A day trip to Pampanga is one that's hard to plan not because of its distance from Manila, nor the lack of places to go to. In fact, what makes planning a day trip to this neighboring province (only about 16 kilometers from the metro) stressful is the abundance of trip-worthy destinations scattered all over its three cities and nineteen municipalities. With a long list of restaurants, historical landmarks, heritage churches and shrines to choose from, how can one fit every point of interest in Pampanga in just one day?
A new tour group called CultureShockPH did the hard job of picking the best of Pampanga's culinary and cultural destinations and came up with their recently-launched Pampanga Food & Heritage Tour. The tour aims to squeeze the sights and tastes of country's culinary capital in one fun day trip.
What is CultureShockPH?
CultureShockPH is a newly-established group of five twenty-something creative professionals who share the same passion for discovering, traveling, and eating. They may be young but this fun bunch is no stranger to on-foot explorations. Members Osep Reyes and Guido Sarreal run a separate travel group: Trail Adventours, which bring hikers-- from newbies to professionals-- up the different peaks in the Philippines. On tour, they talk to participants and share their personal experiences and knowledge about the place. Bloggers Smarla Angtuanco and Robbie Bautista find thrill in discovering new places. Both contribute heavily in the culinary and research arm of CultureShock group. Paolo Carlos, who hails from Pampanga, helped picked the destinations for the Pampanga itinerary. He also takes care of the group's financial matters.
Brought together by their shared friends and interests, the group decided to put up CultureShock early this year to promote beautiful places in the Philippines and allow Filipinos, as well as foreigners, to have a first hand experience of the country's unique cuture.
Where will CultureShockPH Take You?
Unlike the other Pampanga tours available in the market, CultureShock's itinerary for this particular destination covers both culinary and heritage destinations, i.e., restaurants and churches that have long been regarded as institutions in the province. Apart from the group's factual inputs on the destinations listed in the itinerary, information from the local guides (parish priests, church keepers, and restaurant managers) are also imparted to the participants during the tour.
Below are the activities in store for you should you join CultureShockPH's Pampanga Culinary and Heritage tour:
Have a Hearty Breakfast at Atching Lillian’s
In an old but still evidently grandiose ancestral house in Mexico, Pampanga, awaits a cheerful lady fondly called Atching Lillian. Her humble demeanor and “beso-beso” ways of greeting strangers do not tell that she's one of the most important culinary figures Pampanga has produced. CultureShock appropriately puts breakfast with this noted culinary historian, award-winning chef, and cooking show host as the first item in the tour's itinerary.
At Atching Lilian's place, participants are to tour the kitchen in which she stores her antique cookware collections. A demonstration on how to make Pampanga's famous San Nicolas cookies will follow. Participants are encouraged to try molding and cutting the dough by themselves. A small token of appreciation will be given to those who've put extra effort.
Once done with the demo, everyone is invited to partake in the authentic Kapampangan buffet that she prepared. Feast-all-you-can on Morcon, Dinuguan, Tamales, and other famous Pampango dishes for breakfast. While eating, Atching will entertain you with folklores on how the dishes were invented. You'd have to attend to know how her excellent Paksiw ng Demonyo got its name!
Check Out the 'Sistine Chapel of the Philippines' Betis Church
After a hearty fare, the tour group will be taken to Betis Church (St. John the Apostle Church), known as the “Sistine Chapel of the Philippines.”
The well-maintained and imposing structure was built back in the 18th century by the Augustinians. Very few people outside Pampanga know that such a majestic church exists in the Philippines. Betis Church is that grandiose, and it is now rightfully protected as a National Cultural Treasure.
After your tour, prayers, and reflections, get your cameras ready for half an hour's worth of photography practice. The church is beautiful inside out, you'll never run out of interesting subjects when in here. Note though that flash photography is not allowed when inside the church.
Have an Exotic Lunch at Everybody’s Café
San Fernando, Pampanga
Lunch for the day is at Everybody's Cafe-- a “sosy turo-turo” style restaurant that's one of the longest standing restaurants in Pampanga. The display counter a few steps away from the entrance showcases different Kapampangan classics that are avaialable for the day. Most ordered are their bright orange, creamy, and succulent Morcon, and their Fried Hito with Buro, Wrapped in Mustasa Leaves.
The above-said dishes are excellent but above all else, foodies take the trip to Everybody's Cafe for their exotic specialties: Fried Camaru (cricket), Stuffed Betute (frog), and Tapang Kalabaw (carabao). A demo on how they stuff frogs and prepare the crickets await after your meal.
Stuffed Betute (frog)
Cool Off at Razon’s
Any foodie trip to Pampanga merits a visit to one of the oldest branches of Razon's-- a halo-halo store, famous for their ice's extra fine texture. It's quite hard to believe that the business most famous for their simple but memorable halo-halo started in such a small unassuming spot beside a gas station.
Enjoy the Peaceful Scenery at Sta. Rita de Cascia Parish
Santa Rita, Pampanga
After your Razon's halo-halo merienda, you'll be brought to the sleepy town of Santa Rita-- specifically, the baroque-style Sta Rita de Cascia Parish.
Expect to hear stories about the life of the town's patron saint, the parishioners' devotion and simplicity, and some interesting folklore that concerns a nun in an all-black hood, running around the town to save the people from a criminal from the parish priest. You may also want to say your prayers at the altar that houses a first-class relic of Sta. Rita de Cascia, the patron saint for lost and impossible causes.
Commemorate the Lahar Tragedy at San Guillermo Church
From the outside, the last church featured in the itinerary looks just like any other shrine. But San Guillermo Church in Bacolor, Pampanga is no ordinary one as it is half- submerged in lahar.
A slightly depressing part of the tour, the trip to San Guillermo Church is a good place to learn more about the calamity that killed thousands of Filipinos. The museum within the church has pictures and artifacts that depict how high and mighty the church was prior the calamity. You'll also be told stories on how hard life was for every one in Bacolor until the lahar flows finally stopped just around a decade ago. The mass grave located behind the church will most probably give you a lump in your throat.
End The Tour with a Light Note in Historic Camalig Restaurant
Angeles City, Pampanga
And because it is impossible not be a little depressed after a visit to San Guillermo Church, the CultureShock group chose the Historic Camalig Restaurant as its last destination to liven up the mood before the trip ends.
Here, you'll be treated to a dinner consisting of Armando's Best Pizza-- “Ang Pambansang Pizza” and Doy's Kapampangan Pizza in which longganisa and salted egg are stars. But prior to eating, there'll also be a demonstration on how to make their talked-about pizzas.
Doy's Kapampangan Pizza
As of this writing, CultureShockPH already has two successful runs of the Pampanga tour under its belt. On June 30, they'll be conquering Taal, Batangas with their first batch of participants. The 3rd Pampanga Tour is set on July 7. As soon as the other itineraries are set, they'll be adding more local destinations to their list. Their 'Fiesta Tour', in which they'll bring the group to the town and make them help the locals a day or two prior the festival, is also something you can look forward to.
Should you be interested to join the tour, you may book a trip by emailing email@example.com. Further information on the tours can be found in CultureShockPH's website: http://cultureshockph.wordpress.com
8-10 hours-- the duration of the tour
P2,500.00-- tour fee per head (all-inclusive of round trip transportation, food, and tour fees)
6:30AM-- meeting time at McDonald’s El Pueblo, Ortigas