In Vigan, coffee is sweetened with balicucha

Last month, I discovered an alternative natural coffee sweetener — coco sugar. Last week, I discovered yet another alternative natural coffee sweetener called balicucha and how I discovered it is a funny story.

We were having breakfast at our hotel in Vigan, coffee was served and, on the saucer was what I first thought to be a cookie. You know, like those tiny almond cookies that they serve at Dome Cafe? I searched for the sugar bowl, found none on the table, so I hailed a passing waiter and asked for sugar. A few seconds later, he came back with packets of artificial sweetener. I thought he misunderstood. I wanted natural sugar, brown if they had it, not artificial sweetener.

I was about to call him again when I noticed the little thing on my coffee saucer and realized it wasn’t a cookie. I looked at it closer, noticed how much like tira-tira (native sugar candy) it felt in my hand so I decided to conduct the most logical test — taste it. I took a small bite, it did taste like tira-tira but it was not chewy but porous. Feeling bold, I dropped it into my cup of hot coffee. I stirred the coffee and realized that the sweet thing I dropped in it had melted.

I sipped my coffee, liked how it tasted, Speedy did as I did then we asked a waitress what it was that we had just put into our coffee. Balicucha, she said, and it is only found in Vigan. She didn’t know what it was exactly but she offered the information that it was sold at the hotel and also in shops around the city. After breakfast, we walked to Calle Crisologo for some last minute shopping, found balicucha in a number of stores, bought a large packet and brought it home. balicucha

That is balicucha. Just drop it into the coffee, stir and enjoy. balicucha

Much later, as I tried to find more information about balicucha, I read that there is a dance called balikucha (please note the difference in spelling) and a song entitled Pastilan where balikucha is mentioned. I also discovered that there is a candy called balikucha.

Balikucha– chewy caramel confection in stick form. A dental disaster, sticky and highly elastic when put in the hands of elementary school children. Every mom’s laundry nightmare. Grains of sand in the candy is assurance of quality.

Clearly, there is balicucha and it is not the same sa balikucha. The waitress at the hotel might just be right when she said that balicucha is unique to Vigan.

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The Author

Hello, my name is Connie Veneracion. I cook, I shoot, I write. But I don't do the laundry. I don't like housekeeping very much either... (more about me)

27 Responses

  1. cha says:

    Hi Connie! I beg to disagree with the waitress when she said that balikucha can only be found in Vigan. In Bicol (I grew up in Gubat, Sorsogon), this is available in most sari-sari stores. In fact, I was a great fan of balikucha, until I suffered diabetes. I guess this glutinous candy stick is made from panutsa melted in coconut milk and is usually wrapped in papel de hapon. I also think that the candy’s name is derived from the word “baliko” or twisted, as it can be twisted any way you like it. There are two ways of making balikucha though: one is it super sticky and the other is porous similar to what is available in Vigan.

    • Connie says:

      Balikucha the candy is not the same as balicucha in the photo. Balicucha in the photo is NOT sticky nor glutinous at all.

      • cha says:

        Right Connie. :)
        Just the same, we also have that balicucha that is not sticky nor glutinous. They are similarly molded like the glutinous ones but seemed to be porous and can easily be crumbled, lalo na kung old-stock na. :)

  2. Natz SM says:

    Balicucha use to be a childhood favorite of mine.

    I was pleasantly surprised to see some in a stall at the Quadalupe Wet Market here in Makati a couple of months ago. The stall sells all kinds of nuts, candies, sampaloc, spicy dilis, cracker nuts, butong pakwan and the likes that are usually sold in sari-sari stores. I couldn’t resist buying a one kilo bag of the stuff. How I love how it simply crumbles and “melts” in your mouth. It is also good slightly dipped in the coffee (a very fast dunk because it does dissintegrate fast) just like a cookie and it slightly tastes like coffee crumble- hehehe.

    A guilty pleasure indeed!

  3. Jol says:

    I love that you post when you find something unique, I have never heard of Balicucha.. your post makes me miss tira-tira, sometimes when I crave for tira tira I just eat brown sugar, lol!

  4. peachy says:

    balicucha is one of my favorite childhood treats, eat it just any ordinary candy, letting it melt inside the mouth … maybe one reason why i dont have my two front teeth when i was younger :-)
    Ms. Connie, did you try eating “pipian”? it’s also available only in Vigan, just in Vigan and no other town of Ilocos .

  5. Victoria says:

    there is another yummy natural sweetener produced in Verde Islands in Batangas called “pakaskas”, made from the sap of buri palm. This is how it looks ——-

    PAKASKAS is sold in the public markets of Batangas but also available in Metro-Manila when in season.

  6. curiousGirl says:

    wow ang cute ng shape.

    @Cha Hello! my husband’s from Gubat din, kaso minsan lang ako nakabakasyon dun, di ko napansin na this is the same thing from there.. hehe. usually 3-in-1 lang naiinom ko dun

  7. emyM says:

    Wow…Balicucha brings back childhood memories of
    frequent trips to the nearby sari-sari store to buy
    this candy.Sure love to make this if I have a recipe.

