Mention the name “Sulipan” to those with an interest in Philippine gastronomy and hospitality, and you will hear numerous tales of sumptuous feasts served to distinguished guests in great houses in what was, at the time, the heart of the booming sugar trade in Central Luzon. But while many Sulipeño families were known for their fine homes and excellent cookery, it was the Arnedos who set the pace when it came to entertaining in grand Sulipan style.
Considered one of the most notable members of that clan, Capitan Joaquin Arnedo and his wife Maria were known for their generous hospitality and the way they set the standards, at the time, for truly refined living. Both born into families with extensive plantations of rice and sugar, the Arnedos lived by the banks of the Rio Grande de Pampanga in a home—actually two grand houses linked together by a bridge—that rivalled even the most magnificent mansions in Manila in terms of style and elegance.
But, more than for their wealth, the Arnedos were also famed for the warm welcomes that guests received at their home and the sumptuousness of the dishes that came from their kitchens. Indeed, such was the excellence of the fare and the family’s generosity, that Felix Roxas—considered the first Filipino architect to gain prominence—was moved to speak grandly of his hosts. “Hospitality bordered on the incredible,” he said of the Arnedos. “[The] guests returned to their homes praising the Sulipeño generosity and the frank and gentlemanly behaviour of Capitan Joaquin, speaking highly of his wife, Capitana Maria, and daughter Pinang, who spared no efforts to attend properly to their guests. This attitude clearly reveals the noble spirit of that remarkable family, remembered affectionately by many as the acme of Filipino hospitality.”
Among those who enjoyed the Arnedos’ kindness and the riches of their table were no less than National Hero Jose Rizal, who was a classmate of the Arnedos’ sons at the Ateneo; the Grand Duke Alexei Alexandrovich Romanov, uncle to Nicholas II, Russia’s last tsar, and a known bon vivant; American Chief Justice William Howard Taft, who eventually became 27th President of the United States; and, three Philippine Presidents: Emilio Aguinaldo, Sergio Osmeña, and Manuel Luis Quezon. In fact, practically all of affluent Manila—including the wealthy provincial landlords like Doña Margarita Roxas de Ayala—would pass through the Arnedo villa while heading north or south on the way to their haciendas and enjoy an excellent meal at their table.
While the Golden Age of Sulipeño hospitality has passed on into memory, Leon Gallery in Makati recently auctioned off one of the most striking mementos from that period in history: the Arnedos’ narra dining table.
Custom-built for Capitan Joaquin in the late 1800s, the table has taken on a golden sheen over time, its wood still beautifully polished despite its age. Measuring over 18 feet long, the table is divided into eight sections which enabled house staff to adjust its length to accommodate varying numbers of guests. Typical of ne carpentry during the period, each section was made from a single narra plank with moulded edges, with an apron supported by a tapered leg and a vase-shaped capital. A pattern of delicate reeds was carved into each leg—a testament to the attention to detail of the region’s nest artisans.
In an age of fast food, and rapid exchanges, perhaps this table stands as a reminder to modern-day Filipinos to look back and relive a time of relaxed conviviality and truly refined living.
Originally published in Philippine Tatler Homes, Volume 20
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