Less flesh, more pots: Angeles City, Philippines, wants to be known for its food
At the Angeles Beach Café two hours north of Manila, guests surface during dips in a palm-fringed swimming pool to order beef steak or salmon, chased by chocolate mousse.
Those who prefer something more native than this 24-hour, 90-seat European-themed restaurant might end up at Ikabud SM Clark for sizzling sisig: chopped pig's head, liver, onions, peppers and vinegar. Sisig has been endorsed by celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain as "a come to mama moment".
For decades, Angeles City has hosted one of Asia's most thriving red-light districts. But because it has so many restaurants and prostitution occasionally spills over into crime, local officials have tried since 2010 to market the city as a cuisine magnet.
"We highlight local cuisine as a vital element of a visit to the city," Angeles City tourism officer Richard Daenos says. Some day cuisine could replace adult entertainment as the chief reason to visit, he says, although he calls the two "complementary" today. Bar tourism spins visitors off to nearby restaurants.
"Anything is possible," he says. "It is our vision that one day [cuisine] becomes our best leverage in promoting Angeles City."
The Tourism Office publishes a food-related magazine twice a year. It places food-related ads on radio, television and social media. Last year the city held nine public events to promote cuisine to inbound travellers, who numbered 845,024 last year. The city has no natural attractions such as a real beach.
Angeles, a relatively prosperous agricultural hub city of 200,000 people, draws visitors mainly because of its scores of hostess bars in the Balibago district, which took off decades ago as American military personnel from the adjacent Clark Air Base would visit for entertainment.
When the base closed in 1991 after 89 years, the bar district kept drawing former GIs and, later, tourists from Europe to South Korea. Some have made Angeles their home.
Filipinos already recognised Angeles and the surrounding Pampanga province for refined food in a country where foreign travellers often find little to say about their meals. Pampangan chefs are known nationally for local specialities as well as the flexibility to adapt to Mexican or European dishes.
The chef at D'View, a 35-seat rooftop Western restaurant, comes from Pampanga and has three years' experience. "It's the cooking - that's why a lot of restaurants here use Pampangan chefs," says D'View's food and beverage manager Boy Marlon.
"They know international cuisine. The quality can be equal to any restaurant in Manila," says Jim Dale, American-born three-time president of the Hotel And Restaurant Association of Pampanga.
"In the provinces, I would say that we have more restaurants than most of the big cities in the Philippines."
The 60-seat, poolside Piccolo Padre opened four years ago for wealthy clientele including local and foreign businesspeople, says Italian owner-chef Danilo Giampaolo. It prepares seafood platters, duck tortellini and veal dishes, made from his grandfather's recipes and priced at the local high end.
"There is good variety [in Angeles], and this is one of our favourites," says Eric Brown, an American expatriate who ate at Piccolo Padre recently with his wife.
"We've got nationalities from all over the world, and quite a few chefs have decided to settle here."