It was a hot day mid-week in Bacolod City and people were bustling with their affairs. On this hectic Wednesday, the Department of Tourism delegation headed by Sec. Christina Frasco visited Bacolod City as part of the Western Visayas Philippine Experience Culture, Heritage, Arts Caravans. Everyone was treated to the Bacolod lunch experience at the Bantug Lake Ranch, complete with the dishes that Bacolod is famous for.
Rediscovering the Philippines: Bacolod Food Tourism
The Philippine Department of Tourism is holding the caravans to rediscover the soul of the country, which are food, culture, heritage, and the arts. Sec. Frasco was accompanied by Asec. Verna Buensuceso, Usec. Myra Paz Valderrosa-Abubakar, Usec. Ferdinand C. Jumapao, and DOT Region 6 Director Krisma Rodriguez.
Along with the DOT delegation are key principals in the tourism industry as well as members of the mainstream media, bloggers, vloggers, and influencers who were allowed to see and experience the different provinces of the Philippines from a different light.
For the Western Visayas leg, the caravan visited the cities of Bacolod and Silay in Negros Occidental and Iloilo in Panay. And in the City of Smiles, we showcased Bacolod food tourism.
The Bacolod Lunch Experience
Set in the verdant 7-hectare Bantug Lake Ranch in Brgy. Alangilan, Bacolod City, the DOT delegation was welcomed by Mayor Albee Benitez, City Councilors Em Ang, Simple Distrito, and Vladi Gonzales, and City Tourism Officer Teresa Manalili, who were flanked by MassKara dancers whose metallic costumes rustled when they gyrated to the Sinadya sa Bacolod theme song.
It was a humid but cloudy day and the Bantug Lake Ranch provided the perfect backdrop for the barrio fiesta-themed lunch. At a little past 12, the delegation arrived and was refreshed with glasses of iced camote tops juice sweetened by raw sugarcane sticks.
After all the pleasantries and formalities, the guests were seated, and came the serious business for the day: the Bacolod lunch experience.
Yes, for us Bacolodnons, we take our lunch hour seriously. We love a good, long meal complete with our all-time favorite comfort dishes and of course, hot steamed rice.
That is because, we usually start early in the day with a light breakfast and coffee, so our lunchtime is the mid-day pitstop to rest and refuel for the rest of the day.
The theme of the entire lunch experience is “Manyaga Kita!”, which means “Let’s have lunch!” Traditionally, it is an open invitation to everyone around the house or even passers-by who happen to be present during this mealtime.
In the bountiful past, food was prepared in huge quantities in the master’s main kitchen, so there was plenty of food for everyone, including the servants.
The two-word sentence is a catchphrase, a greeting, and an open-ended invitation to take shelter inside the house and share the meal with the host family. It is also inviting a friend to pause for the day and to enjoy the good life.
At the Kusina Remedios Restaurant of Bantug Lake Ranch, Bacolodnons invited the guests, “Nyaga ta!”
A Parade of Bacolod Dishes
Here are the different all-time favorite Bacolodnon dishes that were served for the pleasure of the caravan delegation. The menu was carefully crafted in such a way that the guests will truly appreciate not just the food, but the overall experience of the Bacolod lunch.
The Bacolodnon mid-day meal should be hearty, so we do everything to excite the palate at this time.
As if our meals are not appetizing enough, Bacolodnons love appetizers, or abrigana, as we call them. These are usually made from unripe fruits seasoned or cured or cooked with cane vinegar. Here are the four things served.
The atchara is made of shreds of unripe papa, treated and cured in a pickling solution made of cane vinegar. Perhaps, what makes it distinct is the deep yellow color. Some add a little achuete powder but most of the tint comes from the carrots, whose carotenoids stain the almost colorless young papaya.
Ensalada nga Langka
The Ensalada nga Langka is made with slices of young jackfruit boiled until tender and cooked further in a mixture of coconut milk, cane vinegar, brown sugar, salt, and other spices.
Once cooled, the jackfruit is mixed with fresh ingredients like sliced tomatoes, onions, and chili. It is a medley of flavors and textures that adds a spring in our steps–sour, a bit sweet, creamy, a and little spicy.
Apan-apan (Adobong Kangkong)
We cook the kangkong (water spinach) adobo-style, called the apan-apan. Aside from the usual soy sauce and vinegar flavor in adobo, what makes this dish stand out is the addition of the bagoong (shrimp paste) as its seasoning. So appetizing!
Kinilaw nga Tangigue
One of the favorite appetizers of people living near the sea is the kinilaw the tangigue, our local version of the ceviche. The firm chunks of tangigue are washed and marinated in a solution of cane vinegar and salt to “cook” the fish.
After at least 30 minutes, the tangigue cubes are drained. These are then mixed with different salad ingredients like chopped green tomatoes, onions and chili, julienned ginger, sliced green onions, and salted eggs. Finally, it is dressed in a mixture of coconut milk mixed with cane vinegar.
Despite the hot weather throughout the year, we still love hot soup to start our meals. The first sip is crucial, as the warm liquid brings instant comfort to the grumbling tummy. Common soup choices are slow-cooked, rich, and often flavored with batwan, a sour fruit that only grows seasonally in the highlands of the Negros province. The ripe fruit has a high citric acid, hence its strong sour taste.
The KBL is short for Kadios, Baboy, and Langka. It is one such rich soup composed of three main ingredients: Kadios or kadyos (Philippine pea), Baboy (usually pork hocks or big slices of pork belly), and langka (chopped young jackfruit).
