Garden dining in scenic Tagaytay

By Marilyn A. Parra

Atop the Maginaw Hill in Tagaytay City stands an old-style restaurant with courtly service, antique furniture and a greenhouse setting.  It is the first herbal cuisine restaurant in the country.

The place, which opened last March, is the courtyard of a reconstructed antique house, circa 1899, enclosed in a greenhouse. The restaurant garden abounds with culinary herbs, a vegetable garden and trellis, and a bar with a giant mechanical fan made of colorful hues just like the ones popularized by the Illustrados during the Spanish regime.

Century-old setting

Conrado Calapatia, an ex-naval officer, and Teresita Ejanda Payawal, an architect—now husband and wife—teamed up in reconstructing an old house that originally belonged to Conrado’s grandfather, the late Tatang Felix Carolino of Lemery, Batangas. The couple surveyed antique shops in Balayan, Kalatagan, Lemery and Taal and decided to procure the age-old materials that were to be used in the restoration. The result is an exquisite Spanish house that exudes an ambiance of antiquity and history in a setting surrounded by herbs and vegetables—a perfect setting for healthy dining, fresh air and relaxation.

In an exclusive interview with The Manila Times, Conrado shares their story. “My wife and I conceived the idea of reviving our family heritage. We wanted to have a place where people can enjoy the finer things in life, away from the noise of the city and free from food that actually poisons instead of helping the body.” He says that their trips to Europe and many places in Asia somehow gave them the inspiration and the push that they needed. “We were in Thailand when it dawned on us how our Asian neighbors pay a particular meticulousness  when it comes to preserving their cultural heritage and food preparation. The Japanese, the Vietnamese, the Thais and the Koreans all pay special attention to places where food is most enjoyed by everyone. We realized that nothing comes close to having a place that both reflects the richness of the Filipino tradition and offers food that heals the body and helps maintain good health.”

At the center of the garden is a wishing well with running water designed by Tess herself. “We want the place to exude nature’s beauty and to remind everyone that dining in a fine, cool place can be such a pleasurable experience,” she says.

A greenhouse encloses the restaurant, so one actually feels he is dining out in a big garden. “We thought that the greenhouse would harmonize perfectly with the serene Tagaytay landscape,” continues Tess.

Up front, there’s an antique store that sells the restaurant’s specialties while out back, geese stroll in the tree-dotted back yard that serves as the restaurant’s parking space. Shrub lines sit quietly among the foliage, providing a peaceful and homey atmosphere.

Herb garden

Unknown to many, there are three varieties of herbs. “There are ornamental herbs, medicinal herbs, and culinary herbs,” says Conrad.  “We specialize in 21 culinary herbs which are all home-grown.” Sprays and fertilizers have no place in Bahay ni Tatang. All the herbs and the vegetables are naturally cultivated. “We have plans of going hydroponic,” says Tess.  “Hydroponic culture,” adds Conrad “is  extremely productive and efficient in its water and land use. Hydroponics is a technology for growing plants in nutrient solutions [water and fertilizers].” The couple believes that hydroponic system will be very beneficial especially in Tagaytay’s   temperate climate. “Our greenhouse structure will provide temperature control, reduce evaporative water loss, and reduce disease and pest infestations.”

The major advantage of hydroponics compared to field grown produce is the isolation of the crop from the soil, which is often problematic due to diseases, pests, salinity, poor structure and/or drainage.

At present, Bahay ni Tatang grows coriander, basil, dill, chervil, marjoram, ginger, mint, anise, oregano, garlic, rosemary, sweet pepper, sage, tarragon, thyme, turmeric and black pepper.

Home-cooked dishes

Tables set up in the garden under the trees, laden with bowls and platters of vegetables, culinary herbs and house specialties can be an event in itself.  Bahay ni Tatang specializes in native Batangueño dishes delicately blended or mixed with selected culinary herbs, with a side dish of fresh vegetables, picked right from the garden.

The menu stays in touch with its Batangueño roots: vegetarian spring roll, vegetarian kare-kare, sinigang na maliputo, ginataan sa dilaw at alagaw, tawilis (fried or steamed), bulalo hot pot, sinaing na tulingan, tortang dulong, nilabong chicken and other native favorites.

All meals are reasonably-priced and one can sit outdoors amid a teeming garden and chow down on good food. “Because Filipino dishes abound with fats and acid,” shares the couple, “we add herbs to neutralize the harmful effects.” They always use fresh mint leaves or basil as a garnish.

After sampling the food in Bahay ni Tatang, one finds that a heavy dessert is too much. Bahay ni Tatang offers fresh fruit salad either mixed or concentrating on one or two fruits.  There is also the herbal tea spiced with herbs such as mint, basil,  or oregano—always light and refreshing to the palate and much appreciated at the end of a good meal.

Pugon-cooking

It was Conrad’s Tatang Felix who taught him the art of pugon-cooking. It is a traditional wood-fired oven  that cooks food differently. “I was inspired by the pugons of the Patinio’s in Laguna, and I thought I’d have my own pugon-cooking too,” narrates Conrad. Their pugon is powered by ipa ng kape, balat ng palay and kusot (coconut husk) and they cook food in big earthen pots (palayok). “It usually takes four hours to cook a dish in pugon,” adds the couple, “but the special flavor and richness that it provides to the meal makes it worth every while.”

There aren’t many places that can make one feel farther away from the city. Bahay ni Tatang offers a sense of  “the good life” where a family or group of friends can enjoy decent meals without the rush, and in a soothing, verdant country setting.

06/11/2003

Bron : The Manila Times

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