Friday, March 3, 2017

What I Discovered in Sto. Tomas and San Fernando La Union

KAMBAK Restaurant serving
mouthwatering Ilocano cuisines.
La Union is the province that links Pangasinan to the North, especially to Ilocos. Legend says that before naming the province of La Union, Pangasinan used to be at war with the North.

Then the folks living in between began reconciling both provinces. That's when it was started to be called La Union or The Union.

But that's not the discovery I'm referring to here. It's something more exciting than that.

Recently we went to La Union to attend a funeral and along the way I discovered some things new to me.

First, it was my first time to use the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX). It only took us from a few minutes to about an hour to reach our destination from Balintawak. After a continuous drive passing by Tarlac and Pangasinan overlooking vast acres of rice fields and mango orchards, we found ourselves already in Binalonan, Pangasinan.

After the bridge that connect Binalonan to La Union, we felt hungry and looked for a nice place to lunch. Along MacArthur highway in Sto, Tomas (to your right when going to San Fernando), we discovered this fine eatery serving superb native Ilocano dishes---KAMBAK.

At first, I wondered what KAMBAK was all about. I thought the ad concept was that you'd "come back" (kambak) to the place after you get a taste of how good the food dishes are. But after we asked management, it turned out the resto's specialties are Kambing and Baka native dishes. Thus, KAMBAK. The menu sounded interesting and we ordered dishes that sounded the most exciting.

Aside from the popularly known dishes like pinakbet, dining-ding and pinapaitan, we tried Kinigtot (which we were told meant "surprised" beef). But the pinakbet was far from being just ordinary. So with the dining-ding and pinapaitan. Aside from being authentic, the flavors were enhanced so that each bite tickled your appetite more. The kinigtot tasted like pinapaitan without the bitter taste.

Sunset at the beach from our hotel's window and terrace.
San Fernando,La Union.
We also tried their binagoongan rice, kilawing kambing, bagnet, bagnet pinakbet, tinolang native chicken (which was so tasty and the chicken meat was tender), and sinigang salmon head. They were all perfect.

After lunch, we decided we'd definitely come back to KAMBAK on our way back home.

When we got to San Fernando, we looked for a hotel. There were few hotels in the city. After we did, and after a short nap, we looked around and found this view of the sea that highlighted the sunset. The hotel itself wasn't that nice but the beachfront at the back somewhat compensated for the lack. When we got back from the funeral, we found the beds comfy enough and the air-conditioning working. There was water in the bathroom and toilet. That was good enough for a cheap hotel.

Hotel in San Fernando.
Oh, during the funeral, we were treated to a dinner where I tasted crunchy and tasty fried "espada" or sword fish partnered with fresh tomatoes. The triangular suman (rice cake wrapped in leaves) cooked in gata or coconut milk was delectable and creamy.

Back to the hotel, which was beginning to be a mystery to me. The picture above is the hotel's corridor and staircase. When my wife first stayed here years back (also for a funeral) with her family, she told me of a scary episode. The lights turned off by themselves and there were strange knocks on the door. And she said they felt something eerie.

View of the highway in the morning. Taken
in front of the hotel.
Anyway, back to our stay there. In the morning, the hotel restaurant offered delicious breakfast, which was somewhat surprising. I didn't expect the tapa and fried egg  to be as I wanted them and the pancit guisado was superb with its fresh and really crunchy vegetables. I had several repeat servings which proved too much for my tummy. It became bloated later, but the trick was to walk some and not drink water until an hour after breakfast.

Establishments in front of the hotel.
For lunch, we roamed around San Fernando and saw a Tapa King outlet where I had pinakbet. It was unexpectedly delicious for its cheap price of only P49.00. Then we went straight for the church funeral.

After the funeral service and burial, we proceeded home and made good our promise---to be back to KAMBAK. We had almost the same menu and enjoyed them all the more. I told myself, I have to feature this resto on my blog. If you want to follow in my footsteps when traveling up North, make sure to drop by KAMBAK and sample the dishes I mentioned here. And muse how the Local Hiker also ate the same in that very restaurant. In a sense, we have crossed paths.

If you plan a stay in La Union or nearby provinces and you want the best hotel deals, click here to find help for hotel prices and online booking.

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