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Freedom, Food & Fun

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By Bernard L. Supetran

ONCE the capital of the First Philippine Republic, Angeles City teems with the unique blend of libertarian ideals, culinary tradition and a whole lot of fun. Just an hour north of the metropolis, this urban center at the heart of Pampanga hosted the pompous first anniversary celebration of Philippine Independence in 1899 presided by then-President Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo.

Held at the stately Pamintuan Mansion, which served as his temporary headquarters, Aguinaldo viewed some 2,000 Republican troops led by his most trusted general, Gregorio del Pilar, as they paraded around the town.

Over a century later, Angeles would be heralded as Pampanga’s “heritage city” because of the Spanish-era homes that have withstood the ravages of time. With the Pamintuan house, now the Museum of Philippine Social History, at its core, Santo Rosario’s heritage district takes you back in time to its genteel days as you walk along its hallowed streets.

Long associated with the nocturnal red-light lifestyle as a remnant of Clark Air Base’s heydays, the city government and community stakeholders—led by the Hotel and Restaurant Association in Pampanga—have been reimaging Angeles to be a center for cultural and culinary tourism.

Among the must-see historic landmarks in the area are Holy Rosary Church, Bale Matua or Founders’ Residence, the grain storehouse-turned-restaurant Camalig, the Bale Herencia ancestral house and Museo Ning Angeles, all of which have an intriguing story to tell.

The more interesting part of the city’s heritage is its food, being part of the country’s recognized “culinary capital” because of its flair for good cuisine for generations. Much have been said about its vibrant food scenario that Angeles has become more than just the vaunted sizzling sisig, which lured the late famed celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain.

Because of its being a retirement place for former American Air Force servicemen and other expats, it has become a melting pot of foreign cuisines. And if you put in the Capampangan’s penchant for cooking and eating, you will find just about all sorts of major food here—from fusion, to American, Australian, Italian, Chinese, Mediterranean, Indian, Japanese, Thai, and Korean, and everything in between.

Due to the influx of Koreans in recent years, it has become the dominant Asian cuisine that punctuated almost every corner of the city, especially in the Anunas district, which has earned the moniker Korean Town.

But the one that seems to have tickled the Pinoy’s taste buds is Yami Bulgogi Korean BBQ Restaurant at SM City Clark because of its relaxed family-oriented ambiance and reasonably priced dishes. Riding on the local’s penchant for individual and group combo meals, it offers grilled and shabu-shabu, and unlimited side dishes, samgyupsal and rice, and occasional promos, thus edging the older and more orthodox Korean dining outlets.

Small children who are yet to get acquainted with Korean taste can settle with fried chicken, pasta and sandwiches, and play at the Yami Kiddie Corner.

Owned by a Filipina-Japanese entrepreneur married to a Korean, it prides itself of serving authentic dishes that originated from the cities of Incheon of Seoul.

On the local front, 25 Seeds and Café Fleur of noted Chef Sau del Rosario are the hands-down choices for their rendition of Capampangan classics set dramatically at the restored Dycaico Ancestral House.

And when you’re about to hit the sack, explore the unconventional accommodation of Kandi Towers and Villas, which are beyond the typical hotels that we know. Developed by Kandi Realty, it boasts of seven elegant residential apartment complexes at the Malabanias area, four of which are high-rise towers laden with modern amenities.

With 321 well-appointed and fully-furnished residential apartments, the spacious units are ideal for long-staying foreign guests and those with an eye for flashy interior designs. It is also tops for balikbayan families who want a relaxing and luxurious staycation away from the madding crowd, but near enough to the usual mountain, beach and adventure spots.

Located adjacent the Clark Freeport, the white-washed towers are equipped with recreational facilities such as swimming pools, fitness gyms, billiards area and roofdeck bars, which are carefully laid out as entertainment areas. Its elegant lobby lounges adorned by freestanding sculptures also double up as a cocktail bar and restaurant serving international gourmet dishes.

With coffee shops, resto-bars, convenience stores and laundry shops as concessionaires, the 11-story towers are like self-contained executive villages, which have all of your immediate needs.

Meanwhile, its villas are world-class one-off design with opulent features that are too overwhelming to enumerate.

And if you cross over to just on the other side of the fence, the options for recreation can easily double.

For a dash of outdoor-based fun, you can bask in two exciting natural getaways situated at the city’s fringes—Green Canyon Leisure Farms, an Instagrammable resort known for its advocacy on eco-consciousness, environmental sustainability and healthy living, and the sought-after Puning Hot Spring and Sand Spa that takes you to a rough ride aboard a 4×4 jeep en route to a rejuvenating lahar and spring treatment.

With a checkered history, living side by side with a vibrant food scene, Angeles is undoubtedly the consummate destination for freedom, food and fun.