Think of the dampa.
The original dampa is essentially a fish market combined with a dirty kitchen where people can buy fresh produce of their choice, and pay additional fees to have these cooked. These ingenious resto-cum-market concepts have been dotting the commercial landscapes of urban Manila, offering the much-needed respite for yuppies and executives too tired and too busy to cook at home.
The idea has since been adopted by Bacolod in a concept called pala-pala, as somebody enterprising in the fish market saw how it might be a good idea to sell the products you bought, in whatever style you want.
The increasingly urban and metropolitan lifestyle of Bacolodnons – thanks mainly to the increasing commercialization of areas outside downtown – have extended the popularity of the pala-pala not just to exhausted yuppies and office denizens but to families and barkadas just out for a good, hearty meal.
And so pala-pala restos began sprouting like mushrooms, offering not just the standard sugba-tola-kilaw that the usual pala-pala offers, but a gourmet-esque twist to classics. Thus we have shrimps drowning in chili sauce and garlic, or scallops smothered in butter.
But the freshness. That’s an edge in a city that prides itself in its discriminatory and discriminating taste, an edge in a city that gave birth to delicacies like the inasal and the piaya.
FRESHNESS AND FLAVOR: A DELICATE BALANCE
Katig means outrigger, that wooden structure jutting out from both sides of a fishing banca for balance. Lab-as, on the other hand, is Hiligaynon for “fresh”.
Put the words together and we have the thematic identity of one of the newest dampa-inspired restaurants in the city.
Just as the katig – or two of them – provides balance for the boat out at sea, so does the restaurant Katig Lab-as provide a delicate balance of freshness and the flavor in its products.
Katig Lab-as, owned and managed by the Villaluna Brothers, Hem and Joey, looks like a high-end pala-pala, with the high ceilings and minimalist post-modern design of its main structure.
“But the prices here are just right and easy on the pocket book,” Jessie Capapas, Sales and Marketing Head tells DNX.
Prices range from a very reasonable P225 per 250 grams of (cooked) seafood, to a high of P275. The latter is for house specialty Katig Golden Shrimp, that delectable garlic and butter shrimp dish that uses salted eggs as main seasoning.
That element of surprise – salted eggs for seasoning! Who knew? – is what sets Katig Lab-as apart and above its competition.
“Katig Lab-as has offerings that are uniquely ours,” Jessie says, “If the Bureau of Fisheries approve, we’ll have products like slipper lobsters, endong (a kind of eel), and the red suno.”
The red suno, for instance, is a beautiful high-end lapu-lapu (grouper) that, in some restaurants, could set off a customer P18,000 per kilo if live. But in Katig Lab-as, the price could be halved, making it more accessible.
The more exotic offerings of Katig Lab-as are the underlying framework for the vision of the Villaluna Brothers, a concept that was provided by the pandemic as local supplies are cut off. The Villalunas, however, have their own sources – they have a fishing boat that continues to haul in supplies to keep the bounty coming.
Foodies who frequent the dampa-style restos in Palawan, the Villalunas wanted to replicate their experience in the island and transport it to Bacolod.
Thus was born Katig Lab-as.
The new restaurant is barely a month into its operations – it had its soft opening last June 12 – but it already has gained a following, thanks to positive word-of-mouth.
The fledgling venture is off to great start, with veterans helping out the young ‘uns get their bearings.
Jessie, for instance, is all of 29-years-old, a foreigner in Bacolod (he’s a Capiznon), and quite new to the concept of the pala-pala. A Hotel and Restaurant Management graduate, he is finding his feet as he helps run the resto.
The veterans, on the other hand, serve as pillars to the operations.
Head chef, for instance is Regner Caballes, who does not have any formal training in the culinary arts but has 25 years of experience as cook under his belt. The Katig Golden Shrimp – that ingenious shrimp-and-garlic-salted-eggs creation – is his creation.
That beats any chef’s degree.
With its exotic offerings and reasonable prices, Katig Lab-as looks like it is here to stay. And not even a pandemic can stop it sailing.