My recent family day trip to Taal, Batangas did not just include the usual sight-seeing of century-old houses and a visit of the enormous Taal Basilica. The highlight of our tour of the province's 3rd class municipality is probably our 2-hour stay inside the Taal Poblacion ancestral home called Villa Tortuga, a full immersion in the well-preserved locality that includes donning turn-of-the-century clothes worn by folks living in the Philippines. The experience was closely tied to our so-called colonial lunch which took place in the grand-looking dining area of the house. Looking almost eclectic inside, Villa Tortuga is home to some of famous fashion designer and tourism advocate Lito Perez's collection of vintage pieces -- fixtures, furniture, and displays -- that he had creatively installed in the right corners and bare walls to render the old house its perpetual past for those who want to visit on day tours. The tour package can also be for an overnight accommodation at the house as two big bedrooms are being maintained and comfortably dressed to welcome guests who want to stay for the night and wake up seeing decors that hark back to the late 1800s.
My family and I were served a filling 8-course meal that included a local favorite called Sinaing Na Tulingan, local tuna mackerel that was traditionally steamed for eight hours in a clay pot. Each viand was freshly prepared and cooked for us at Villa Tortuga by Mr. Perez's hardworking staff who are based in the area. Most unforgettable in taste for me was the Cerdo de Pina or pork cooked with hefty chunks of pineapple. Slathering its accompanying sauce on a serving of plain rice seemed enough for flavor, but there were more on the table such as the Tapang Taal or pork jerky that was fried to perfection, the Ensalada Taal or mixed vegetable salad with ripe mango bits, and the Adobo Sa Dilaw or chicken adobo sautéed in turmeric. Before the feasting started, of course, our palates were delicately prepared with the rich-tasting soup made with malunggay (moringa) and pork strip bones. We closed our lunch with the classic Filipino dessert called Suman, a rice cake served with Tsokolate Eh (rich and creamy chocolate for the old rich; not to be confused with the native Indio's Tsokolate Ah which is deemed of lesser quality and taste) for dip.
The dining area was air conditioned but the charm of the interiors remained intact. A mural parallel to the large dining table evoked of Taal's interesting cultural past. I'm just assuming that the painting of a river on the wall is that of Pansipit which runs along the banks of the town and neighboring locations. What seemed odd to me was a huge painting of a couple which has nothing to do with the house's history, but it somehow extends the room to fulfill the experience as one of fantasy and reality. Who did the painting belong to? Who were on the painting? I'd never know now but their eyes sure were piercing. The reality can be had outside of the dining area where old photographs of Mr. Perez's parents and grandmother are displayed.