Rediscovering Filipino heritage at Balai Belen

IN THE heart of a quiet neighborhood near Dacudao Avenue, Balai Belen stands out among rows of houses and apartment units. To escape the heavy rush-hour traffic forming along J.P Laurel Avenue, I would often take a shortcut at Garnet Street in Dacudao, right where this Filipino-themed bed and breakfast is located.

The façade of Balai Belen looks conspicuous; the building, with its colonial-style architecture, is a sight to behold, especially at night. My curiosity prompted me to do a quick research and in a few clicks, I found out that Balai Belen, a budget boutique hotel, also has an in-house restaurant and café.

When I arrived at the Balai Belen compound, the first thing that greeted me was a statue of an old man seated just beside the to the Apo Andoy’s Filipino Heritage Cuisine. It was only when I got home a few hours later that I realized it was a statue of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Like the rest of the building, Apo Andoy’s restaurant has the look of a preserved Spanish-Filipino ancestral home. After placing my order, I spent a few minutes admiring the furniture and other ornaments in the room, including the framed sketches of a jeepney, carabao, and kalesa, and some of the colorful oil paintings that decorated the walls. With the capiz windows, wooden ceiling and tables, and hanging kerosene lamps, dining at Apo Andoy’s would feel like immersing in Filipino heritage and culture as well.

Apo Andoy’s serves popular Filipino cuisines for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They have tapa flakes, tocino, daing na bangus, sisig, kinilaw, sinuglaw, pritong gulay, hipon Alavar, adobong hito, adobong manok, dinuguan, sinigang na baboy and hipon, pompano sinigang, and pompano tinola, among others. With so many affordable choices, you can throw a feast for a family of four with only P2,000. For diners who wish to bond over hot drinks and smoothies, Balai Belen, through the Pipes and Bites Café, also serves pasta, pizza, and waffles from 1 p.m. to 10 p.m.

From the ground floor of Apo Andoy’s, a wooden staircase would take you to a function hall that can accommodate 30 to 40 persons. Perhaps the best feature of the function hall is the washroom, where colorful trinkets, reminiscent of the Little Mermaid’s collection, are put on display. Inside the toilet room, the walls are decorated to look like a mini banana plantation, complete with a 3D model of banana leaves and a hanging stuffed monkey.

Balai Belen’s lobby has a mural that features famous Filipino mythological creatures like tikbalang, manananggal, kapre, duwende, tiyanak, bungisngis, and sirena. This is an effort to remain consistent with the theme and to make locals and foreign visitors become familiar with Philippine folklore.

Walking around the hotel corridors and compound briefly reminded me of the restored Spanish-Filipino houses in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan. But instead of flying to Bataan, Batangas, or Ilocos, you can try the vintage-themed casa and balay offered at Balai Belen for P1,500 to P2,900 only.

Balai Belen is located along Garnet Street, RGA Village in Dacudao, near the Korean Union Church and Mindanao Taoist temple.


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