If I believed in “signs”, I would have prepared myself for a disastrous four-day stay in Bacolod. The bad omens were just too many. I almost didn’t make it to the airport because traffic was just terrible. Food at NAIA 2 was overpriced crap. When I was finally seated in the plane, a foul-smelling man took the seat beside me. The trip just didn’t start well.
I could have moped. I could have whined. I could have demanded to be seated elsewhere, I could have threatened the flight attendants that I’d probably throw up between Manila and Bacolod to make them realize that transferring me to another seat would have been the wiser choice.
But I didn’t mop nor whine, and I stayed put in my seat. It was because I kept my face turned away from the smelly man and toward the window that I discovered the windmills of Guimaras. If happiness were a decision, then I decided that I was going to be happy for the next four days. After all, I was going back to the place that I fell in love with last year.
As the plane touched down at the Bacolod-Silay Airport, I wondered if I’d still feel the same way about Bacolod. Sometimes, it’s just the novelty that makes us enamored of something — a place, a person, a book, an idea… And it often happens that after the novelty has worn off, the phenomenal becomes commonplace and the magic dissipates.
I need not have worried. Over the next four days, I fell in love with Bacolod all over again. Even more, in fact, because I knew that how I felt about the place had nothing to do with novelty. On the contrary, it was about familiarity. As a city, Bacolod is today what Manila was several decades ago — breathable, friendly and full of promise. In a way, I was recapturing the city of my childhood albeit a city with a different name several islands away.
Bacolod thrives with restaurants and eateries owned and operated by locals. Although fast food franchises have made their way into the city, it is still the decades-old haunts that define the culture. Bob’s, Calea, Manukan Country…
My friend Gary picked me up from the airport, we dropped by L’Fisher where my younger daughter, Alex, was working on an event to be staged that evening. Then, we went to Cafe Bob’s. While its ancestor, Bob’s Restaurant, served traditional fare, Cafe Bob’s is about modernity. The food is mostly fusion.
Gary recommended the Pinoy-style pasta with tinapa (smoked fish). I ordered it knowing I would love it. I’ve cooked pasta with tinapang bangus and tuyo, and I have long ago discovered just how well salty fish goes with pasta. Bob’s Cafe’s Pinoy-style pasta did not disappoint. The bold flavors of the smoked fish and the fresh vegetables mingled happily in my mouth.
Then, there was the vegetarian pizza which, according to Gary, was even better when sprinkled with chorizo. I didn’t miss the irony but, perhaps, only I was the only one aware of it. It’s something that Speedy and I do at home. When we’re staring at leftover vegetarian food that Sam couldn’t finish, we’d add chicharon or chopped lechon kawali to un-vegetarianize it. The pizza was lovely.
Because I have been dreaming for a year that we will retire in Bacolod someday, I started paying attention to a lot of things. One of my complaints about living in Antipolo is the lack of gourmet food. Does Bacolod have what Antipolo doesn’t?
Cheese, check. Cold meat, check.
Gourmet seasonings and condiments, check. And all under one magical roof called Cafe Bob’s.
Oh, yes, Bacolod and I will get along just fine.
I was back at L’Fisher for Alex’s event. She’s assistant technical director which meant she was stationed at the tech booth. Because I was a lurker and not on the official guest list, I stayed beside her at the tech booth. But, after the show started, I had to get up and find a better spot to take photos.
I don’t know their names but the performance of the singers was stupendous. One of them, Alex said, was Rapunzel in last February’s Into the Woods.
The egress after the show would take hours so Alex and I made arrangements for her transfer from the pension house where the crew was staying to the hotel I had booked for us. While the crew dismantled the set, I had dinner with Gary, his son and daughter-in-law. We had been to the Negros Museum Cafe last year but only for a quick drink after the museum tour. This time, we had dinner there.
Negros Museum Cafe
It started with cassava fries topped with salted spinach. The cassava fries were golden crisp outside and light as a cloud inside. I must try it at home, I promised myself. They’re better than kamote (sweet potato) fries. And the spinach… oh, the spinach! Crisp and salty, eating them was like munching on chips right out of a pouch. But better because there were no preservatives nor additives.
The Bacolod sunrise, the cafe’s take on tequila sunrise, was a dream. They make it with a hint of ginger. I wasn’t planning on having anything alcoholic as the sweltering summer heat was sure to make me perspire like crazy but, after one glass, I ordered another.
I had the smoked barracuda sandwich recommended by Gary’s daughter-in-law, Krystle. She’s quite the Negros Museum Cafe authority, it turned out, as she unabashedly proclaimed that it is her favorite restaurant in the whole world. She’s eaten everything in the menu and is there so often that she and her husband, Vince, are well known to the owners.
The smoked barracuda sandwich was nothing short of amazing. Unlike smoked salmon which is soft and almost melts in the mouth like butter, smoked barracuda has a bolder texture — a bit chewy like dried ham. The fish version of Parma ham, if you can imagine it.
And dessert? We had two — chico (sapodilla in Mexico, Central America and the Carribean) pie and buko (coconut) pie.
I don’t eat chico — the smell overwhelms me. But I ate half of the slice of chico pie. The filling tasted like the mildest milk chocolate and had the texture of streusel. What witchcraft made that possible, I don’t know, but I sure would like to learn.
The buko pie was quite unlike the buko pie from Laguna that I grew up with. No top crust and the filling had no custard. The coconut tasted like it was cooked with a caramel which was probably lightened with coconut cream.
And the biggest surprise — the crust of both pies aren’t made with butter. According to the chef-owner, a Swiss married to a Filipina, they refrigerate coconut milk overnight then gather the fat that floats to the top. That is what they use to make pie crust.
I was practically drooling at that point. I wanted to bring home those pies but, unfortunately, the next days’ schedules changed. But, never mind, because that gives me a good reason to go back to Bacolod again soon.
Click here for A New Bacolod Food Trip, part 2.