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Rizal province beckons with hidden art and culinary gems

April 12, 2019

LESS than an hour drive from the shadows of skyscrapers, irritating smog and woeful traffic is a vast tract of land that is home to natural wonders, talent and flavors that are sure to invigorate the senses. A destination named after the national hero, the province of Rizal deserves the honor for it is a testament of the greatness of the Filipino with its rich history, endless works of art and gastronomic offerings passed down from generations.

Only 16 kilometers east of Manila, the 116-year-old province in the Calabarzon region has no shortage of visual and culinary gems from art galleries, scenic mountain ranges, scrumptious local fare and historical stops.

In an event organized by the San Miguel Pure Foods Culinary Center (SMPFCC), media guests including The Manila Times were brought to choice spots in Cainta, Antipolo, Binangonan, Angono, Pillila and Tanay that showcase the rich history and contemporary identity of the province’s food and art scene.

“Rizal has become a favorite weekend destination for many because of its proximity to Metro Manila. This tour aims to put the spotlight on some of the most unique culinary, art, and historical stops in the province. We want to remind people that they don’t necessarily have to fly or go to the usual road-trip destinations, to sample new experiences. Just an hour’s ride or so east of Metro Manila are many things to discover,” San Miguel Pure Foods Culinary Services Manager Chef Llena Tan-Arcena said in an interview.

“To merge food and art has to be very compelling to spark interest in people. The trend now is destination dining, but the younger ones lean toward overseas travel. What we promote in these tours is food tourism, for the discovery of what’s in here first and what’s local, then you can compare what we have and what’s in there when you visit another country,” she further explained.


A nondescript shop located along Bonifacio Avenue that is a must-visit for bibingka lovers is Aling Kika’s Food Products. However, this is not the usual yellow bibingka Filipinos usually savor after Simbang Gabi during Christmas time. Aling Kika’s bibingka is actually rice cake topped with latik. Apparently, this is how bibingka is made in these parts, and Aling Kika’s tops everyone in town.

Aling Kika’s Food Products in Cainta is a nondescript shop located along Bonifacio Avenue that is a must-visit for bibingka lovers.

Before opening her shop in 1976, Francisca Legazpi-Cruz or Aling Kika started out by selling only a single bilao of bibingka every day to passersby in their home. Eventually, demand grew so strong that she was able to save enough to open her own store. Today, her kakanin shop has become one of the most recognized stores in Cainta with people lining up from morning to evening for special bibingka, sapin-sapin, cassava cake, kutsinta and kalamay ube.

Aling Kika passed away in October 2008 at the age of 92, but her sons Benjamin “Batotoy” and Arthur, and grandson Jun, keep the tradition of quality kakanin alive.


Crescent Moon Café and Studio Pottery began as a small stoneware ceramics studio and home for artist and ceramist Lanelle Abueva-Fernando, her late husband lawyer Bey Fernando, and their two daughters.

Crescent Moon Café and Studio Pottery in Antipolo is home to creative, all-natural recipes and stoneware ceramics.

The niece of the National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva and daughter of former University of the Philippines (UP) President Jose Abueva, she entertained guests and friends with her ceramics while her husband spent the weekends in the kitchen to pursue his passion for cooking.

In 1997, the couple decided to put up their restaurant and pottery studio, and chose the name Crescent Moon, as it was the name of their daughters’ make-believe restaurant, inspired by the quilted crescent moon that hung in their bedroom. Their daughter Majalya now manages the restaurant.

Lanelle Abueva Fernando, owner of Crescent Moon Café.

“The restaurant has been up for 21 years, eight years after I started my studio in 1989. The idea originated when my two daughters were small, they’d play bahay-bahayan, and restaurant-restaurant. So they kept calling us to eat in their imaginary restaurant, and when we asked what’s the name of their restaurant, and the first thing they saw was quilted crescent moon in their room, so we became inspired from that. It became a reality,” Abueva-Fernando shared.

“It’s a combination of restaurant and art space. We make all the ceramics that people use for dining — from the the plates to the bowls. We supply several hotels, restaurants, resorts and homes with stoneware pieces too. Aside from that, we also host a lot of art workshops here,” she added.


The Province of Rizal is also known as the home of the oldest art in the country — proof that people don’t need to go to faraway places to know and learn about pre-historic art.

The 63-meter-wide petroglyphs in the Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs Site were discovered accidentally by National Artist for Visual Arts Carlos “Botong” Francisco during a field trip with Boy Scouts in 1965. The 127 figural carvings were found to date back to the third millennium BC or during the late Neolithic period.

Today the Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs Site is considered as the oldest known work of art in the Philippines and was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of the Philippines in 1973. It is also included in the World Inventory of Rock Art under the endorsement of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), International Centre for the Study of Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property (Iccrom) and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos).

The historic Angono-Binangonan Petroglyphs Site.


Often referred to as the “Art Capital of the Philippines,” Angono is the hometown of Botong Francisco. Walls along Doña Aurora Street where he lived are adorned by paintings of the National Artist done by muralist Charlie Anorico.

Declared as National Artist in 1973, Francisco’s contribution was the revival of the forgotten art of mural painting. In the history of visual arts, Botong influenced a new breed of modernist artists of his time and veered away from Romanticism.

Balaw Balaw Restaurant and Art Gallery in Angono houses the masterpieces of painter and sculptor Perdigon Vocalan.

Botong was a graduate of the UP Diliman College of Fine Arts and his first important mural was “50 Years of Philippine History.” Last February, the National Museum opened one of Botong’s murals to the public titled, “Filipino Struggles through History.”

