Kanamit sa Bacolod!
FEAST WITH ME - Stephanie Zubiri-Crespi () - September 16, 2010 - 12:00am

I was doomed. Doomed from the beginning yet still trying to convince myself that I had the will and discipline to make it through. But for a first-timer foodie in the heart of sugar country with its heavy Spanish heritage, it reminded me of that interminable hour I had to wait after getting my teeth cleaned with fluoride before eating my caramel apple bought in the pastry shop beside my dentist.

In my 25 years of life, I have never set foot in Negros country, never visited Bacolod and Kabangkalan, hometowns and birthplace of my father. This was the heartland of my beloved abuelita Rosing, whose delicious Spanish-Ilonggo dishes were an integral part of my childhood. It is also the hometown and birthplace of amazing nationalized delicacies like chicken inasal (Mang Inasal is giving Starbucks a run for prime real

Food flashback: Ensaymada, cheese bread and puto from my tita Diday’s kitchen

estate!), my newly discovered diwal and a plethora of pastries, puffs, tarts and pies just as mestizo as the local population.

I was determined to stick to my diet during our big family trip to Bacolod. I would only have fish or veggies and avoid rice and carbs at all costs. Upon arrival, still a bit groggy from our early-morning flight, we headed straight to the first of many family gatherings. I lasted the whole buffet lunch at lola Lily’s house, slurping down the best seafood soup I’ve tasted in a long while and only nibbling at a one-by-one-inch square of the crispiest lechon skin ever. And then I saw it. There it lay, glorious peaks of sugared egg whites with the most perfect tan color, as if it was kissed gently by the Negros sun. A lake of crème Anglaise nestled among the meringues. This sumptuous-looking confection was irresistible to even someone void of a sweet tooth like myself. Just at that moment, my fears were confirmed. Bye, bye, diet! Hello, Bacolod!

As if the crazy buffet of talangka-filled crab, oozing with orange goodness, the softest of all lengua ever, and lola Lily’s world-class natilla wasn’t enough, during our little trip visiting the old homes in Silay, we passed by El Ideal, apparently an institution in all these local chichirya. As soon as we entered, my siblings and I were like kids let loose in a candy shop grabbing and snatching off the racks all the snacks and biscuits we used to eat for merienda brought back by our Ilongga manangs, indays and yayas as

Seafood soup at lola Lily’s house

pasalubong from their vacations during our Manila childhoods. Big smiles spread across their faces. “Remember mango tart?” “Lola’s was the best!” “Wow! Barquillos! Piaya! Otap!” “What’s this? Squid rings? Oooh… pan de leche!” We left the store with four giant supots full of assorted fattening concoctions enriched with very fond childhood memories.

Not to brag, but my mother has itchy feet and loves to travel. From the age of three years old I traveled all over Europe, have been to parts of Latin America, around Asia and crossed the USA. I lived almost six years in France eating beautiful food in all sorts of restaurants and today, I have to ask myself, why have I never tried diwal? In this charming Bacolod spot, Resto Grill sa Baybay, I had a food revelation. Peering into a glass aquarium filled with strange-looking creatures like long clams with a rather vulgar white things poking out, I asked our good family friend Anton what is that and I want to eat it! True enough, Dr. Marichi Ramos prepared us an amazing seafood feast and a whole platter of grilled diwal appeared before me — slightly burnt shell, tenderly smelling of the grill and the faint essence of atsuete oil that they’re so fond of here. The ocean’s goodness burst in my mouth, sweet and plentiful. Ngaa karun lang kita nagkilala? (Why did I only meet you now?)

Bright and early the next day, I couldn’t resist sneaking in two spoonfuls of garlic rice to pair with the crispy danggit and suka. In Kabangkalan, tita Diday brought me back to the 1980s when softdrinks were still in little bottles and shamelessly served with sugared, fluffy ensaymada, sweet and savory cheese rolls and true-blue puto and cheese. We were all drinking our, non-diet “soda pops,” eating overly sugared, butter carbo-loaded morning snacks trying to imagine our dad as a child swimming in the ilog (river) behind the house with big, fat smiles on our faces. Twenty minutes later we were all munching on bowls of boiled peanuts, crunchy corniks and deep-fried goodies at the San

Lola Lily and her famous natilla

Isidro compound of the Vidaurazaga family, where my dad was actually born in a house that once stood where their pelota court is now.

I have no childhood memories in Negros, as growing up my family already migrated to Manila and Bukidnon, but it almost seems like déjà vu being here as my infancy was nourished with crazy stories of how my Basque abuelito would get together with his compatriots and speak Euskerra trying to figure out how to overthrow the Franco regime from the vast, lush sugar plantations of the Visayas; anecdotes of my brothers’ childhood here playing with other relatives; the image of my dad going to school in tsinelas with the children of sugar farmers; and that famous story of my six-foot-two great-grandfather whom they used to call Don Felix, riding around the plantation on his horse and how he looked remarkably like my nephew… It seems like this missing piece of me was finally found and for a child of the very globalized Generation Y, I feel much closer and prouder of my ancestral heritage. There is a feeling so different and extremely touching when history becomes tangible… and even more so when it’s edible! Sentimentalizing in the bus, our family decided we would make our own historical cookbook, so I will be definitely back here very soon for some R&D. Kanamit diri sa Negros!

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Resto Grill sa Baybay is located in Bredco Port, Bacolod City, tel. 034- 457-2742.

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You can reach me at stephanie_zubiri@yahoo.fr.

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