Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bacolod, the City of Smiles and Sweets

I grew up in Bacolod City in the province of Negros Occidental. It is one of the bigger urban cities in the country and is a place that I will always call home. My family are actually transplants from another province close by but most of my family are in the province of Negros Occidental. If Italy resembles a boot, Negros looks like a sock divided in two, the Occidental (west) and the other half, the Oriental (east). It might mean something or just purely coincidental but it may explain my preference for Italian food. The cuisine of my hometown is very simple and dare I say humble in most respects but they are satisfying and gratifying. I'm making this analogy (it is a stretch, I know) because watching Lidia's Italy has shown me a more authentic side of the Italian cuisine which is made up of fairly simple dishes based on what is available in their soil or water, something similar to what I experienced growing up. 

One other thing that makes my province stand out is that it is referred to as the sugar bowl of the Philippines. Well, at least that's what it was referred to in the 80s during my elementary years. We are the main source of sugar for the country with sugar plantations dotting the province some of them dating back to the early 20th century when the country was still under Spain. As a result, our local cuisine is relatively sweet in flavor. Apparently, this has also translated into the people as our mode of speaking is considered to be very sweet and soft in tone (yeah, totally not me).

The moniker "The City of Smiles" came about due to the negative press the province received during the 80s when the sugar industry took a hit after corn syrup was introduced in the US. Batang Negros (Child of Negros), a picture of a young emaciated child of sugarcane workers became the poster child of the hard times the city and the whole province was experiencing. To combat this negative stereotype, the MassKara Festival was organized spearheaded by local artists to showcase the spirit of the Negrense. With masses of people dancing on the streets wearing masks showing bright smiles, it was sending out a message that despite the hard times, the Negrense will survive and triumph.   

My city also boasts of sweet goodies that are quite of large demand all over the country. One of the favorites is the butter scotch bar the recipe of which is a very well-kept trade secret. Only one other favorite rivals the butter scotch in popularity and that distinction goes to the piaya. For my kumare (mother of my godson) however, it has to be Napoleones from Roli's. Now, to elaborate on these treats:

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Butter Scotch is best explained to an American as a Blondie, a non-chocolate version of the brownie. It is not quite a brownie though as it is very dense with a very buttery taste. I've been using a recipe I obtained about two years ago from my good friend Butch whom I've known since we were 5 years old. He however swore me to secrecy so I cannot share the recipe on this blog. However, I just recently received a packet of butter scotch courtesy of another friend who went home for a visit a few weeks back and the ingredients are quite different (I've taken a mental note of this before but I just forgot about it). Despite the fact that I love my own version of this treat, the original just cannot be beat. I am therefore going to try it out again and once perfected, I'll be happy to share the recipe unless in the spirit of being a true blue Bacolodnon, I keep my mouth shut and lock the recipe in a vault somewhere.

Copyright 2011 Ltdan'skitchen blogs
The other treat is the piaya. My friends in Manila go crazy over these little pancakes made with muscovado sugar (raw sugarcane sugar), flour and butter. This little gem can be found all over the city and are now sold in several flavors. I grew up seeing them in the market place so I paid little attention to them until I left home for college. Only then did I appreciate how good they were and how much I missed them. I used to buy boxes of these babies for my friends and they could just not get enough of them. A recent convert is my friend Amanda who loved them after I gave her a few pieces to try out. She suggested I try making them which prompted me to look for recipes online. I did find one and an even better news is that I found a video on YouTube on how to make these treats. This is definitely a project in the works after I can stop by the Co-op to buy raw sugar. It will be expensive just like their mung bean which sells for 4$/lb (it is dirt cheap back home) but it will be all worth it if this experiment works. 
My version of Napoleones
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Napoleones, the last but never the least of the three is a local delicacy that is heavily influenced by the French pastry mille-feuille. It's history and how it became a signature pastry of my city is unknown but these treats disappear in a flash. They are best ordered a week before to ensure that you get your fix of these treats when you have a craving for them. Roli's makes the best Napoleones in town and that is all I'll say with regards to this matter. I've made my version of this pastry a year ago and despite the fact that it tasted great, it was still a far cry from the original.

Whew! With my appetite all whetted up, "Mahaw ta!" (Let's have a snack!)


  1. "My friends in Manila go crazy over these little pancakes made with muscovado sugar (raw sugarcane sugar), flour and butter." - i'm definitely one of them... uuwwaahhhh... bongbong's piaya!!! :-D

  2. How is the piaya experiment coming? It sounds like science I would love to particpate in!

  3. Carbon-based Susan, the experiment was neither a total success nor a bust. I used raw sugar but it was not as good as muscovado sugar. Have to hunt that down at the Co-op. The recipe also needs a bit of a tweak but I am past my craving for it right now.