If eating dishes from heirloom recipes handed down from generations and then meticulously prepared sans the shortcuts and cutting corners is your thing, then The New Town Kitchen in Carigara, Leyte will certainly float your boat.
A trip from Ormoc to Tacloban would mean one having to brave crazy winding roads in high altitude – the dreaded zigzag that will surely make any stomach turn and makes one have a brutal bout of motion sickness . Although of late, I noticed the zigzag to be smoother, swift, and manageable – thanks to new marvels in road engineering and the advent of intelligent vehicle suspension systems. Anyhow, after the “zigzag”, Carigara is the next biggest town you reach and marks your halfway point to Tacloban. So Carigara is where we go to the rest areas to relieve our bladders, buy water and most of the time have our breakfast if we’re too early or lunch if we’re late and can’t beat the lunch break in most offices – one goes to Tacloban mostly to process documents since the branches of national offices are there, since the seat of rule of the Province of Leyte is in Tacloban. We also go there to fetch someone at the airport or fly out of Tacloban. And most of the time we go to Tacloban to buy supplies since the bigger suppliers in the region are located there and so are the bigger malls,specialty shops, home builder supplies and dept stores.
Anyway, on a quick unplanned trip to Tacloban last Monday Dr Tata Sia Gidayawan and myself weren’t able to beat the office noon break at the Dept.of Foreign Affairs and so we decided to have a pitstop in Carigara to buy some pastillas and then have lunch at the famed New Town Kitchen.
I was a little surprised that the place is somewhat new, a far cry from the old store made of creaky old wood and quite topsy turvy from old age. Inside I saw the lansena which upon closer inspection was actually new and paint-treated to look old. The original tables and chairs are still there on one corner blending with the new ones. We surmised the old store was destroyed by Typhoon Yolanda since Carigara was one of the badly-hit areas.
The lansena contained what’s on offer that day: from my favorite lechon carajay (kawali of you may), deep fried fish, kinilaw, ginataang gulay and a bevy of mouthwatering, old school homecooked style dishes.
On the side of the lansena one finds a large antique palayok (earthen food vessel/bowl) when opened revealed to be full of humba! Tata and I shrieked in delight! Aroma from the kitchen wafted out to the dining area teasingly announcing what’s cooking in the kitchen – the smell of different dishes including tinolang isda.
We were tempted to order almost everything but we controlled ourselves from doing so lest we end up groggy and sleepy in the city.
So we had one piping hot bowl of fresh fish tonola, which is a little sour because it was cooked Waray-style with batuan and tomatoes and so it cleansed and opened our palate.
We also had kinilaw so fresh gata and lots of slivers of ginger.
The hallowed lechon de carajay came in a big platter already chopped in manageable bite size pieces…the crust was crunchy, the fat melts in your mouth and the tender meat tasted good dipped in a soy sauce and sukang tuba with crushed sili mixture. Word of advice – of you.want sili/bord eye chili ask for “harang” since in the Waray dialect sili means penis. You don’t want diners gawk at you, don’t you? Hahaha
The humba. Of the humba was perfection! It wasn’t lu-od from the oil
..perfectly done. It was slow boiled till tender probably at dawn earlier on that day. Seasoned with the right blend of salty and sweet. It commanded plenty of rice -lot’s of ’em! And so bandejados of baska (dry-ish) rice paraded into our table.
The eatery is run by several Waray ladies since 1965 they were old then as far as I can remember and for the life of me they still look thesame today. Some of the ladies were manning the kitchen and some.manning the caja (cashier) and the lansena (showcase). The place gets a little noisy as the old ladies shouts out orders from the kitchen to the cashier to the soup station and to the servers. It was beautiful, chaotic and a memorable lunch free of any headaches or Chinese food syndrome from ingesting too much msg (vetsin, monosodium glutamate).
I look forward on our next roadtrip to Tacloban…this place is really worth a pit stop.