Atching Lillian, our big sister in the kitchen

Bearer of tradition. Kapampangan chef and food historian Lillian Lising-Borromeo tells the story of the saniculas cookies. Photo by JC Bocaling.

Bearer of tradition. Kapampangan chef and food historian Lillian Lising-Borromeo tells the story of the saniculas cookies. Photo by JC Bocaling.

As part of the food tour, I take visitors to Mexico, Pampanga to have lunch. They leave happy not just because of good food prepared but also after making friends with Atching (Chinese ‘atsi’ for elder sister) Lillian. Sometimes, one of them would find out that a relative of Atching Lillian used to be their neighbor or a family friend. There were also occasions when guests would even find out that they’re distant relatives by some strange coincidence.

What is it about this lady that makes her so endearing to strangers?

Is it the way she carries a conversation? Or the intriguing stories of personalities she has dealt with in the past? Could it be her generosity in sharing recipes or tips on how to cook delicious búro? Or maybe it’s the food that reminds people of home-cooked meals prepared by their loved ones?

Perhaps, it could be all of the above.

Lillian Mercado-Lising de Borromeo began her life in the kitchen at the age of two. She recalls, “I was given my own space in the kitchen where I would join my maternal aunt Impong Orang (Doña Maura Hizon Lorenzo of Mexico, Pampanga) and my late mother Imang Paquita (Doña Francisca Mercado Lising) as we prepared meals for my maternal grandfather Incong Moning (Don Monico del Rosario Mercado of Sasmuan, Pampanga) and his political friends. I was taught how to cut vegetables and how to properly set the dinner table.”

* * *

Panecillos de San Nicolás.

Antique cookie molds of the Panecillos de San Nicolás. Towns in Pampanga have their specific designs. Photo by Chito Tayag.

She belongs to a family of cooks and since she’s Kapampangan, it’s just “expected” that their women would man the kitchen.

That’s not always the case especially with Atching Lillian. She wanted to become a doctor like her father. However, it was her relatives who prodded her to take up a degree in Home Economics.

She gave in and her decision turned out to be a big blessing for the Kapampangan, a people who take great pride in their cuisine. It’s through her that we have heirloom recipes that are kept alive.

In the years that she worked out a successful career in the culinary scene, Atching Lillian would become more known for the tradition of baking the Panecillos de San Nicolás or simply known as the saniculas cookies.

* * *

“It’s one of the oldest cookies in the Philippines brought by the Augustinians. It’s said that miracles were attributed to them. There was this one story when the explorer Magellan crushed the saniculas with his bare hands and threw the pieces from his ship to calm the rough seas. And it did. Thus, making the landing in Limasawa (where the first Mass was said to be heard) possible.” said the Kapampangan chef.


Nicolás of Tolentino (a town in Italy) was an Augustian friar in the 13th century. There were a lot of miraculous stories surrounding his life and one of them makes it to Atching Lillian’s baking demo of the famed cookies.

“His superiors noticing that he (San Nicolás) was in great pain because of too much fasting, made him eat a cooked bird. He was able to eat the wing and he wanted to share his meal with his brethren but suddenly the bird became alive and flew away!”

It was an entertaining story after a filling lunch at her table. The lady in the kitchen, our big sister, was able to tell it with gusto that the group got glued watching her do her magic with a bowl of cornstarch, egg yolks, third-class flour and butter to bake this blessed bread.

* * *

Visitors had a chance to try their hand in making their own saniculas cookies. They took turns pressing soft dough on the engraved cookie molds and flattening it using an old rolling pin. Everything seemed to be fine but there would always be a reluctant participant and of course, there would be Atching Lillian’s reassurance and guidance. Fortunately, the results were good. A guest gets surprised and happy to have a photo with their creation.

Breaking the silence in the kitchen. Atching Lillian's wit makes her demo a fun gathering. Photo by JC Bocaling.

Breaking the silence in the kitchen. Atching Lillian’s wit makes her demo a fun afternoon affair. It’s one of the highlights of the food tour. Photo by JC Bocaling.

* * *

I have been guiding in Pampanga for years and one of my reasons was personal. I wanted to know my roots and also to reconnect but the question is: What’s left for me there? Both of my grandparents are no longer around and it’s just too bad that I wasn’t as interested as now to listen to their stories. Most of my relatives are living outside the province.

My visits to Atching Lillian’s kitchen become some sort of a renewal, a link to my claim that somehow I belong; that I’m a Kapampangan too even though I don’t speak the language; that there’s another place in Pampanga that would welcome me as a visiting relative.

