Eat to Live, Live to Eat: Healthy, Gourmet Food is Right Around the Corner!
Harry the Horse Readers! If you have not realized, you are in the food capital of the Philippines. In a country of over 7,000 islands, you are on the right island and in the right province to find some of the best food in the country! Sure, there are plenty of other things to do in Angeles City, and maybe food isn’t something that captures your attention (to each his own) but for those who are interested Pampanga offers a culinary journey waiting to take flight.
Each month I give recommendations of what’s amazing to eat in Angeles and Clark. Do you guys try them? Who knows. Do you guys live on processed convenience food? Perhaps. But for your own health maybe you should give something new a try. I’ve seen you guys strut the streets. Watched you bounce in and out of the bars, the Jollibee, the doctor’s office. You’re not getting any younger, so maybe try to feed your body and your soul on some fresh, organic foods. Beer is not lunch. You know what I’ll take that back. Some days it is.
Enough emotional abuse for one day, the point is that this area is full of opportunities for healthy and delicious cuisine. You only have one life to live, and what I am about to suggest is affordable, healthy, and from a world-renowned Master Chef who uses the freshest local ingredients possible. How could you go wrong? With rainy season ending and tourist season beginning, its time you appreciate what this land has to offer. Pampanga is beautiful, the people are friendly and the food is amazing. So, let’s start this culinary journey!
I would like to introduce you to Master Chef Sau del Rosario. Chef Sau is a globally experienced chef with the visa stamps to prove it. He has worked in restaurants including Equinox in the Swissotel in Singapore, Le Devellec in Paris, Luna restaurant in Shanghai, Raffles Hotel in Singapore, and Restaurant L'Univers in Nice.
Chef Sau was born right here in Pampanga. He studied at both the Culinary Institute of America and the University of the Philippines, where he received his Hotel and Restaurant Management degree. Locally he was on the startup team that opened the well known EDSA Shangri-La Hotel as well as many others. You might have even seen him on TV, on advertisements on the back of buses while stuck in traffic in Manila, or serving as a celebrity brand ambassador for various ingredients and home appliances. Chef Sau’s background is far too extensive to recount completely in one page of the paper, however, I can give you a review of his newly opened Angeles City restaurant, called 25 Seeds. This is his second local restaurant, having previously opened Café Fleur on Miranda Street near Nepo which is also a must try.
25 Seeds is located on the second floor of the Dycaico Ancestral House, the first floor of which is occupied by Bank of Florida. 25 Seeds is nestled off Sto. Rosario across from the Nepo Mall. With the dedicated onsite parking lot, you won’t need to worry about finding a space despite the crowded streets. Upon arriving, you can’t help but notice the garden in the back of the restaurant, providing fresh herbs and vegetables for the chef’s discriminating requirements. It’s lovely to see plants growing in the hustle and bustle of Sto. Rosario, and it brings an element of serenity that contrasts with the otherwise busy area.
Upon entering the building there is an antique, elongated staircase that leads you up to the restaurant on the second story. The house is beautiful and has a romantic feel to it. Inside, a mixture of black leather sofas, suede chairs, and wood floors provides a surprisingly modern and welcoming feel to the historic structure. The middle of the restaurant has a bar area complete with professional café appliances, providing a great spot to top up your caffeine or alcohol levels, as you may desire. No detail was overlooked when creating this space.
Behind the Scenes with Chef Sau
As I sat down with Chef Sau he graciously explained the concept behind 25 Seeds. About seventy-five percent of the ingredients used at 25 Seeds are locally produced, most from a 25-kilometer radius of the restaurant. In keeping with their name, they grow their own lettuces, leafy greens, herbs and malunggay from seeds planted in the back garden. He enjoys going to the market every day just like when he was a child with his mother, looking for fruits, vegetables, fish, and meats that he could source locally to create dishes at 25 Seeds. Of course, where local ingredients are not up to his meticulous quality standards, the finest imported ingredients are used instead.
The menu is quite extensive, with a wide range of appealing options, offering a mixture of Filipino, Chinese, American, Korean, and Singaporean fare. I usually get concerned when a restaurant offers such a diverse range of culinary traditions, but with Chef Sau, he has lived and worked in so many locations that he has the experience needed to do it well, combining various flavor palettes into extraordinary dishes. He spent 17 years as an expat, several years as a chef in Manila, and the last year has been his homecoming to Pampanga. Sau’s extensive travel abroad makes him the perfect person to combine the flavors of the Philippines with those of other regional cuisines, making him a de facto ambassador for Filipino food to the international culinary scene.
When asked about the mains that most excited him at 25 Seeds, Chef Sau declared that he is a carnivore who really enjoys the Pata Tim, a pork leg simmered with soy and spices and served with banana. “It is very Filipino, yet influenced by the Chinese.” From working in Singapore, he recommends his Curried Lamb Shank Stew as he is a huge fan of curries and is really good at making them, believe me. Rounding out his meat-loving favorites is the Baby Back Ribs. Chef Sau’s father used to work as a chef at the Clark Air Force base, where he remembers going to visit and having his father cook ribs for him. Lucky for y’all they made it onto the menu! Yeah, I said “y’all.” It’s involuntary when talking about ribs or country music.
