Dining with history

- Rey Gamboa - The Philippine Star

“The Women of Malolos were of the breed who looked at far horizons and thought of country above self, who stood up for what is right and not what is merely convenient, who planned and acted not only for the future and the next generation, who decisively acted on their mouthed good intentions.”

That was an excerpt from a letter of Dr. Jose Rizal dated Feb. 22, 1889, “Sa Mga Kababayang Dalaga sa Malolos”.

Philippine Independence Day on June 12 is fast approaching, and historians look at Malolos for its significance in the Independence Day celebration, this day which commemorates our declaration of independence from Spain in 1898. History of course tells us that the Malolos convention was signed on that same year, and this constitutional convention paved the way for the establishment of the first Philippine Republic.

Not too many of us have immersed ourselves in Philippine history, myself included, which is unfortunate. Malolos, Bulacan is thankfully rich in historical landmarks. I didn’t even know that the culinary heritage of Malolos is so rich that it is worth discovering. What intrigues me is the fact that the owners and proprietors of Ilustrado Restaurant, the Pimentel family led by patriarch restaurateur Bonnie (widower of our late friend Rose) and his chef daughters, Bea and Bernice have ventured to research on this as a special tribute to the place which figured prominently in Philippine history. Malolos is home to a historical event that symbolizes the foundation of the Philippine government.

Have you ever wondered, for example, how, in 1898, the people of Malolos celebrated this historical event by way of a feast, Malolos-style? What could they have served on their festive tables on June 12, 1898 to celebrate the momentous occasion? How did they dress up the long dining tables heavy with all the delicacies of Bulacan? I’m sure the women of Malolos rose up to the occasion, for as Dr. Jose Rizal observed, they “decisively acted on their mouthed good intentions”.

Ilustrado sets itself apart by embracing our local culinary heritage. If one sets foot at the Ilustrado, one is transformed to another era, a charming, genteel one at the turn of the century when women fanned themselves daintily and men wore their formal attire with pride, walked ramrod straight with hats and canes.

The walls are adorned with posters depicting the era—Tabacalera, old matches like Posporong Gitara and, the liquor of old and Bataan Matamis cigarillos. Where could they have sourced all those?

The floor is old stone (is it Piedra China?), rough and uneven yet polished with age and constant care. The bathrooms display vintage charm. The patina of age is unmistakable.

 Of course, one gets to walk through the famed cobbled stones of Intramuros leading to the restaurant, but before reaching it, one has to walk past the Ilustrado gardens, site of so many memorable garden weddings. In the daytime, the huge trees and flowering shrubs offer a peaceful refuge. At night, it is lit with thousands of Tivoli lights like a throng of fireflies. It is indeed a pretty sight, and if only for that it has become a legendary site for romantic weddings. It is one of Intramuros’ most open secrets.

The Kuatro Kantos Bar and Café which is open daily from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. is likewise a favorite of bar habitués in this side of town. Check it out at 844 Gen. Luna St., Intramuros.

Intramuros is the perfect place for Ilustrado to set up camp in. The hallowed walls of Intramuros will always have a special place in Philippine history. But Ilustrado sets its sights beyond what they have to offer physically. They pursue the Filipino culinary heritage like no other local restaurants do, and in so doing provide a culture-rich fine dining experience. They bridge the arts and history, combine these with enduring traditions of the past, and come up with the Ilustrado brand of fine dining experience.

For this year’s Independence Day celebration, they have decided to celebrate with a month-long special menu. To be sure, it will feature Spanish-Filipino dishes that were popular then, delighted our forefathers and continue to delight this generation.

And because they pursue the preservation of the Filipino culinary heritage with a passion and dedication, they decided to collaborate with Dez Bautista of the much-respected Bautista clan based in, where else, but Malolos. Dez is an artist based there, also a historian and a food expert. Because of her vast knowledge here, Ilustrado partnered with her so together, they can recreate the Inaugural Feast menu. Oh yes, the Bautista family where Dez belongs own the famous historical landmark in Malolos, the Bautista ancestral house built in 1855, then reconstructed in 1877. It is very much preserved today and is considered a contemporary neoclassical masterpiece.

Ilustrado has indeed carved its own niche in the country’s culinary landscape. Did you know that the King and Queen of Spain dined at the Ilustrado not once but twice? Other members of royalty have likewise graced the restaurant – the Princess of Spain and Prince Andrea Casiraghi of Monaco. They have also had their share of heads of states, prime ministers, foreign and local celebrities.

It would indeed be fascinating, to say the least, to find out how our very own “Ilustrados” of yesteryears celebrated the country’s first republic. How were their tables adorned, how festive was the occasion, and what food did the women of Malolos serve? Discover these at the Ilustrado restaurant during the entire moth of June.

I would like to find out.

Mabuhay!!! Be proud to be a Filipino.

For comments: (e-mail) [email protected],ph











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