Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014


I N   D A R A G A

The last time I was in the town of Daraga was two years ago. Visiting the province's famous Daraga Church was timely as it was undergoing a major face lift that day. Something old was given an extended life. I guess it's prevalent of life in that town of Albay where everything needs to be lasting and extended.

Lunch Venue For My "I Love Albay!" Blog Series Tour

It's no wonder that the word "daraga" in Bicolano dialect refers to a maiden or someone unmarried. There are a lot of well-maintained ancestral houses in the area. One such house was for my lunch venue during my recently-concluded "I Love Albay!" Blog Series Tour. Called Balay Cena Una, the restaurant means old house in Tagalog (from the term sinaunang bahay). It's actually a restored ancestral home that has been converted into a dining venue for intimate meals and events.

World-class Chefs

Mostly offered in Balay Cena Una's artsy crafts-y menu are traditional Filipino dishes that have international cuisine influences. This may have been brought about by the restaurant's executive chefs -- the husband and wife tandem of Diosdado and Concepcion Condeno. Both are considered to have a world-class background in the culinary arts as they were able to work in the Middle East, the US, and Macau.

The Rice Culture

Easily noticeable was how the steamed rice serving on meal plates were interestingly served -- in the playful shape of a cone as a tribute to the majestic Mayon Volcano. And since Daraga has most of its months in wet climate, rice farming had become a generous activity for locals so much so that rice is what they use for coffee instead of the usual arabica or robusta beans.

King, a friend of mine based in Bicol for work joined me for lunch and shared that locals even centuries ago would set aside leftover rice from meals and roast it until dark brown. The women would grind it either late at night or very early in the morning and then store it in air-tight containers to be ready for coffee use.

To kick-start my immersion, I ordered the restaurant's traditional Rice Coffee. With just a few sips, I was able tell how different it tasted from other types of brew. There's a lasting grain-like overtone in taste that's devoid of an arabica's lasting sweetness and lacking the kick of a robusta blend.

Plates of Pasta and Chicken

For the actual meal, I had the restaurant's Pasta Cena Una Special which was served in a plate of fettuccini with shrimps. I was informed that it was mixed in coconut milk, taro leaves, and saffron which rendered the dish flavorful the way Bicolanos like it.

My friend ordered what he had at the same table where he dined the day before. I was curious why he got the so-called Boneless Chicken Tinutungan (meaning burnt in Tagalog) for the second day in a row. I forked a piece of that uninteresting-looking meat and carelessly tossed it in my mouth. I was looking forward to washing down the taste with my ordered pasta but I suddenly experienced a delicious jolt that I seldom get when dining out. The taste of the chicken was both savory and smokey that it kept me asking for more pieces. I noticed that the chicken was basked in coconut cream, making it rich in taste. I learned that there were other local ingredients also tossed in the mix.

The dining experience was made complete with heritage inspiration from the house's structure itself. Accentuated by displays of rare collector's items, the dining area felt like a delicious visit of a museum.

Photography By Josua Chan
and Karl Ace

Balay Cena Una

Address: F. Lotivio St. Bgy. Bagumbayan, Daraga, Albay
Operating Hours:
(Monday - Saturday) 10:00 am - 10:00 pm
(Sunday) 11:30 am - 09:00 pm
Phone: 0917-827-9520 and (052) 435-4338

More Photos Below:


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