Pampanga and the Giant Lantern Festival

Trip Start Jun 22, 2008
Trip End Jul 04, 2013

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Flag of Philippines  , Luzon,
Saturday, December 17, 2011

Below is the story about this event that Jane wrote for the American Women's Club magazine.

AWCP Visits Pampanga and the Giant Lantern Festival

Pampanga is not only considered to be the food capital of the Philippines, many say it's also the Christmas capital, and over twenty AWCP members and spouses decided to see for ourselves why Pampanga has earned these distinctions. Our food and cultural tour of the province was lead by Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks, Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet, and food and travel bloggers Ivan Henares and Spanky Enriquez.  This tour is an annual event that our guides collaborate to combine the culinary and historical heritage of Pampanga with a visit to the Giant Lantern Festival.  Since this was partially a food tour, before the bus even left our starting point, we were given a breakfast snack of pan de bagnet, a roll filled with fried pork, lettuce and onions.   If this was an indication of what the rest of the day would bring, we would have to throw our diets and concerns of cholesterol levels out the bus window! 

Our first cultural stop was the town of Bacolor where we visited the San Guillermo cathedral built in 1576.  The area surrounding the cathedral was once a thriving community filled with homes and businesses until Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991 and buried everything including the church.  The land is now about 10 feet higher and the ground floor of the church is submerged under the hardened lahar.  The entrance to the cathedral is the window where the choir loft once stood and the tops of the cathedral windows are now at ground level.  Some of the altars and icons were able to be recovered and restored and the church is in full use today.  The town has rebuilt since the eruption but there are still some houses in the surrounding area where only the rooftops remain visible.  After another short ride we arrived in the town of Guagua where we toured the Betis Church.  It was originally built in 1612 and is known as the Sistene Chapel of the Philippines due to the immense murals on its ceilings and walls.  The beauty of the Betis Church is very renowned and it has appeared in a variety of movies over the years. 

After our brief history lesson we returned to eating.  Lunch was scheduled at Bale Dutung in Angeles City and was an event that would last all afternoon.  Bale Dutung is owned by renowned chef Claude Tayag and his wife, Mary Ann.  It is not really a restaurant.  It’s more a visit to their home, which they designed themselves, and where they accommodate several dozen guests who feast on a course-by-course progression of Claude’s creations.  Our meal began with dalandan juice served over muscavado ice followed by samples of Claude’s special condiments and a fiddle head fern salad.  After numerous tasting portions that included fish lumpia, chicken inasal and sushi, we started the main event of our meal – 5 way Lechon.  One by one, the staff wheeled to the dining area four very large and very nicely browned pigs that had been painstakingly roasted for our lunch.  The first of the 5 way lechon preparations was simply the crunchy brown skin served with liver sauce (remember what I said about our diets?)   The 2nd way was Pritchon which is fried shreds of pork with a number of condiments, including kim chi, combined in a tortilla.   The 3rd way was the sour traditional meat and vegetable soup called Sinigang de Lechon.  Barbecue ribs were the 4th preparation and the 5th and final way was Sisig, the chopped and fried face meat of the pig served sizzling from the frying pan.  After such an extensive meal we were all full but still had room for Claude’s signature dessert, Paradiso, 3 balls of confections made with ube and coconut sitting atop carmelized carabao’s milk.

Full and happy we boarded our bus which would take us to San Fernando for the annual Giant Lantern festival.  But first a quick stop to pick up our take-out dinner of barbequed pork sticks and rice.  What?  More food?  We had already eaten so much but somehow the pork smelled so good that some of us managed to push down a few more bites during the remainder of the evening. 

On to our final event.  The annual Ligligan Parul (Giant Lantern Festival) showcases the city's most famous product - the lighted lanterns known as paruls.  Pampanga's artisans are renowned for producing the country's biggest and most elaborate paruls and, every year, they are debuted in the Giant Lantern Festival where barangays compete against each other to be named the year’s winner.  The festival began in San Fernando in 1908 and has evolved with the paruls becoming bigger and the designs more intricate.  The paruls now average 18 to 20 feet in diameter and large steel barrels powered by electricity are used to manipulate the 3,000 to 5,000 lights in coordination with the chosen music.  The switching system that triggers the lights is still a low-tech method that includes hairpins, masking tape and wire cables that can be easily affected by rain which we witnessed after the skies opened up during the first round.  Fortunately, most of the ten competing barangay were able to complete their five minute shows without issues and we were able to witness the parul’s intricate choreography of lights and sounds.  Many of us were in agreement that Sta.Lucia’s lantern was the best so it was no surprise that the ten judges chose them as the winner for the 2nd straight year. 

We decided it was best to leave the festival before the rest of the crowds and so we viewed the fireworks at the end of the event from our bus window.  It was a long day of eating and touring and we were tired when we finally arrived back in Makati.  But wait!  One more food item remained.  Before leaving we were each given a box containing a giant, homemade Ensaymada.  As good as it looked, it would have to wait for breakfast.
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