Kapampangans are rightly proud of their cuisine. The province of Pampanga is often seen as the culinary heart of the Philippines, because it is where many modern Filipino favorites originate, including the ubiquitous sisig, a sizzling plate of grilled pork face.
For Atching Lillian, however, the food of Pampanga is about more than just grilled pork faces, although she does that very well, too. For Lillian, what’s important is the story, what’s important is the heritage behind Kapampangan cuisine, because tradition can add as much flavor to a dish as the spices.
That’s because Lillian is more than just a chef; she’s a historian, too, and she prides herself on collecting age-old Kapampangan recipes and preparing food in as traditional a manner as possible. Most of the time, she doesn’t even use scales, because she says that her ancestors would simply throw in the ingredients, and guess the measurements.
Little has changed in over a century inside her ancestral home, which also doubles as her kitchen and restaurant, and strewn around the dining hall are cooking implements that have been used by generations of chefs in Pampanga.
Lillian’s signature creations are San Nicolas cookies, a religious treat dedicated to Saint Nicholas, which can trace its origins back to the arrival of Catholicism in the Spanish colonial era. Many of the wooden molds that Lillian uses to shape her famed San Nicolas cookies are well over 100 years old, and she demonstrates to her guests in the dining area just how, exactly, she makes and bakes the cookies, using a 300-year-old recipe she unearthed from archival research. Guests can even try preparing these historic cookies themselves, while they await the rest of Lillian’s reborn dishes to be served.
She calls these her “Heirloom Recipes,” and everything on the menu at Lillian’s kitchen has the full force of Kapampangan history behind it. She cooks a traditional take on adobo, which, according to the recipes she’s discovered, is white, not black, because there shouldn’t be any soy sauce in the mix. She cures tough Carabao meat into a sticky, sweet-and-sour take on the cured bacon classic tocino, and she prepares Mexican-inspired tamales, which were brought to Pampanga during Spanish rule.
Dining at Lillian’s home-restaurant is about more than just eating breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Lillian’s reconstructed Heirloom Recipes are all about the history, and you’ll be taken on a culinary journey stretching back hundreds of years as you gorge on Pampanga’s most traditional eats.