Atching Lillian’s warmth and her genuine feeling of concern made me feel like I’m part of the family. “Because you are family! Did you know that there’s an Ocampo in one of my parents’ side? Hindi ka na iba sa akin. (You’re no longer a stranger to me.)”

I guess it no longer matters if I’m really related to her by blood or not that’s why calling her “Atching” just feels right.



Mangan Kapampangan through the lens of the Clasios

I had a wonderful time with the Clasio family. It was their sense of humor that made this tour more fun. I’m beginning to think that this food tour is really for families, fraternities, associations or barkadas. My recent tour with this close-knit family serves as a perfect example.

I was asked to meet Wynzyl’s brother-in-law, Carl, in Taft  at 4:30 in the morning. The gods were on my side because I almost got mugged (this deserves a separate post) before taking a cab to reach the rendezvous. After picking up the rest of the group in Taguig and Las Piñas, we made a quick trip to the town of Guagua.

The group was a bit  surprised to find out that Lechón pugón also known as liemporn will be served for breakfast. Yes, we started the day right and healthy. It was a glimpse of things to come.

Here are some photos taken from the talented lens of Karl Marx Photography.

Lechón pugón. This was the star of the breakfast table.

The Pugón. This is where the magic happens.

The hearty breakfast in Lapid’s Bakery deserved a brief stroll through the old church and a quick stop at Galan’s Chicharon Store. Pampangos also play the Filipino Name Game a lot, from Sinabon (a laundry service in Guagua) and Poracay (a resort in Porac, Pampanga) to its sizes of atchara found in Galan’s.

To each his own poison. Take your pick.

Our next stop was the nearby town of Santa Rita. We took time to visit the Ocampo-Lansang factory, which is known to create those sinful sweets such as the sansrival and turrones de casuy. Our timing was just impeccable because it’s the Duman Festival.

We’re lucky that the doors were still open because Tito Ramon (We could be related because my grandparents lived in the next barangay.) told us that they will close shop early for the fiesta.

Sansrival. Take a bite, it’s all right.

Lunch was served at Atching Lillian’s place. It’s quite interesting to note that she was able to connect with guests that I tour on a deeper level. This time, we found out that her uncle used to be neighbors with the Clasios when they were starting out. Amazing.

Atching Lillian with her apo, Jacob and the Clasios.

We made a quick stop at Carreon’s Sweets for more pasalubong and a brief demo, a secret in making its life-extending plantanillas. What more can you ask for more? ;-)

Plantanillas. The secret’s still kept.

Angeles City was our next stop. We were given a special tour by the museum guide, Kim Tinio. He shared a very interesting story about Culiat, the old name of Angeles and historical figures that shaped this city.

All ears. Kim Tinio describing the Kapampangan kitchen.

The facade of the Holy Rosary Church. We stopped by this beautiful church before leaving for San Fernando.

It’s probably a fitting way to ask for blessings and space in our belly before heading to Everybody’s Café. Mark, the photographer of the family, needed it most particularly because of the exotic food served.

Betute. It’s frog stuffed with minced meat. Really, really good.

My tour with the Clasios ended on a good note. They were happy and very much full. I am thankful that they decided to take my tour. One of the things that I like about this group is the way the Clasios (especially the brothers) treated each other. They reminded me of my time growing up with my brothers.


My mekeni roots

Cezario Ocampo and Epifania Alfonso. My lolo’s from Sta. Rita while my lola’s from Betis.

I’m in my 30s and I’m in this stage of my life where I want to know my purpose, my roots and what I can do for myself and for the world. I sometimes envy friends and online acquaintances who know their family history, their relatives and colorful stories in the past. They have a province or an ancestral home to visit during the holidays. My family used to do that but I only have vague memories of an old house, the scent of fresh grass, native chickens and a language that is not Tagalog.

Lola Panyang in her younger days.

It was last year when my lola passed away. I miss the old woman and I regret not being able to keep my word to visit or even call her. I tried and succeeded but found it more convenient to make excuses. A traditional Kapampangan woman, Epifania Ocampo knew her way around the kitchen. She can transform an ordinary instant noodle into something truly malinamnam. My favorite dish that I still long for is her lutong toyo, which I later found out to be called asado.

Lola Panyang’s family hailed from Betis. She told me that during the war, they weren’t really affected that much because the Alfonso family was involved in supplying food for the town. They were pretty much well-0ff. She married a lanky young man from Sta. Rita. His name was Cezario Ocampo.

