A last minute change of plans and a snap decision to drive back to Bacolod from Valladolid for a late lunch meant we were a bit famished by the time we got to “21” at 1:30 p.m. or so. Our hosts had phoned ahead before lunch to set aside 6 orders of their batchoy WITH bulalo so we were giddy with anticipation. I am told the bulalo runs out early so we were feeling extra special. I like batchoy, but the innards generally wreak havoc on my uric acid count so I don’t indulge that often. But just minutes after arriving at “21”, a spectacular bowl of batchoy was set in front of me, and one whiff screamed “delicious”! Made with a wonderful broth, I was told possibly including a touch of guinamos to provide that salty yet sweetish finish on the palate, the noodles were wonderful, the bits of pork lomo a nice upscale touch and the slivers of liver were an homage to the grittier original. But what put this utterly over the top were several teaspoons of bulalo (marrow) floating on the surface along with crispy bits of chicharon (pork cracklings). Talk about heart attack material! But it was fabulous! So good in fact, that we ordered several more bowls after just a few spoons full…
The photos appear incredibly fat filled due to the marrow and chichoron, but the bowl of noodles was quite balanced, I thought. :) I could eat this daily for a week and not get sick of it. Bravo to 21, superb bowls of batchoy, done their way. And yikes, the prices were just simply too good to be true! :)
Next up was a plate of battered and fried chicken butts or “isul”. OMIGOD. Could this be any better? Including not just the actual rear ends of the chickens but some of the meaty back and what I would like to think of as the “cheeks,” this was fried chicken heaven. And bag the gravy that came with it… give me ketchup and possibly worcestershire sauce to mix together as a dipping sauce instead. Wicked good. I actually wanted to order another plate but I knew the rest of the day was dedicated to eating, so I didn’t want to do myself in so early in the marathon. Fried chicken butts, totally excellent.
Yet another eye-opener was adobong alimusan (hito or catfish). The sauce was very good, with coconut milk I think, rich and familiar and a perfect match for the fish. Very good.
A plate of apan-apan or kangkong and other veggies, a bit adobo style as well. A welcome break from the incredibly fatty and rich food so far, but this did have bits of pork in it!
A bowl of laswa, which was a bit too “refined” for me, flavored with crab meat and shrimp and a nice way to “melt” all of the fat I had already consumed, but perhaps reaching the limit of what I could take in one meal, this was one of my least favorite dishes, but that’s okay, there was so much good stuff on the table so who was I to quibble?
Finally, some fresh lumpia ubod, which in comparison to other versions I had on the same trip, was a bit pale and subtle. Good, but not the finest I would experience on this whirlwind Bacolod trip.
Overall, a tremendous lunch at 21 and I would definitely go back. What is so fantastic about Bacolod is the focus on local cuisine, and which is so accessible in SEVERAL restaurants right on main street! The pride in their local food is palpable. In many other local towns I have visited, it was often difficult to find one or two local restaurants that offered the native cuisine as nicely done as it was at 21. It didn’t matter that superb home cooks were just meters away in private homes, doing their own versions of many things on the menu at 21… it was packed with guests, and understandably so. Gosh, and only halfway through our Bacolod trip at this point! :)