Pampanga is known as the Culinary Capitol of the Philippines, and with tourist season here, Chef Sau would recommend to expats not familiar with local fare to try Sisig, a favorite in Angeles as well as Filipino Tamales. The local version adapted the traditional Mexican recipes to locally available ingredients such as rice flour instead of corn and roll the tamale in banana leaves in lieu of the Mexican tradition of corn leaves. Café Fleur specifically has modernized the tamale and if you see it, it will be an Instagram picture for sure. Chef Sau has even been invited to an upcoming food festival in Mexico to present this regional variation.
Being originally from Pampanga, opening restaurants in Angeles City is a deeply personal experience for Chef Sau. It gives him a chance to reconnect with old friends over almost forgotten family recipes surrounded by the unique atmosphere of local, historic homes. He envisions Angeles City continuing to grow as an influential food hub, combining the rich culinary history of the region with other influences as Angeles and Clark draw more newcomers to the area, making it a prime spot to showcase and share his late mom’s traditional Kapampangan recipes. He enjoys reconnecting with people in the restaurant, as longtime residents recount stories of his mother, as they taste her inspired dishes, helping him keep in touch with his roots even as he builds upon them to create new dishes in their honor.
Being a native of this beautiful province, Sau gave me a little advice about his typical weekend adventures. On Sunday mornings, he will take his bicycle to view the old buildings around the city and connect with people as he rides along. When he fancies a break from city life, he likes to spend time at Green Canyon Eco Art Resort (a beautiful resort that showcases sustainable living) as well as go hiking and even wake boarding from time to time. All great ways to help work up an appetite.
The Menu and Review
Appetizers include Grilled Coconut-Gingered Prawns with Rice Noodles, Herbs and Vinaigrette, Togerashi Crusted Tuna with Mango Salsa, Oysters, Beef and Shitake Salpiaco, Crab Cakes with Sriracha Aioli, and Gambas and Suso. Prices range from P275 to P295 for appetizers.
I started with the Grilled Coconut-Gingered Prawns as well as the Crab Cakes. I chose to do appetizers as seafood and meat for our sandwiches/entrees to get a feel for the variety. The prawns were nothing short of a light, aromatic and spicy dream. Served on top of chilled rice noodles, with tomato, cucumber, a touch of chili, and heavily garnished with their homegrown herbs. The prawns have a great texture (not like the defrosted, gritty frozen shrimp that commonly pops up in other establishments around town). The presentation of this dish was one of the more photogenic dishes I have seen in a while, and I take a disturbing about of pictures of food.
The crab cakes, what can I say besides, perfection. I would probably order them as my meal next time so I wouldn’t have to share. The appetizer comes with 4 crab cakes and a sriracha dipping sauce. Again, the seafood was exquisite. I would go so far as saying they are better than any crab cake I have gotten at a restaurant in Baltimore (for those not from the US, that is like saying they had better fried chicken than Jollibee, which seems crazy right?) It is refreshing that nothing tastes like it has ever been frozen or reheated and the quality of the ingredients really shines.
Soups include Crab and Corn Chowder, Pumpkin Carrot and Sweet Potato and the classic Minestrone. Salads, Pastas and Pizza are available, but I couldn’t fit another bite in and will have to try these next time. Prices range for soups, salads, pizza and pasta is between P150 - P295.
Sandwiches. Beef Bulgogi Soft taco, 25 Seeds Angus Burger, Pulled Pork, Waffled Ham and Cheese as well as a Grilled 3 Cheese Sandwich served with Tomato Soup and Fried Basil. Price range for sandwiches is between P275 – P375.
Of course, I had to try out the Pulled Pork BBQ Sandwich with Asian Slaw on a Brioche bun served with a mini deep fryer basket of fries. The slaw was crisp; the bun was moist and the meat was tender. Flavor was on point. This is an item I would order again and recommend to my friends.
Additional mains include US Hanger Beef Tenderloin, Pork Baby Back Ribs, Curried Lamb Shank, Salmon Steak, Miso rubbed Pompano, Beef Asado, Pork Pata Tim, Mixed Sausages, Salted Egg Fried Chicken, Duck Adobo, and Steamed Local Seabass (Apahap). Prices for solo sizes run from P325 - P575 and many can also be ordered in a family size for sharing.
So take a break from your normal routine and head on over to 25 Seeds. There are so many options that you are bound to find something you will love. Price is phenomenal considering the quality, generous portions, location, expertise and experience going into each meal. Your taste buds will thank you, your body will thank you, and if you’re lucky enough to catch the Chef in the dining room I’m sure that he will thank you as well!