Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Kusina Salud: A Secret Haven for Hungry Travelers in Laguna

I’ve always been fond of old stuff and things in the past: childhood memories, black and white flicks, the Maria Clara style garbs of the women, old melancholic songs, long forgotten print and television commercials, old furnishings, and prehistoric houses. Unlike the other yuppies my age who finds talking about history a total bore, with me everything about the things that occurred in the past deserves a good afternoon conversation over cups of coffee or tea. Other than the universe and stellar stars, nothing could ever fascinate me more than history.

When I joined the Kulinarya Tagala tour program of Ms. Tina Decal last November 06, 2007, my initial aim was just to deepen my journey to the past and enrich my knowledge of my Motherland’s history. I didn’t know that aside from filling my mind with information that I’m craving for, I could also get to have a feel of dining inside a humble old Filipino wooden house that was Kusina Salud, and with my stomach filled with sumptuous Pinoy meals the restaurant offers.

Located in Baranggay Sta. Cruz, Putol in San Pablo, Laguna, Kusina Salud is a long two-hour drive from Manila. That long ride, however, is definitely worth it once you get your feet step on the unperturbed ground of Kusina Salud.

A familiar feeling welcomed me when I walked inside the rustic, two-storey wooden house turned into a fine-dining restaurant owned and managed by well-known fashion matriarch Patis Tesoro’s daughter, Nina Tesoro-Poblador and her husband, Chef Paul Poblador. It was that same feeling I used to embrace in my heart whenever I visited my grandparents in Bulacan back when I was just a little girl in pigtail. The ambience inside Kusina Salud was so warm and homey that it never failed to induce in me that familiar feeling of wanting to rush to the kitchen and hug my loving Lola by the back while waiting for her well-prepared menudo.

According to Ms. Tina, Kusina Salud used to be the vacation house and comfort zone of Patis Tesoro. She bought it from a friend some years ago and decided to design the whole interior herself. No wonder the place was really like a reflection of Patis’ artistic yet eclectic side. When the family decided to turn the house into a fine-dining restaurant in October 2004, Patis let Chef Paul get a hand on some of the renovations for the house. Nonetheless, it seemed like the mother and the son-in-law have similar taste when it comes to interior designs as the old house-turned-into-a-restaurant still got to retain its rustic charm after few renovations made by Chef Paul. The walls are made of old callado beams and dividers salvaged from capiz windows. Several changes have also been made to accommodate its newfound function, which include the renovation of the silong, the extension of the receiving area to serve as a waiting lounge for guests, and the expansion of a hot kitchen just beyond the open kitchen adjoining the ground floor dining area.

The laid-back ambience inside Kusina Salud could really make any guests feel like they are actually dining inside their own abode by the countryside. The breezy interiors are laden with wooden tables and chairs, purposely mismatched, and antique décor. Plus, the sound of rolling brooks, chirping of birds, and the swaying of bamboos put off that relaxing feeling even more.

But wait, the food is yet to be served.

Since Kusina Salud was our first stop during that Kulinarya Tagala day tour, Chef Paul prepared for us a really mouth-watering set of Pinoy breakfast meals. Actually, the foods that were served were just your typical Filipino breakfast goodies we used to eat at home, only that, Chef Paul made them a lot better and tastier. Me and my co-travelers feasted our taste buds and tummies on delectable fried Adobo flakes, bangus belly with salted egg, longganisang Laguna with achara, which were all served with garlic rice, and with Laguna cheese omelet with bread. Being the natural coffee-lover that I am, I ordered for Pandan coffee instead of the hot chocolate so I could get to taste the other variant of my most-loved hot drink. The taste of Pandan coffee, however, was not as enticing as the usual 3-in-1 coffee I used to have at home.

Aside from its unique setting, Kusina Salud also prides itself with the scrumptious foods it offers the diners at very affordable prices. Though the dish may not look and sound like new for the locals, Chef Paul said that Kusina Salud is into reintroducing the classics but in a contemporary way. “It is the food that we all grew up eating, only better.” The reason for this is that Kusina Salud also hopes to instill appreciation of local cuisine to the young generation, whose palates are being increasingly shaped by fast foods and foreign dishes.

Some of the well-loved and best-selling dishes at Kusina Salud are Tinola sa Tanglad which is a native chicken in a lemongrass broth infused with baby papaya and young sili leaves, the Sinuglaw which is a salad of tossed fire-grilled pork belly and fish ceviche topped with fresh fettlehead fern and pickled radish, the Kalderetang Kalabaw--a traditional carabao-meat stew with organic tomatoes and bell peppers infused with spicy hot chilis, and the Sinugno which are farmed tilapia fillets wrapped in mustard leaves, stewed in rich coconut cream with fragrant local-ginger and green chilis. For the dessert, the Halo-halo ng Laguna is really a must-try with its tasty ingredients such as the kaong, nata de coco, sago, ube, langka, macapuno, and saba, pinipig, red mungo beans, topped with several scoops of mango ice cream and served creamy leche flan.

We finished off our breakfast with so much gusto—for the yummy foods that were served, for the warmth and homey ambiance surrounding us, and for the new friendship found among each one of us who shared the wonderful meal. Perhaps it was the homey setting and atmosphere at Kusina Salud that made each one of us comfortable with each other. The place certainly gave us a feel of the traditional Filipino dining experience—nonstop conversation on diverse topics, laughing over funny remarks, enjoying the taste of the food, and savoring each and every bit of the moment.

Indeed, Kusina Salud is really a silent haven for those who would want to leave the hustles and bustles of the busy world in the metropolis for a while. It is a sanctuary for people who yearn so much for the past that can never be brought back to the present. It is a home for anyone who loves everything about the Philippines and the people living there.

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