What started as a Filipino delicacies kiosk called “Bahay Pasalubong” in San Fernando, Pampanga, turned out to be a family venture spearheaded by a strong-willed housewife. Inspired by her business’ success, Maritel Nievera eventually opened the first Cabalen Eat-All-You-Can restaurant in 1986. From that West Avenue branch grew several others, including the one that first offered Filipino-Asian cuisine, Cabalen Megamall.
Isn’t that quick history lesson just awe-inspiring? And to think Cabalen now exports these delicious goodies:
Rows of rapture: Bagoong and smoked fish jars line one side of the cashier area.
When I stepped into the Megamall branch I was amazed by all the familiar and not-so-familiar Filipino dishes lined up on two long tables. Near the doorway there was a spread packed with various Japanese favorites: lots of different tempura and maki sushi. Adjacent to that spread was the buffet table filled with all sorts of Capampangan delights, from burong hipon (I’ve always loved since my younger brother’s girlfriend shared some with my family) to the all-time Filipino favorite Kare-Kare. The accompanying bagoong was rightfully salty with a little sweet chili kick.
Across the Asian table sat the dessert table, filled with an assortment of truly Filipino panghimagas: Minatamis na saba, biko, tibok-tibok and fresh fruits. I particularly liked the make-your-own halo-halo and guinomis section that offered fresh milk along with real coconut milk.
We quietly enjoyed our Filipino feast with friends!
Here are my most highly recommended dishes from Cabalen:
Pork Sisig - Traditional sisig made of tender pig’s face, served hot on a sizzling plate with calamansi and chili pepper. This has always been my favorite, even before the Sisig Hooray versions became mainstream. This is exactly how I would love pork sisig to taste like, and it’s just plain awesome.
Bulalo - A.k.a heart attack in a bowl. The soup tastes just right, had a hint of corn, had the right amount of savory-salty flavor, it’s just mind-boggling how the chef did it! The meat was nice and tender, too. I felt lucky to be served with a gigantic bone marrow– I didn’t care for my heart that night.
And of course, the Kare-Kare and Ginataang Kohol were delightful. Although I would have prefered a creamier ginataan, the kohol didn’t have the iffy sandy texture one might sometimes encounter when the snails weren’t cleaned well. And the Kare-Kare was just a little bland enough for the bagoong to really help the flavors shine through.
Best thing about all this? With all the fancy buffet restaurants charging four-digit rates, Cabalen’s regular buffet only costs Php398 and there’s no extra charge!
Ambience - 3/5
Food - 4/5
Cleanliness – 5/5 (I don’t usually rate this, but ever since I saw Gordon Ramsay saying that a restaurant’s toilet reflects the kitchen, I’ve always been on the lookout for a nice toilet. Ans Cabalen in Megamall is great!)
Overall - 4/5
Curious to try this 30 year old Filipino restaurant? Join my GIVEAWAY by December 4!
Check out the branches (in chronological order):
SM City Megamall
Robinsons Place Manila
SM City Clark
SM City Cebu
SM Mall of Asia
Alabang Town Center
San Bruno, USA
SM City North Edsa
SM City Fairview
SM City Bacoor
SM City Pampanga
SM City Lipa
SM City Cabanatuan
SM City Bacolod
SM Seaside Cebu
SM City Baliwag Bulacan
SM City Dasmarinas
SM City San Jose Del Monte
SM City Trece Martires
SM City San Lazaro