San Pablo City, Laguna, the Philippines
August 29, 2011
Family fun can be summed up in three words: eat, pose, love. But in a heritage restaurant in the famous southern food trail, it may not always be in that order.
On one road trip, my family did all that at Sulyap Gallery Café and Restaurant, a two-storey turn-of-the-century house transplanted from Quezon Province and rebuilt in San Pablo City, Laguna. Outfitted with the owners’ antique pieces, the restaurant allowed diners to partake of local cuisine and a cultural experience at the same time.
The architecture was typically colonial style – masonry for the lower level, wood for the upper. Spanish-era wooden panels culled from provincial old houses found new life on its walls and doors. Trees and ferns with outspread fronds, indicative of lush lakeside foliage in this area, shaded the al fresco part of the restaurant from the tropical sun.
The upper-floor window woodwork, accented by capiz shells and stained glass, and carved balustrades and ventanillas were a feast for the eyes. If it had not been for the lunch-hour crowd on the second level, we would’ve snapped more photos. At least, we had the ground floor to ourselves. Our food took its sweet time in coming, which was an excuse to ham it up for a photo shoot, directed by my friend Ki.
Religious relics and vintage household items conspired with the servers by averting our attention away from the long wait for lunch. Paperweight-size icons crowded an altar atop an antique bureau while a life-size wooden statue of St. Francis de Assisi was ensconced and encased in the middle of the room.
Old-school appliances and vinyl records displayed around the room gave it a homey ambiance. They evoked a certain intimacy, a feeling that we were dinner guests in someone’s house.
Finally, after almost an hour, lunch was served. The sugpo kare-kare (jumbo shrimp cooked in thick peanut sauce) and kulawong puso ng saging (smoked banana heart in coconut milk) were worth the wait.
A skip and a hop across the driveway led to Sulyap Museum, a repository of the owners’ collections. As in the restaurant, both religious icons and antique furniture filled entire rooms and armoires. Different eras in Philippine history, perhaps with the exception of pre-colonial, were represented.
Down the driveway was Casa Obando Bed and Breakfast. Named after the town in Bulacan from where this house built in the 1850s originated, it was dismantled and faithfully rebuilt to its original floor plan and design at this present site. We didn’t go inside, however, as this was only a pit stop and we had long way to go on our southern Tagalog road trip.
Sulyap is Tagalog for “glance.” This quaint nook south of Manila offered a glimpse of Philippine heritage through art and architecture. It served up both physical nourishment and an enriching experience. Although the service was short in Filipino-style hospitality, it was still an ideal place for trans-generational bonding, for families to eat, pose with, and fall in love with the beauty of our heritage. And to pray? Needless to say, we did say grace before our meal.