Taal—the Heritage land, petrified time, enriched history. It’s here where the past isn’t the only thing
nurtured, preserved, and celebrated—the food culture and traditions are, too. Together the team was
ready for another journey—through the stomach, that is.
Table, War, Fare
The little historical town is a whole kind of visual adventure; their food offering, though, is another
exciting experience. Although there are a few restaurants that can be found around the town, Taal
makes sure their visitors will have full and joyful stomachs during their visit. Aside from the Taal Night Market, where you can enjoy almost all kinds of BBQ and other Filipino street food, or tusok-tusok, different food items endemic to Taal like dried tawilis, kakanin like suman (sticky rice cakes) and panutsa (peanut brittle) can be bought along the streets.Moreover, a restaurant located in the heart of the town called Don Juan Boodle House is an experience you wouldn’t want to miss when visiting the famed Taal.
Owned by husband and wife Ernie and Ria Villavicencio, the same team behind Paradores del Castillo,
Don Juan is popular in the area as it is the first and only restaurant in Taal that offers a unique Filipino food experience: the boodle fight. The restaurant has been around since 2010 and now has three
branches in Batangas.
The concept was derived from the military’s way of eating wherein groups share the same food, usually
a set of steamed rice with viand, salted eggs, tomato slices, and other fresh vegetables, prepared on a
long table and spread on top of banana leaves. You “fight” for food with your bare hands, without any
plates or utensils, and you grab and eat as much as you can before the food runs out. It’s more like The Hunger Games in a much more literal sense minus, of course, the serious competition and violence.
The boodle fight is a symbol of camaraderie, brotherhood, and equality in the Philippine Armed Forces.
Now, it has become a popular concept in Filipino celebrations like birthdays, fiesta, or even on a regular family day lunch.
Heritage and Provisions
“It’s not only a visual [Taal], but it’s also a foodie destination,” shares Ria Villavicencio. “People really buy food eh, some people nga they just walk in and they just buy, even if they’re not staying in the hotel.”
Inside Don Juan restaurant is a small pasalubong corner where people can buy packs and pouches of an
array of Taal’s food treats. Some of the items on the racks are their very own sukang sinamak, Taal
tsokolate tablea, kapeng Batangas, lengua de gato, toasted pastillas, kornik, etc. You can also take
home frozen, ready-to-cook goods like their Tapang Taal and longganisa.
The Good Fight
By the fourth day it was a chance to tour around the historical town through Paradores del Castillo’s tour service. We saw popular attractions and historical places like the Galleria Taal, Taal Basilica, Barangay Balisong, Gregorio Agoncillo Mansion, Leon and Galicano Apacible Museum, The Wedding Gift House, and Casa Villavicencio. After the half-of-our-day tour, we were welcomed by Mrs. Ria Villavicencio at Don Juan Boodle House—a good fight on the table was waiting for the team. The restaurant was jam-packed that proved its popularity. The afternoon atmosphere in the restaurant was rather lively, with muffled chatterings harmonizing with Philippine folk songs playing in the background. It was like a festive afternoon in a Barrio Fiesta.
Laid on our table is Don Juan’s “Taal Specialties”—Tapang Taal, fried tawilis, adobo sa dilaw served with slice boodle on top of freshly-cut banana leaves—and in less than an hour, almost all spaces were
cleaned up. Their all-Filipino menu is a sure treat for the big eater. You can choose from their eight kinds of boodle menu offered in servings for 4 to 6 or 1 to 2 persons, which are Davao, Inihaw, Southern Tagalog, Military, Ilocos, Taal Specialties, and Seafood Boodle. They also offer à la carte meals with unlimited rice and soup if you’re hungry but going solo. For dessert lovers, their fried Taal suman with tsokolate (good for 1 to 3 persons) is a must-try.
“You try going to Don Juan on the weekend, it’s full. Because it’s centrally located near the church. And I guess we hit on the idea of eating with your bare hands—you know, Filipinos do that,” says Mr.
Villavicencio. It’s true. It may sound weird to some but Filipinos really do have this certain enjoyment in using their bare hands when eating. It’s not like utensils weren’t invented yet during the old Philippine times; it’s more likely just us enjoying the complete freedom of eating without having to worry about getting a little messy.
The restaurant accepts walk-ins and reservations and is open every day from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Best time
to go is lunch time but be sure to secure yourself a spot because the restaurant’s usually teeming with
both the hungry locals and tourists, particularly on the weekends.
Filipinos have had a history of good fighters in the name of freedom, equality, and sovereignty. But I
guess this is one fight we need to get into every once in a while—a fight for a scrumptious and enjoyable bond over good food and Filipino fare.