My Lolo Sario came from a poor background. He only finished elementary but it was through his skill, perseverance and adaptability that he was able to raise 10 kids with my lola and have them all finish college. He was a carpenter and learned the ropes in construction as a foreman, which helped him in establishing bottling plants in the country. Even in his sleep, it was said that my lolo would give orders to his workers.

Lolo Sario and his hommies. He’s the fourth guy from the left.

My grandparents make me proud of my Kapampangan roots. It also helped that food drew me closer to it. I associate Pampanga with its sansrival, petit and turrones de casuy that were a huge treat for a sweet tooth like me. It is however unfortunate that I only know a few Pampango words but I can tell if one is Kapampangan in a public place by their tone of speaking and some words that I’ve heard whenever my relatives would talk among themselves.

* * *

My lolo worked in Manila and would go home on weekends to be with his family in Pampanga. He eventually had a regular client who gave him a big break by assigning him to set up bottling plants in exchange of land in Manila. What they didn’t know was that the property was located near the public cemetery. Lolo Sario probably didn’t mind. His eldest finished college and was able to help in supporting the studies of the other kids. They then built a mom-and-pop store on that plot of land in Caloocan and named it “El Pinoy”.

El Pinoy of Memory. It’s a symbol of hard work and love of family.

We don’t know how they came up with it but it inspired my little brother to adopt it as his name in the art world. He puts it best in an interview “the pseudonym is to remind me that with real hard work and an honest goal, you’ll be able to accomplish great things.” Perhaps it’s my lolo speaking through him.

A Good Friday two years ago

My colleagues from the Mabuhay Guides were invited by our project director, Susan Calo-Medina, to her husband’s ancestral home in Arayat, Pampanga. It was two years ago and I still remember the dishes served by Lucia, their 3rd generation family cook.

This woman prepares traditional Kapampangan dishes fit for a king. Photo by Luisito Tayag.

It was an early ride to reach Arayat. We passed by penitents before reaching the house.

Mr. Johnny Medina is a descendant of José Alejandrino, one of the generals who fought in the Filipino-American War and a compatriot of Dr. José Rizal. The house has this huge photo hanging on the walls of the sala. I got a copy of the photo below from this site.

The Ilustrados in Madrid.

So where’s General Alejandrino?

General Alejandrino is the man wearing a top hat behind Rizal.

We were treated to bits of history lessons and some side stories from Mr. Medina’s relatives while having a fine meal. This was where I learned an old joke about the names of the towns in Pampanga:

“Bago mag-Macabebe (meyka-beybe), Sexmoan ka muna.”

After that, we took our siesta in the sala.

Mr. Medina entertaining his guests after a very fine meal. Photo by Dustin Arnold Ancheta.

Susan Calo-Medina, our project director. Photo by Dustin Arnold Ancheta.

This is a good pic of the four of us. Photo by Luisito Tayag.

All smiles, all satisfied. Photo by Luisito Tayag.

The family carroza was prepared with a lot of flowers and decor for the procession in the afternoon. The Medina family has been keeping this tradition. Some of the santos were stored in a warehouse nearby. They were bequeathed by town mates who are now living abroad to the family so that there would be someone to take care of them.

Trying my best to pull the family carroza. Photo by Luisito Tayag.

It’s been two years. I still remember that trip, the beautiful old house, the delicious lunch prepared by the family and the good company.



A tour with someone from Down Under

I finished a 4-day tour with an Australian travel writer. This trip was arranged and coordinated by the Department of Tourism and Intas Destinations. Mr. McIntosh visited the country probably a decade ago. We stayed in Hotel Stotsenberg on our first two nights.

As part of our schedule, we went to Puning Hot Springs in Angeles City. We rode a 4×4 vehicle that was strong enough to take on the terrain going there.

Our 4×4 ride to Puning Hot Springs.

The devastation that took place was remarkable but what’s even more impressive was the way the place was converted into a resort.

The trail that we took on the 4×4.

Puning Hot Springs. It has 8 hot springs and a cold one for kids.

My guest taking a photo and giving art direction.

The Aeta community have jobs thanks to this resort.

That night, we had dinner at Everybody’s Café in San Fernando.

Everybody’s Café. It’s a very good Kapampangan restaurant that serves delicious morkón.

My guest wasn’t really into Kapampangan food especially the sinigang na ulang, which I had to finish by myself (no complaints here).