Kadios is cooked slow and long with pork hocks, lemongrass, and batwan, which gives the soup its sour and creamy goodness that whets the appetite.
Seasoned only with salt, KBL is very aromatic because of the batwan and tanglad (lemongrass).
Inubaran na Manok
The ubad is the banana pith, harvested when the tree has to be cut down. It is a wonderfully flavorful part of the banana that is rich in fiber. Slow-cooked over wood fire with native chicken, some mongo, lemongrass and seasoned only with salt brings out the deep flavors of the natural ingredients. The mongo not only adds more protein to the dish but also lends a creamy texture to the soup.
Main Course: The Bacolod Chicken Inasal
Three kinds of Bacolod chicken inasal were served. While all of them are skewered chicken grilled over an open charcoal pit, each one has a distinct flavor that the locals can easily differentiate.
Classic Bacolod Chicken Inasal (Aida’s)
The classic Bacolod chicken inasal was made popular by the Garrucho family in the early 1970s. It is kind of sour after being marinated in cane vinegar, kalamansi, and other seasonings. The
Using bare hands (kinamot), the chicken inasal is finger-ripped from the bamboo skewer, skimmed in sawsawan (dipping sauce), topped with a little atchara, and eaten with a mound of yellow rice.
Bacolod Native Chicken Inasal (Lion’s)
Marinated in the same ingredients as the classic chicken inasal, this dish makes use of free-ranged, native chicken. It is brushed with anato oil upon grilling to give it a distinct bright orange hue to differentiate it from its classic version. The result is a lean, muscular kind of grilled chicken.
What makes it different from the classic one?
Fed with natural grains like corn and palay, the native chickens get to eat whatever nature offers, like worms, grass, and even fallen fruits. The daily flying, roaming, and even scampering all contribute to their physical development. Plus, they are free to breathe and drink from natural water sources. All these natural elements give a different flavor and texture to the meat which translates to a better-tasting inasal.
Contemporary Bacolod Chicken Inasal (Bantug)
Marinated in soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and pineapple vinegar, the contemporary Bacolod chicken is slightly more acidic and even more appetizing. Perhaps because of the kind of vinegar used, the meat of the pecho (breast) is tender and very juicy.
The basting mixture does not contain added sugar but it has a high concentration of achuete. This brings out the kind of chicken inasal that is almost evenly grilled and is a shade of orange.
Inasal nga Isol and Isaw
While the paa (leg), pecho (breast), and pechopack (breast with wing) are the most famous Bacolod chicken inasal offerings, no part of the chicken goes to waste. In Bacolod, we skewer all the parts of the chicken (including cubed chicken blood) and serve them.
After the mains, the most sought-after parts are the isol (chicken butt) and isaw (intestines). The isol is perhaps the fattiest part of the chicken. When grilled, the skin becomes a bit charred and crispy while the inside remains very tender and juicy.
Meanwhile, the isaw is cleaned very well and marinated. You will see spot it easily with its distinct skewered patterned—the snaky, curvy lines on a stick. Its different texture makes it a wonderful pica-pica, especially during the happy hour.
We like to let our inasal slide on a little bowl that contains the dipping sauce. While we often use soy sauce, which we locally call patis, and cane vinegar in our marinade and cooking, these ingredients hit differently when mixed and consumed as a dipping sauce.
Whenever we have something fried or grilled like the Bacolod chicken inasal, we always have a sawsawan on the side. It is something automatic, an act that we do without thinking. As we pick on the meat, we first let it pass on the dipping sauce before placing it on a portion of rice and hand-spooning it in our mouths.
Each diner has a different version of the sawsawan. Here are the possible combinations:
- Patis + langgaw (suka)
- Patis + sinamak (spiced vinegar)
- Patis + kalamansi + sinamak
- Patis + kalamansi + sinamak + crushed chili (extra spicy)
For hundreds of years, Negrenses lived in opulence, thanks to the bounty brought about by the sugar industry.
After a heavy meal, the dishes are cleared and the table is set for the final course – desserts and coffee. The hearty discussion continues as the family appreciates the sweet ending and the lazy afternoon that follows.
To this day, the tradition carries on even for the modern-day Bacolodnon. We usually cap our mid-day meal with something sweet paired with a cup of hot coffee.
Sweetened by our refined sugar, the cakes and pastries of Bacolod are well-known all over the country.
In the 1930s, Negros Occidental was generally enjoying a peaceful and affluent time because sugar was abundant. It was during this that the piaya was born. Made merely of flour, this simple pastry was filled with the most abundant product of the province—sugar.
Muscovado sugar is used in piaya because it is more than just a sweetener. The muscovado has a distinctive character and color that dominates the pastry. It is enhanced with sesame seeds, which makes the piaya more aromatic.
Rolled into thin rounds, the pasty is roasted on a hot iron griddle for a few minutes and then flipped. The cook must pay attention to the cooking process, as the piaya can burn easily.
The napoleones may sound and look like a French dessert with its layers of flaky pastry, but the sweetness level is distinctly Bacolodnon. The pastry is layered and injected with a sweet buttercream filling and topped with a layer of melted powdered sugar.
Meanwhile, the sorbetes is our traditional, locally-made ice cream. It is peddled by the sorbetes man in a wooden ice cart and usually comes in ube, vanilla, and keso, making your ice cream cup a colorful medley. We top it with crushed barquillos or pair with piaya.