It’s very easy to lose all sense of time when dining at Arroz Ecija. Amid an urban jungle backdrop of the 43-floor-high Arya Residences, with its imposing concrete and sleek metals and glass panes, stepping inside the newly opened restaurant in Taguig City feels like stepping back into history—to the early 1900s, to be more precise.
Oversized wooden frames bearing photographs of rice plantations in Nueva Ecija and sacks of seven varieties of rice, including the heirloom purple pirurutong, along with bilao of different sizes used to winnow rice on display, create a hacienda vibe perfect for enjoying Filipino-Hispanic cuisine.
“This is an ode to my grandfather, who was part of the last wave of Spanish settlers to the Philippines,” said Andrew Masigan, president of Advent Manila, which is also behind the XO46 Heritage Bistro.
Masigan’s abuelo, Don Claro Veléz, set up Albufera de Veléz in Jaen, Nueva Ecija, where impeccable weather conditions made it easy to grow rice. The lady of the hacienda, Doña Patrocinio Alindada, presided over the kitchen from where she prepared what she fed all the workers in the field. Her long dining tables groaned under the weight of the hearty feasts she prepared with attention and cariño.
But in 1942, the Japanese Imperial Army descended upon the Albufera. Don Claro and his eldest son, Alfredo, were made to join the Death March from Bataan to Tarlac, a struggle that they did not survive. Neither did the Albufera.
“Everything in this restaurant is a memory of the Albufera, a homage to a time when life was beautiful and when a good meal was enough to make up for a hard day’s work,” Masigan said.
Masigan’s late aunt, Nenita, was the source of all the anecdotes and, thankfully, the recipes of the dishes that have fed two generations of Velezes which can now be enjoyed by diners at the Arroz Ecija restaurant.
“We source our rice from a farmers’ cooperative in Nueva Ecija. We have the following varieties so far: wag-wag, balatinao, sampaguita, dinorado, jasponica, black jasmine, and pirurutong. It was a conscious decision to try and get as many varieties as possible because these varieties will die if you do not eat them. The farmers simply won’t plant them if there is no demand,” Masigan said.
For starters, there’s the chorizo sampler (P495), a combination of Vigan, Tuguegarao, batutay, and betamax (blood) longganisa; chicharon Mexico with guacamole dip (P225); Huevos Rotos (P275), made of crisped potato strips topped with ground chorizo and fried egg; and hinornong Mejillones or baked mussels (P285).
The restaurants main dishes include Ilocos bagnet (P375); callos Madrileno (P345); pastel de lengua Sevillana (P335), morcon de queso de bola (P325); and bopis Ecija (P225). They also serve bangus belly sinigang (P375) cooked in green mangoes, which provide the perfect foil to the creamy taste of milkfish. Diners can also choose between two types of noodles: pansit batil patong con inihaw na kalabaw (P325) and pansit Ecija (P295) served with shrimps and crispy dulong.
The showstoppers, however, are the different kinds of bringhe, Pampanga’s version of the Spanish paella cooked with coconut milk for a distinctly Pinoy taste. There’s the bringhe sa manok (P285); a version cooked with vegetables and Cordillera rice (P285); bringhe in squid ink (P335) similar to paella negra; and seafood bringhe (P385).
And what is hacienda cuisine without the traditional kakanin which can be ordered per piece or per box of 12, all made of – what else but rice. There’s sapin-sapin (P39/P468), cassava cake (P49/P588), biko ube (P65/P780), maja mais or maja ube (P55/P660), and biko langka (P49/P588), among others.
“Central Luzon cuisine has a lot to offer. It is something that needs to be re-discovered. This restaurant is our small contribution toward this end,” Masigan said.
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