30 October 2009

Bread and its Migration

A panaderia in Malate with sugary, margarine-y sweet things.

I am half-glad I lost the taste for Filipino baked wheat goodiess circa my pre-teen years, otherwise I would be twice my size with profound and expensive dental problems. The ubiquitous bakeries or panaderias punctuate both urban and rural areas, with empty calories and hints of margarine, red and purple food coloring, and lots of sugar.

This is not to say I don't find the panaderias charming. I still routinely ask whether they have anything (at all) that doesn't have margarine (answer is always no), and once in awhile stop to watch the breadmaking process. I yearn for the two-peso star bread of my youth, whose angular, crunchy, sugar-sprinkled crown I devoured like I do muffin tops, whilst walking around the village, tossing the homogenous, boring bottom in the direction of stray dogs.

A Quezon panaderia with sweet breads, filled pan de sal, and loads of star bread (bottom right).

Nowadays, making my way home at ungodly hours, the 4 AM smell of baking bread makes me appreciate how we still have dedicated artisans who wake before the cocks crow (or during-- the city lights make ours noisy as early as 2AM). Their incessant kneading supposedly breeds local boxers (e.g. Manny Pacquaio and his once-floured fists). A few are legendary in less agreeable (yet equally sensational) ways-- I've heard horror stories of panaderos wrapping ensaimada around their private parts or rubbing pan de sal in their armpits.

But where did these originate, these creations with ingredients so foreign to our native agriculture? Last year, a walk to a (Chinese-run) Mexican grocery store in California revealed a large clue: unabashedly sweet, swirly, and colored breads. In fact:

In California: Mexican pan dulce, with some cajeta or milk caramel empanadas on the left.

While pan de sal is one specific, ultra-popular bread to Filipinos, in Mexico, the term (which literally translates to "bread of salt") refers to a number of non-sweet, mealtime-appropriate breads, to be eaten with savory and salty food. In fact, it has been said that our Filipino pan de sal bears resemblance to one kind of Mexican pan de sal.

More Mexican pan dulce.

Pan dulce, on the other hand, is a sweeping term again, pertaining to any or all kinds of Mexican sweet breads. Like the Philippines, they have many, in different shapes and colors. In both Galleon countries, they are eaten at all times of day, especially at merienda-- and, on both sides of the ocean, each costs not more than a few pesos.

Baking bread in the Philippines (as we know it) definitely developed during the Spanish occupation. In Mexico scholars suppose it was either them or the French. But how did both colonies develop these large, down-to-earth, un-fussy versions, so different from their European ancestors? Only more investigation can tell. In the meantime, take the time out to actually stop at your local panaderia and ponder its existence.

27 October 2009

Street Games

Pedicab stop chess on a little board.

Manila's streets are full of people playing chess and dama.

Dama on the ground, scraped concrete for the grid.

Using bottle caps (tansan), one team right side up, the other flipped over.

A bench with a dama board drawn on.

The old flip-the-tansan over trick.

26 October 2009

Manila Bay Fishing

Hep-hep! Fishing for bugaong on a windy, beautiful day.

As we were walking along the boardwalk and discussing the rats that scuttle along the reclamation's edge, we came across a couple of guys fishing. Without them, it is easy to forget that Manila became what it was because it is beside this powerful, trade-conducive waterway.

The dreary bay.

This is pretty alarming to many. Like the Pasig River, Manila Bay is generally regarded as a giant cesspool. Sad, but fair. There are hardly any water treatment facilities in the metro, nor are our wetlands intact to "sieve" out solid waste before it hits the ocean. There are also those horror stories of pozo negro companies dumping truckloads of feces into the water at midnight.

Male bonding at its finest.

But anyway, yes, things live in it. Enough living things to sustain a simple little taboo food web involving several characters. The fishermen collect our ihaw-ihaw favorites, tahong, off the shallow part of the bay. These mussels are plankton- and detritus-feeders, helping to clean murky water. Yum!

Tahong crime scene.

They are shelled and suspended on a hook, then cast into the smelly, once-legendary waters of Manila Bay. Conversation ensues while couples, bums, joggers, and lonely hearts walk behind. Sooner or later, a bugaong or bugahong nibbles and is redeemed from the water, and dropped inside a plastic bag.

Bugaong, still moving, drowning in air.

Called tiger fish in English, they are small and spiny, and commonly salted and dried under the sun for preservation. Along the bay, they are caught for personal consumption or seaside grilling.

An everyday feast.

Seaside, you repeat? Perhaps the greatest tragedy of the urban planning (major road beside an ocean, psh) and water neglect is that it made us forget who we are-- lowland, coastal dwellers, who have the right to enjoy the breeze and eat clean, free, food while watching the sunset.

22 October 2009

The New Bilao

Makati Cinema Square green mango vendor-- the electric fan cage is the new bilao.

A variety of green mango and its respective army of vendors are in season on the Manila streets. Have I had my head up a certain crevice or is the use of old electric fan metal cages a new development in the ambulatory vendor scene? Obviously, someone with access to a large mango harvest, old mayonnaise/pickle plastic containers, and a junk shop with a lot of broken fans has been deploying troops.

Two cages, with accompanying wooden frames for nestling.

A vendor along Adriatico, with a higher wooden frame (which corresponds to his seating level).

Pan out.

Mabini vendor.

21 October 2009

A Most Curious Hat

Hat, shades, piercing look.

Here is a traffic enforcer in Pagsanjan looking like a sheriff. Or a forest ranger. He remained along the small side road looking at us with curiosity as we sat and chatted with a lady.

Black hat absorbing the intense heat.

Until we finally asked him about his hat, which apparently, was the mayor's idea. It was made to look like a western hat fashioned from animal skin or felt, but was actually woven plant material (buri, perhaps) treated for stiffness, and painted black. It's interesting to see police uniform stereotypes from the world over being applied by local governments.

20 October 2009

Comments Opened

I've opened comments because I don't have much time to respond to emails these days. Please leave your contact info in case you don't check back to the blog-- the most frustrating thing is when you say something interesting and are unavailable for more details.


Tokwa sa Carinderia

Deep-fried tokwa chopped into chunks.

Somewhere between here and the faraway there, we made a meal stop. Cheap, deep-fried firm tofu with soy sauce, vinegar, and siling labuyo is comfort food for me. Carinderias have them around, usually for addition to arroz caldo, but they will serve them up on their own for anyone who asks, for around 5 pesos.


Mmm.. sanitation.

Also serving turon, or bananas wrapped in spring roll wrapper, deep-fried, sweetened.

Bananas for turon.


Salt, pepper, mortar.

Arranging beverage options above the glass display compartment.

Carinderias are a perfect place to talk about the weather and get an earful of some local chismis. I have always found that the people who man these places have good conversational skills, are firmly grounded in the community while having a less-oggly approach to dayo (visitors) like me. Most are female, and range from being young ladies who are constantly teased by male diners, to middle-aged rotund ones who keep rowdy customers in check like mothers-of-all.

Eating surface.

18 October 2009

Improvisation in Signage

Outskirts of Manila, ice cream stopover.

Been awhile. My absence began when my laptop so tragically met its death, work terror began, Ondoy happened, I had friends over from other countries, etc. I have been shamefully busy, to a level I am theoretically opposed to. But anyway, on to Snowpy.

The original logo.

For many small businesses and food carts, sign fabrication is a one-time expense. I've seen signs across the metro with pieces of paper stuck on to eliminate phased-out products and prices. This one was particularly cute.

An improvisation, with Snowpyboy hugging a flavored cone, done in crayon and wrapped in packing tape.

Popular Posts