via the STAR Tollway, not counting the time we spent stopping for breakfast.
Feliza Taverna y Cafe is named after Feliza Dionko, private secretary to Emilio Aguinaldo, and former owner of the home which now houses the B&B. The restaurant on the first floor serves Batangas specialties. The second floor has two air-conditioned rooms, a shared bathroom with two shower stalls and two toilets, a spacious living room, a grand dining room, and a lovely balcony. The house is filled with furniture and memorabilia that evoke genteel life in the 1800s, at the cusp of the country’s independence.
A room comes with breakfast, which is served on the balcony. On the first day, it was a choice of three things that Taal is famous for: sinaing na tulingan, adobo sa dilaw, and tapang Taal. Chef Giney told us a bit about each dish.
Sinaing na Tulingan
The tulingan (bullet tuna) is salted, its tail removed, its head wrapped in a banana leaf, the whole thing layered in a clay pot with onions, pork fat, a souring agent like kamias or sampaloc (tamarind), covered with water, and slow-boiled for hours. It is served with the liquid it is cooked in called ‘patis,’ a distillation of all the essences of fish, kamias, and pork fat. The fish is rendered soft by the hours of boiling; Chef Giney says that leftovers are reboiled until everything is eaten, so that the dish’s flavors get deeper over time. Its flesh is firm but yields easily to fork and spoon, the bones soft enough to eat. This is one of the dishes that Tall is proud of, one that you can find in many eating places in the area, from the poshest restaurant to the night market in the plaza.
Adobo sa Dilaw
Like its name states, adobo sa dilaw is the local iteration of what could very well be our national food (sorry, lechon). Turmeric gives the dish its distinctive yellow hue, as well as a gingery tinge to its flavor. Braised with garlic until tender, the dish is subtly flavorful; yet another way of experiencing adobo.
Made from pork, tapang taal is like tapa and tocino’s love child. It’s got the look and feel of the beef tapa that we are used to, but with the fatty sweetness you usually get from pork tocino.
Tall is a charming heritage town that is just waiting to be rediscovered. Feliza Taverna y Cafe offers a slice of small town life, but it was not the be all and end all of our visit. Taal is a place that begs to be rediscovered, each trip there offering a glimpse into our many storied past.