I was a very young child when my father first brought us to a humble house along a narrow street beside the Concepcion Church in the fishing town of Malabon. It was my first Dolor’s Kakanin experience — an experience that would be repeated over and over, and something I would introduce to husband and children to years later.
Kakanin is the generic term for sweet steamed rice cakes often cooked with coconut milk. Dolor’s specialties include sapin-sapin (literally, layer-layer) which describes a kakanin with three layers of various colors, kamoteng-kahoy (cassava, my personal favorite), biko made with whole grains of glutinous rice and a kakanin made with mais (corn) but distinct from the more common maja blanca.
Although Dolor’s now has outlets along Governor Pascual Avenue in Malabon and along Banawe Street in Quezon City (there used to be one inside Cherry’s Supermarket along Congressional Road although I haven’t been there in years, so, I wouldn’t know if the stall is still there), the best way to exprience Dolor’s Kakanin is still to go to the house beside the Concepcion Church. When you enter, there is a simple counter behind which is a tall frame with several shelves. Each shelf contains a huge bilao laden with kakanin. One bilao for each kind of kakanin.
When you order, slices of kakanin are cut from the contents of these bilao and transferred to a new one, the size of which you will have to choose. The preparation usually starts with the sapin-sapin which is carefully arranged around the outermost part of the bilao. It is followed by the mongo kakanin (blue in the photo), the kutsinta (the red kakanin in the photo), mais (yellow), kamoteng-kahoy (the cream-colored kakanin) and, finally, biko at the center.
We have two boxes of Dolor’s Kakanin in the house right now, and one has been opened. I thought I was the only one who noticed — the kakanin are not as soft, sticky and chewy as they used to be.
They are firmer which makes me suspect that wheat flour has been added. The biko at the center of the bilao has undercooked rice grains and I can only say how disappointed I am at the apparent loss of quality control. I said nothing though, not wanting to create bias among the rest of the family. But my husband noticed too.
“It’s different,” he said. And that’s quite an understatement. Matigas was the word he used. Literally, hard. Well, not hard-hard, you know. But rice cakes are traditionally sticky and when the knife cuts smoothly through the cake, you know that it’ll taste different when it touches your mouth and tongue. Is it the rice crisis? Is the the commercialization? Dolor’s has a few branches around Metro Manila but, as far as I know, franchisees still get their supply from the main outlet in Malabon. Makes me wonder if there are no exceptions to the observation that anything mass produced loses the quality of the carefully crafted original.