Today his home serves as a studio and museum and is maintained and managed by his grandson Carlos “Totong” Francisco 2nd, also an artist who is into Abstract Expressionism.

“This studio of my grandfather is open to the public since right after he was declared National Artist in 1973. Ang pagkakaalam ko, ang sabi ng lola sa tatay namin ay huwag tatanggalin ang studio niya. Galawin na ang bahay, huwag lang ang studio niya because this is for the people. So anyone who wants to look at the studio, puwedeng pumasok for free. Lumaki na ako na maraming pumapasok dito. Ninety percent original studio ito. This used to be a garden in the 1950s. Dinugtong lang niya just to get a bigger space sa studio. But 10 years ago, ni-renovate ang bahay dahil hindi na kayang i-maintain yung original na design nito. Pinatibay lang ang pundasyon at ibinalik sa dati ang lahat,” recalled Botong’s grandson.

Meanwhile, not too far away from Botong’s museum is Balaw Balaw Restaurant and Art Gallery which started out as a painting studio of the late Perdigon Vocalan, an Angono-grown painter and sculptor.

National Artist Carlos ‘Botong’ Francisco’s home i n Angono now serves as a studio and museum and is maintained and managed by grandson Carlos ‘Totong’ Francisco 2nd.

Perdigon was one of five children of a fisherman and a high school teacher. When he was in high school, he would be asked to do the projects and visuals of his teachers. Later on, he honed his artistic skills working as a signboard and poster maker for different movie theaters.

Perdigon was eventually contracted by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to create public sculptures to promote Makiling, Laguna. With the earnings from the DENR project, he was able to buy a parcel of land in Angono, where he established his own art gallery.

Whenever guests would come to look at his artwork, he would cook for them, hence the idea to setup a canteen within his art studio.

On October 1982 he opened Balaw Balaw Restaurant and Art Gallery. Balaw Balaw, or shrimp paste mixed with gruel and angkak, a food coloring that makes the dish pinkish, is a bahay kubo-inspired structure that is now known for local Rizal fare and exotic dishes. It also houses Pedrigon’s masterpieces.


A quaint little eatery serving Filipino fare situated inside a bamboo farm in Pililia is the Kawayan Farm Restaurant. Owned by Veronica Olitin, the farm is home to various species of bamboo and is the only supplier of the Dendrocalamus asper species or giant bamboo in the whole of Laguna de Bay.

Bamboo shoots or labong only grow for two months in a year so all labong harvested are preserved in jars made by San Miguel Yamamura Packaging Corporation.


Finally, Lutong Pugon, a two-year-old secluded garden restaurant and art studio of artist Jun Tiongco and his wife Aya is open for travelers in Tanay. They serve delectable gourmet pasta and wood-fired pizza, slow-cooked in a pugon or stone oven.

Lutong Pugon is a two-year-old secluded garden restaurant and art studio of artist Jun Tiongco.

An interesting fact about their pugon is it was originally built by Tiongco to bake pottery. But when he saw a flaw in the design, he repurposed it to a pizza oven since their family loved to cook and eat pizza. The decision to open a restaurant came when friends would visit Tiongco’s art studio and Aya would serve them pizza from the pugon. Their friends enjoyed the flavor and convinced the couple to open their own pizza place.

The couple is working on expanding their restaurant and studio to include a bed and breakfast since their property also offers a beautiful view of the surroundings.

Patrons of Lutong Pugon can also tour the small studio containing the works of Tiongco or have their portraits sketched in 20 minutes by Jun’s resident artists for a nominal fee.

Food tourism at its best

Indeed, there is food and art to be discovered in any municipality of Rizal province.

“Local food tourism is really the ultimate experience — discovering local, authentic dishes, which you don’t see in fine dining restaurants, but will find it in the province. Rizal is beautiful because it’s just a few kilometers from the metropolis. It’s easy for families to travel to, doesn’t require much money to enjoy the spots and offerings and the places have very good ambience. You can enjoy their art in their place while savoring the food,” Tan-Arcenas said.

The San Miguel executive forecasts that Rizal is the next Tagaytay.

“Tagaytay is saturated already, congested, there’s traffic when you travel, while Rizal is still laid-back, and much is still awaiting to be discovered. Some of the establishments presented in the tour already patronize our products that’s why [we’d like to] feature them. It’s our way of supporting them and grow their business. Local food tourism is promoting what’s around,” Arcenas concluded.

Featured products

Some of the San Miguel products that were featured were Grilled Pork Belly with Green Mango (prepared with Monterey Pork Belly), Salted Egg Chicken Tenders (using Magnolia Chicken Station Chicken Breast Fillets) from Crescent Moon Café and Studio Pottery.

Meanwhile, Minaluto, a bilao of yellow and balaw balaw rice mixed with Star Margarine and topped with seafood, fried pork, salted eggs, tomato, steamed okra; Chicken Adobo (made with Magnolia Chicken 3-way gata); Kinilaw na Puso ng Saging using Monterey Pork Belly were used by Balaw Balaw Restaurant and Art Gallery.

Lutong Pugon served Fresh Lum­piang Labong, which includes Magnolia Free Range Chicken from Kawayan Farm Restaurant; and Beefy Penne Pasta (made with Monterey Ground Beef); Pepperoni and Pulled Pork Pizza made with Primo D’Italia Pepperoni, GFS Mozzarella and Purefoods Pulled Pork BBQ Pinoy Style.

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