  8. KK says:

    Thank you for featuring Ate Connie, finally I know what this “thing” is called. I always make sure to bring back some whenever I visit the Philippines. It seems the darker the tastier.

  9. niceyfemme says:

    It reminds me of sundot kulangot which I miss sooo much! I have no idea where to buy it…. I want a whole can..

  10. FayeP says:

    Ms. Connie,

    Have a question, ksi I was looking for info kun san makakabili ng balicucha once lang kasi me nakatikim nun galing sa isang friend na nagvacay sa Vigan. I googled balicucha, then I found this site:

    un mga post sa site na to, parang galing sa Sa inyo din po ba tong site na to? andito din kasi un recipe ng Fluffy spam bake at sotanghon with black fungus. Madami din kasing mga recipe dito.

    BTW, may nakakaalam po ba dito ng mabibilhan sa manila ng balicucha???


    • Connie says:

      Nah, not mine. It’s a splog — a scraper of other people’s blogs. :(

      Vigan is the only place I know where balicucha is sold.

      • FayeP says:

        Ah, namemeke sila, hehehe copy-copy ng blog ng may blog…

        hay sayang sarap pa naman papakin ng balicucha, un nga lang hanggang 2 piraso lang masakit sa lalamunan =)

  11. arrianna says:

    i love your blog! very informative and creative.
    though i must say you seem like a fierce lady, very brusque in answering, quick to oppose.
    very sexy. keep it up!

  12. sun says:

    we have balicucha also here in one of the barrio in upland cavite. it is one of the specialty together with kending pinya and kalamay buna which can be found in the town of indang.

    i still remember watching the old lady make it fresh every day. and ordering it during lunch break in the shape of a cane (as long as a foot) fresh and hot out of her big vat (kawa). . .

  13. Judy says:

    We used to make that balicucha ( tagapolot) in Ilocanos it’s not easy to make but as I remember its exciting,,that’s real sugarcane sweetening

  14. jette says:

    Having read this BALICUCHA episode, Memories of childhood came back flooding. It was late in adulthood when I finally understood why SUGAR was called brown gold/white gold whatever you call it. That cane juice can be turned into lots of potential moneymaking products. I grew up in the upland town of Quirino, Ilocos Sur and my father used to grow sugarcanes yearly.
    Come harvest time, the canes were manually fed in between 2 big, elongated, upright, rounded wooden barrels (more like 2 HUGE rolling pins with tracks/cables at both upper and lower ends, can still sometimes see them in antique shops ) being pulled round and round by a cow or a carabao. The extracted cane juice passing through a huge, long halved bamboo, serving as conduit to the big cauldron. The hearth dug out from an slightly elevated area. It will then be slowly cooked overnight using gathered dry woods/bamboos. Here’s just some of the products we make, out of the sugar cane juice.

    PATARUY- syrupy form before it turns to dry sugar – more like Molasses consistency.
    BASI – (cane wine) fermented in HUGE EARTHEN JARS for months.
    CANE VINEGAR -a matured fermented BASI but with added different tree barks (SINAMAK) and acidic fruits.
    SINAMBONG – ( glutinous rice in cheesecloths/ coconut cloth/or nets/coco leaves, are also submerged onto the edge of the cauldron, into the cooking cane juice, cooked all the way through. You’ll get it the ff morning. When the syrup becomes a bit sticky…. we were allowed to have a taste test ( we call it LABLAB) by dipping the bone of a banana leaf into the cooking syrup and take a lick on it.

    BALICUCHA – when it gets sticky, we take several small batches (about 4 tbps (depends on how big you can work with), put it in water to cool it down to tolerable temp.(won’t disintegrate since it is already sticky). You can then take it off the water and then work on it by stretching it AGAIN AND AGAIN ( have to have strong hands as it can be tiring) until it becomes whitish/brownish white in colour and porous ((initially dark brown, it will turn whiter/more porous, the more/longer you stretch it). When you reach the desired consistency/color.. you TWIST it on the shape that you want and then set aside to let it dry.

    PURE MUSCOVADO sugar!.. the final product. I also remember that they would tweak one batch of the sugar by adding freshly grated mature coconut… so there, we have COCOSUGAR. Sometimes, the sugar had to be air dried so it will keep longer since we stored them in those HUGE earthen jars (BURNAY) for a whole year supply. Extra are sold or bartered with something else or given as gifts to relatives in the cities.

    All these activities were done at night time…usually late summer and vacation time. Small villages have minimal or nil criminal cases so kids were generally allowed by parents to go there during LABLAB AND BALICUCHA TIME, or even have night time games before bedtime. Those times are gone… and most of the cane sugar mills now are at least semi-automated. And not a lot of small scale sugar farmers plant sugarcane anymore due to the water scarcity. And yeah, balicucha making are now automated I guess.

    I now live in Alberta, Canada. I am delighted that the Asian store I frequent, sell fresh sugar cane sticks… they press it right there and then while you watch to extract the juice..then mix in some lemon/kalamansi juice and shaved ICE….. COOL…

    So much of my reminiscing… got sooooo CARRIIIIEDDD AWAYYY. Thanks so much for this blog. I already have a list of some the recipes I want to try, particularly the spring rolls.

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