What things come into mind when you mention the word “Tarlac”? The current Philippine president’s home province? The northern end of the new SCTEX? The controversial “Hacienda Luisita? And what else? The largely agricultural inland province to the north of Manila doesn’t really have that much to make it more than a small blip in the tourism “radar”. Even for myself, Tarlac is nothing more than one of the provinces you have to cross when going to destinations further north, like Ilocos, Bolinao or Baguio, and the most I’ve seen of it are those parts crossed by the MacArthur highway (national highway).
If you’re driving northwards from Manila and back though, then this quiet province is a strategic spot. Leaving Manila in the morning, you get there at the same time as you get that “I’m now hungry” moment. Heading back, if you leave in the afternoon you can get there at right about dinner time. You can call it one huge pit-stop, and I’ve stopped somewhere in the province for food almost everytime I travel north.
For a long time though, there has been nothing remarkable there in terms of the food you can find. There’s fastfood of course, and the usual nationwide chains like Max’s, etc., but these are places you’d stop by on just out pure necessity, since there’s barely anything else.
Fortunately there’s now something out of the ordinary in the town of Gerona, deep in the middle of the province, to give the food scene a slight kick. Named plainly as “Isdaan” (a visayan term for fish pond or fishing ground), it looks like what the name implies it to be, at first glance. The place is a bit of a mini theme park, and a restaurant rolled into one. Diners are welcomed by large fishponds upon entering, and eat on waterside huts – some of which are floating on bamboo rafts. Further within the property are perhaps the largest outdoor replicas of the Buddha in this largely Catholic country, the kind you would expect to see in Thailand or the Indo-China regions. As to why such things are there, I couldn’t even make a guess, however it does make the place look a little more interesting.
Their food is a little bit on the expensive side, considering what they serve are mostly Filipino dishes that are fairly common throughout the country, save for a few items that might be hard to find outside the northern Luzon regions. However while the food will not score huge points for uniqueness, the ambiance certainly will, and to a large extent, it’s actually the one that you’re paying for. More than anything else, the place is a good one for breaking the monotony out of a long drive, and it would not be surprising to see a queue of people waiting to take a seat – or should I say take a raft – in this one of a kind restaurant, especially on holidays when people hit the road in droves.
* Isdaan is at the left side of the MacArthur Highway, if heading north.
* Photos taken last November 2012, using Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-3.5.