Sinigáng na Sugpô. It’s also called ulang. Looking at this just made me drool.

I was also convincing him to try the kamarú but he got discouraged when I told him how it was prepared. Good thing he loved our San Miguel Beer.

Kamarú. Mole crickets cooked in butter, which really taste good.

The next day, we went to Mimosa. We first visited Holiday Inn then took a look at the wide golf course. My guest told me that he should have made reservations in this place than in his hotel. He simply liked the villas here, which he thought would be suited for his readers.

Huge trees like these can be seen in Mimosa. How I wished to see more of them in Metro Manila.

My Dear Lord Photo.

The day was focused on Kapampangan cuisine and heritage. We had an 11:00 appointment with artist/food columnist Claude Tayag in Bale Dutung but we were a bit early so we passed by the Holy Rosary Church in Angeles City.

Holy Rosary Church. Our guide said that the roof was imported from London.

We also visited the Angeles Museum that highlights the history of the city from being a former part of San Fernando into a prestigious town where Presidente Emilio Aguinaldo and the first Philippine republic celebrated its first anniversary.

Old photos were on display. I took great interest on this picture.

Quezon and the bigote. A rare photo of the Commonwealth president when he was an aide of Aguinaldo.

We headed off to Claude Tayag’s home. He was a very gracious host and an interesting storyteller. He was able to share how food and Kapampangan culture are intertwined. I learned an important Filipino word from him, which is “linamnam”. A word that transcends delicious and other words to describe a very delightful dish. We were asked to try out the lechon tortilla.

Claude Tayag & the lechon tortilla. The tortillas were malinamnam.

We also had a brief tour of gallery. This is my favorite out of his works. A vibrant painting of the Cañao.

Took this photo with the painter’s blessing. Doesn’t do justice but I just love it.

We also had the opportunity to see the second floor of his home. He confessed that his house was built from scrap of very good materials such as those from churches and beautiful houses that were demolished.

Lunch was served at Abe’s Farm in Magalang. My guest loved the lamb adobo. The meal was good. I had the pla-pla, a huge tilapia/St. Peter’s fish. We found time to tour the museum. Picture-taking wasn’t allowed inside. I want to have a house like this. I think it looks great. I love old houses.

Abe’s house. The staff said that it took them 10 years to transfer it to its current place.

We went back to the hotel to rest before having dinner at Yats International Wine Club in Mimosa. The following day, we returned to Manila and gave the guest a walk through in our malls such as Greenhills, Tiendesitas, Market! Market!, Serendra, Bonifacio High Street and The Fort Strip. Our evening ended watching KAOS, a show that has a mixture of magic, theater, circus and Cirque du Soleil, in Resorts World Manila.

On the final day, we went first to the Mall of Asia, toured the Ayala Museum, walked around the Greenbelt malls, checked out the hotels near the malls and passed by Heckle & Jeckle and Handle Bar in Makati before calling it a long, long day. I learned a lot from my guest and he told me that he’ll send an email for more information on the sites. Hopefully, he can tell his readers that Pampanga and Metro Manila have a lot to offer.

Let’s have lunch at Mexico, Pampanga

The dishes served by food historian and chef extraordinaire Lillian Lising de Borromeo are the main draw when one visits Mexico, Pampanga. This talented lady prepares traditional Kapampangan cuisine that one would savor. She happily shares her knowledge too, especially in baking the Panecillos de San Nicolas.

Be Atching Lillian’s apprentice for one day. Join our tour and learn more from one of the renowned names in Pampango cooking!



Behold the beauty of Mount Arayat

Mount Arayat was the last stronghold of the first Philippine Republic against the invading US forces in the 1900s. General Servillano Aquino and his men were driven to this sanctuary, which was said to be the dwelling place of the god Suko.

Get the best view of this mystical mountain as we tour Pampanga and know more about this province through meals or snacks on each stop. By the way, how’s this as your backdrop?



Meet the Lapids of Guagua

The Chinese fled to Guagua in the 17th century to escape persecution and start a new life in this town near the mouth of a river. Their new home offered a lot economic opportunities that it became the entry point to Manila of produce from the central plain of Luzon. They stayed here for good, which led to the growth of Chinese mestizo families. Modern-day Kampampangans, including the Lapids, are their proud descendants.

Meet the Lapid father and son tandem who are actively promoting their town’s heritage. Join this tour and know more about Guagua and its place in the history of Pampanga.