Having moved from Guam three years ago, the only time I’d get to eat the dishes I grew up with is if I cooked them myself or got together with my girlfriends from high school on Guam who now live in Baltimore and Kensington. I can make lumpia, which is the Filipino version of Chinese spring rolls (more empasis on meat in our version), and pancit, the Filipino take on chow mein, but that’s about it. Oh yeah, and adobo, where you simmer chicken or pork in soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, black peppercorns and bay leaves.
But the girls and I have been craving lechon kawali, a dish where you boil pieces of pork belly, then deep fry them. So we’ve visited a couple of Filipino restaurants in the DC area (haven’t found any in NoVa–if you know of one, please let me know!) and have settled on Pampanguena Cafe in Gaithersburg as our favorite. Like the others, Pampanguena Cafe serves dishes cafeteria-style, and you point to the dishes you want. You can get a combination plate (includes rice) of two entrees for $6.95, or if you know what you want, you can order the entrees individually.
For those unfamiliar with the cuisine, the safest route would be to ask for chicken adobo, lumpia and pancit. If you have kids, lumpia, pancit and the chicken skewers (the marinade is similar to teriyaki) would be the way to go. If you’re adventurous, ask the nice folks behind the counter for a recommendation; they’re happy to tell you what’s in the dishes. Be aware that this is not low-fat dining, folks; pork dishes often feature pork belly and the fried foods are some of the tastiest offerings.
As for dessert, they have a refrigerated section of flan slices and cake rolls. More exotic choices would be cassava cakes, cuchinta (an orange, rubbery disk made from rice), suman (a length of sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf) or halo halo (a shaved ice and milk drink with fruit and sweet beans).
If you’d like to bring some goodies home, check out the dry goods and bakeries sections for favorites such as hopia (a round, flat, flaky pastry filled with beans or pork), Skyflakes crackers, mamon (sponge cake), ensyamada (a sweet bread), and more.
For more fotos, check out the Flickr widget to the right.
The restaurant has no Web site; it’s located at 16041 Frederick Road (Route 355), Gaithersburg, MD. The telephone number is 240-631-2210.
If you’d like better descriptions of the foods of Guam and Asia, as well as recipes, check out Scent of Green Bananas, a blog written by a woman who lives on Guam and travels to Asia frequently. For other reviews of the restaurant, check out Tyler Cowen’s Ethnic Dining Guide and Yelp.