TANA Dikang's famed century-old mansion had gotten not only a new look but also a new addition to their usual tour of the abode. The familiar weather-beaten facade reveals a cool green interior with long, sturdy fabrics printed with words from "binalaybay" (Hiligaynon poems). A huge bird's nest fern dominates the far end and where the ancient loom used to be is now a long narrow table where the host and museum curator Adjie Lizares sets down drinks for visitors during events.
The second floor virtually remains the same. The polished hardwood floor, the rich and elegant saloon, the dining room and bedrooms that all evoke a luxurious past, and those unique, mysterious, rare details are still ours to behold.
So, what's new, pussycat? Tana Dikang Museum offers lunch! It's not just a run-of-the-mill lunch but something that can show off Negrense culture and taste as well.
When Team Tikim (Bambi Borromeo, Ruth Cruz, Maricar Dabao, Imelda Tinsay, et moi) dropped in (upon invitation, of course) Adjie had prepared a jaw-dropping spread buffet-style. How do we enjoy a meal at Tana Dikang? Let me count the ways:
1. Ever heard of balagay salad? The balagay, a.k.a. winged beans was sliced diagonally and mixed with other vegetables. It is Tana Dikang's signature salad whose secret weapon is kafir lime. This Asian-inspired starter, we all agreed, was made unique by the strong essence of the citrus.
Ruth: The kafir lime rind perked up the salad.
Maricar:...was superb. The flavor really stood out. A refreshing salad that went well with the roasted chicken.
Since Maricar had mentioned it, this brings us to the...
2) Roasted chicken. It is a house recipe and is very flavorful. We nga taga-Negros must have chicken inasal coming out of our ears already but this one is quite different.
3) Ubad, mongo, and malungay soup. Traditionally cooked with bits of native chicken, Tana Dikang's kitchen made theirs with pork instead. Since I rarely eat pork, I eschewed this altogether although it looked very tempting. After all, how often do we have a taste of well-prepared, good quality ubad and mongo soup? This is not easy to do and who really has the time to now?
Ruth: very balanced flavor. The pork and malunggay gave it a new twist. I like this version with pork.
Bambi: Heart of banana with malunggay reminded me of a family favorite. I would have omitted or used less pork.
4) Phad thai: Everyone's fave! People over here know their noodles. Condiments and add-ons are served separately in individual bowls - patis, thinly sliced hot peppers, brown sugar, crushed peanuts, green onions, and cilantro.
Bambi: A great combination of flavors and textures. The crunch of the bean sprouts with the flavors of brown sugar, fish sauce and the bite of chili ...simply great.
Maricar: It was fun mixing the condiments according to our taste preferences.
Ruth: Very mild in flavor and refreshing but substantial. I went for seconds!
Well, I went for thirds. It was that good. Compliments to the chef!
5) Mussels with garlic and parmesan: The seafood was obviously fresh. The local and inexpensive bivalve had gone sophisticated.
6) Bulgan, grilled in banana leaf: That was one big bulgan Adjie served us. This fish doesn't come cheap (an understatement!) and Adjie had this one topped with chopped coriander for an interesting flavor.
Our feast was served with red rice to make it even healthier. Frankly, I cannot imagine the lunch served without red rice. It just goes so well with the dishes. Now, if you're wondering how all of the above can manage to make their way down inside us, they all went down very well, thank you, after we had appetizers of peanuts and siomai and Indian mango with guinamos. And so did dessert. Dessert? Yup, we reached for the bucayo which had the "very light flavor of calamansi" according to Ruth that made it very good. I found this native sweet too sweet (coconut strips cooked in sugar and shaped into patties). The after-meal delight that stole our hearts was the bicho-bicho.
Ruth: The best bicho-bicho I've ever tasted!!!
Bambi: Winner gid ya! Chewy and [had the] right sweetness.
Adjie says that there is only one lady who does this and she makes this only in the morning as it is tedious work to create sugar - syrup-coated balls filled with shredded young coconut and cooked till the outside is crisp. Have a piece of tropical heaven!
Are we done yet? Says who? We sat and talked and enjoyed cups of steaming brewed coffee. (Groan) the Negrenses never stop eating. When we finally did say "enough" our lunch had merged into merienda and we said our "adieu's" at past four.
The lunch we had doesn't come cheap. I mean, just look at all we had! And the kitchen can prepare whatever is in season or whatever is available. Good food and a perfect ambience come with a price. Ours was priceless because Adjie sat with us and entertained us as he only can. He is the best authority on the glorious past that lurks in every nook and cranny of his great-grandmother Tana Dikang Lizares' mansion.
Locals will want to explore the house and learn about our colorful Negrense heritage through the interesting characters who lived in a glamorous, unbelievably prosperous era. Foreign tourists will be amazed at how a monocrop island can influence lives so deeply even on a national scale. Don't you know that Presidents Manuel L. Quezon and Sergio Osmena both paid a visit to the grand dame? Why? And that Leon Guinto, Manila's mayor after whom a street is named was a son-in-law? His wife Remedios (Tana Dikang's daughter) gave her name to the adjacent street. Ever heard of Remedios Circle in Malate, Manila? And count how many peepholes Tana Dikang had drilled into floors in various locations at the second level so that she can surreptitiously check on her servants working below.
Learn more about our truly Filipino culture and lifestyle at the Tana Dikang Mansion in Talisay City. It's about time you did. Have a good lunch!
P.S. Where was Imelda Tinsay all this time? She was eating, too, but since she's our unofficial photographer, I exempted her from writing down her comments. Her pictures are worth a thousand words. Many thanks, Gorg! (short for "Gorgeous")