Silay City / Bacolod City, the Philippines
January, April, and October, 2011
What do you expect from the sugar capital of the Philippines? I’ve been in my home province, Negros Occidental, three times this year and every time felt like a trip to a candy shop. I blame my sweet tooth on growing up next door to a sugar mill. I still remember waking up to the sweet aroma of molasses that pervaded the house in the morning during milling season. My sweet dreams carried on after I had awakened – on to adulthood.
And so when in Negros, do as the Negrense do – indulge your sweet tooth. These are some of the sweet stops on my dessert trail:
A fitting starting point was an institution in Silay City: El Ideal Bakery, one of the oldest restaurants in the province. At 80-plus years old, it was still the place to be. The specialty was the guapple pie, made from oversized guavas, not a hybrid of apple and guava as the name suggested. One serving was quite filling for me. The slightly crunchy guapple slices complemented the crumbly pie crust, which I washed down with small bottles of Pepsi. Their creamy egg pie was also a must-try.
A newer player in the sweets business, Kuppa Coffee & Tea could be an alternative to Starbucks. Actually, I wondered why anyone would go to Starbucks at all when Bacolod had several local cafes that could give globalization a run for their coffee. They served pasta and other dishes, but we came for sweets. Their chocolate cake was finger-lickin’ moist and the peanut butter pie frost was to-die-for. But don’t quote me; anything peanut butter automatically would drive me nuts.
They just had to work on their service. The second time we were there, it was almost 10pm (already an unholy hour in Bacolod on a weeknight, we realized), their closing time. The crew started cleaning up before we could finish our dessert. A major pet peeve: sweeping the floor when there was still food on the table. Not being fussy, but who would want their food sprinkled with dust? It may be invisible, but it did not mean it was not floating around.
Not to be outdone, Bar 21 Restaurant also served moist chocolate cake. It was so viscous; it didn’t even slide off when my brother-in-law precariously tilted the plate. He played with my late night snack because he didn’t get his. Although the restaurant was known for batchoy, they had none at 10pm. Tip: Don’t expect anything at 10pm in Bacolod.
And of course, there was Calea Pastries & Coffee, the mother lode of dessert places in the city. We attempted to give it a try twice, but there were SRO crowds both times. Finally one lazy aftie, we found an available table. I had a dessert dilemma in this cake central; I couldn’t commit to one cake. I wanted them all. My sister and her friends at one time ordered an array of cakes, lined them up on the table, and sampled each one. That may be too hardcore even for a cake junkie like me.
Since the cake shop was such a people magnet, it was also a great place to go people watching. Or listening. It was fun eavesdropping on the conversations of Bacoleños in Ilonggo. I realized how much I missed the lilting intonation of my native tongue – sweet music to my ears.
But Felicia’s Pastry Cafe had the last word on ensaymada, a Spanish pastry topped with grated cheese and sugar. I would usually dip ensaymada into my coffee, but this one could stand on its own. It just melted in my mouth.
Our dessert trail ended back where it started, El Ideal. The restaurant was conveniently located on the way to the airport, a perfect last-minute stop for take-away. I had my sugar fix in Negros and more. In fact, I tweeted: “If I had one more dessert, I’d go into shock.” So I went back to basics; I opted for sinambag, a biscuit shaped like sambag (sampalok in Tagalog, tamarind in English) that stored well. Sinambag was unsweetened but gave a potent dessert kick; and with its cylindrical shape, it was perfect for dipping into coffee. I bought more to bring home as a not-so-sweet souvenir from the sugar capital.