Filipino cuisine. In Anthony Bourdain's trip to the Philippines, it's evident we've adapted to so many cultures and tastes. It's hard to find authentic Pinoy food. Even so, we've memorized Filipino buffets and can readily name three (and only three) - Kamayan, Barrio Fiesta, and of course, Cabalen.
Honestly, we know these restaurants but have chosen to forget them. I had a horrific experience (not with Cabalen) but from a similar restaurant where food were swimming in oil. No wonder no one was coming back to the buffet table!
So one night my partner invited me to dine with some friends and trial Cabalen's buffet, I felt hesitant, excited, and anxious at the same time.
Filipino Cuisine According to Cabalen
Their salad choices - steamed okra, sitaw, talong, and pipino with an array of 100% Pinoy dips like burong hipon and bagoong.
A breath of fresh air from the usual water lettuce!
This is the beginning of the many praises I will sing to Cabalen. First, all dishes are interestingly Filipino. Except for the very petite Asian section. Where else can you find a dish made from balut and kalabaw among many others?
Not your usual balut - Balut ala Pobre
I've read write ups about Cabalen's limited food choices. But I also believe in quality outweighing quantity. Expect that dining in Cabalen is like attending a Pinoy family feast - you don't expect Japanese sashimi or American ribs. But you can bet there's kaldereta, lechon, seafood, and many more dishes close to home.
And occasionally, those from foreign lands that left a mark on our hearts. Blame the Japanese.
Oh yes, Tempura
You're not dreaming, there is tempura in Cabalen. Many diners thought and wrote there's none but ask and you shall receive. Cabalen has a thing for crispiness (check out their fried Kangkong) and to maintain the quality of Tempura - they are cooked as you order. No additional cost, totally included in the buffet, just ask.
Other cook as you order meals, included in the buffet
Pinoy sisig, Lechon sisig, Tofu, etc.
You can also ask for the lechon to come to the table
Cabalen's OC-ness in crispiness goes beyond to their quick refills, wait service, and their fast removal of used plates. This is an advantage of smaller, cozier buffets. You get noticed quickly and don't have to do much to ask for something.
I was determined to sample their desserts though. I had guinataan which in Pampanga they call Sampelot. While my mates concocted their own Halo-Halo.
Guinataan aka Sampelot
Cabalen sure felt like home and it was hard to leave (especially with all the Lechon). It's not everyday that we find a good old restaurant that remained loyal to their patrons and only serve good, quality, and honest to goodness food.
All of us on the table rekindled our love for Filipino cuisine, talked about true Pinoy journeys of family and work, OFW talk, and so much more we all could relate. That's how good company Cabalen is.
Cabalen is at SM Mall of Asia, Glorietta, SM Megamall, and Trinoma. Dinner buffet weekdays is P468.