If you caught Anthony Bourdain's Philippine stopover episode, then you have seen Claude Tayag. He entertained Tony at his restaurant/home/art gallery, Bale Dutung, in Pampanga, presenting a very posh, telegenic rendition of kare kare. He also introduced Tony to sisig.
And if you're not Kapampangan, maybe you were offended by his assertion that Filipino food is Pampanga food. But I got what he meant. He meant to say that Filipino food is different for everyone, depending on your own experience and cultural milieu. The food you grew up with as you lived in the region you grew up in, the food served by your mom and/or your lola, the food that comforted you as a child and continues to comfort you now is your definition of Filipino food.
But this is not about Claude Tayag's Tony Bourdain guesting. This is about his book.
If you are a foodie worth your salts, if you take every three day weekend as an excuse, an opportunity to discover the regions and their cuisines, then grab a copy of this book, and keep it close to your sunglasses and favorite weekend jaunt outfit.
It will be your guide, your handbook as you traverse the country and its neighbors, searching for fantastic culinary experiences that sate the appetite for food as well as for culture. It presents helpful information including contact details so you can replicate the food tours he has taken. Really, get a copy. I can see myself bringing this with me as I go south and north of the Philippines.
The book is actually a compilation of his columns in the Philippine Star. At the end of each entry is a recipe.
It is not the best written food and travel book I've ever read. Claude Tayag is not an awful writer, but let's just say his core talents lie in the visual and the culinary. He writes well enough in a breezy, conversational manner with no pretensions. Maybe a little unimaginative with a tendency to interject using the word "burp" a lot. But hey, you're not buying this book because of its literary merits. You're buying this because it will inspire and enlighten the hungry gourmand and antsy vagabond in you.
There are 3 things I didn't like about this book. The first one is its size -- bigger than your standard trade paperback, it is not very handy. The next one is its price -- P550; I think it's worth it because I will get a lot of use from the book. I also like the quality of its binding and paper stock, and that alone makes it worth it for me, but it's a prohibitive price if you want to spread the word about it and want each of your friends to get a copy. The last thing that lessened my enjoyment of this book is that the entries are verbatim lifts from his columns, and sometimes they would include captions for photos that were part of the original newspaper articles but were not included in the book. It was a bit frustrating not having the visuals that go with the captions.
But the things I liked about the book compensated for the above flaws. I liked the history of sisig, his dining guidelines, the healthy balance of street food and fine dining experiences, how he communicated his lip-smacking love of food with no apologies, and his practical traveler tips. I love the way his stories include his wife Maryann as his partner in gourmanding and traveling. He makes fun of her a lot, but he is obviously head over heels in love with her. And best of all, I like the pen sketches that accompany each article; they add so much value, art, and charm to the book.
Oh, and one more thing, don't read this hungry.