It was an hour ferry ride from Iloilo to the City of Smiles. My perfect food trip guide is Chef BJ, a multi-awarded and very promising young chef instructor from Bacolod.
The first thing he tells me when we meet up is “You just missed the Panaad festival… it ended yesterday”. Then he animatedly talks about the wonderful seafood, produce, and delicacies of Negros found during the fiesta. It was my first time in Bacolod and all the more I am excited to try Negrense (Ilonggo) cuisine.
1. Manokan Country
Our first stop is chicken inasal at Manokan Country. It is rows of small very informal restaurants serving grilled chicken. Instead of figuring out which stall is best…Chef’s objective is for me to taste the difference between native (free-range) against farm raised chicken inasal. He orders pecho (breast) and I like paa (leg and thigh) and we share another order of native chicken to compare its gamey flavor and tougher texture. He prepares the dipping sauce made with sinamak, calamansi (a small citrus fruit), and soy sauce. Inasal is best eaten with garlic rice drizzled with annatto oil.
Chicken Inasal is chicken marinated in palm vinegar, lemon grass, calamansi, garlic, and fish sauce. Some recipes use soy sauce but it gives off a dark color during cooking. The skewered chicken is grilled and basted with annatto (achuete) oil. The ingredient that makes Bacolod chicken inasal authentic would be the use of “batuan” or “batwan”. This is a small round fruit used as a souring agent endemic to the region.
Sinamak is a cured dipping sauce. It is made with coconut vinegar as a base, then bird’s eye chilli peppers (siling labuyo), galanagal, ginger, onions, and garlic are added.
2. Our next stop was the El Ideal (El Idyal) bakeshop in Silay. The bakeshop has been around since the 1920’s. Here I tried their famous guapple pie. Chef makes me try Budbud. It is a very nice and delicate suman (steamed sticky rice cake wrapped in banana leaves) with strips of chocolate inside. We also order another specialty which is lumpiang ubod (heart of palm). Silly me…I forgot El Ideal belongs to the family of our graduate Myles Sanchez. Myles is now the CDP pastry chef of Shangri-la Boracay.
3. Imay’s. I heard there are plenty of good restaurants in Bacolod but I requested for Filipino food. So for dinner we went to Imay’s.
Siniglaw – kilawin with grilled liempo (pork belly)
Forbidang kangkong – kangkong (water spinach) cooked in coconut milk (like laing) with guinamos
Guinamos is the Ilonggo version of shrimp paste.
Adobadong halimusa – catfish
Aboy’s was closed on a Sunday. I would have also wanted to see the Evaristo children and former students Carlo, Kokoy, and Ana but they were abroad.
6. Kansihan – Kansi is the local version of beef shank soup. It is cooked for hours just like Bulalo but has a hint of sourness and sometimes a spicy kick from chillies. Souring agents added are green jackfruit, batuan, and/or lemon grass. Kansi stalls are everywhere but Chef says the best Kansi would be at Planta Hotel Centro Bacolod.
7. Pala- pala is the local version of Dampa. Dampa style restaurants are very popular in the Philippines. This means the diner goes to the market to buy fresh seafood. Then the nearby eateries prepare and cook them for a corresponding cooking and service fee. I was hoping to try angel wing clams also known as diwal. Diwal is a type of shellfish also found only in this region but at that time was not in season.
8. Bacolod sweets – Bacolod is known as sugar land. This province is a major exporter of sugar. Types of sugar are refined white, molasses, muscovado (unrefined dark sugar), dark brown, and light brown sugar. Muscovado is now trendy for coffee drinkers because it is natural, healthier
, and brings out the flavor of beans better. Brown sugar crystals are also found in posh restaurants and five star hotels all over the world today.
Here is a shortlist of Bacolod delicacies using sugar:
Piaya – flat bread filled with muscovado sugar
Bañadas – soft round cookies with white sugar frosting
Brojas- lady fingers
Biscocho – a the local biscotti
Barquillos – tubed shaped thin wafers
Butter scotch – (my favorite) nice and chewy petite fours with the flavor of toffee or caramel
Pastillas de Manga – short crust dough shaped like little empanadas filled with mango jam
Pinasugbo– thinly sliced fried bananas coated with caramelized sugar in paper cones
Chef thanks for the tour. I really had a great time. My stay in sugar land was short but sweet 🙂