Bonkers For Buko Pie
- Catherine Jones () - June 15, 2008 - 12:00am

As a food writer, I sometimes have to ask myself just how far I am willing to travel to find the best of whatever it is I’m looking for. Well, for buko pie, the answer is exactly 38 miles, or about one and a half hours from Manila to Los Baños, Laguna, for a hot-from-the-oven Original Buko Pie. This may seem like a long journey for a piece of pie, but if you love buko pie as much as I do, it’s worth every minute and liter of gas.

I had never heard of buko pie before coming to the Philippines. My first encounter with this sweet concoction was driving home from a relaxing weekend in Tagaytay shortly after I arrived in this luscious land in 2005. As we were zipping along Aguinaldo Highway, my husband’s driver asked me the fatal question, “Ma’am, have you ever tried buko pie?”

“No,” I said, “but I’d like to.” And try it we did! We stopped at every buko pie shack along the road, including Colette’s, Neneng’s, and Lety’s. We’d come to a dust-flying halt, then I’d jump out of the car and buy at least three pies from each of the vendors.

When I got home, I unloaded my loot, and systematically arranged the pies on the kitchen counter. Formal taste-testing began. With my household staff, husband’s driver, and family as judges – a motley crew of about twelve people – we sampled every pie. About a million calories later, we all had different opinions for different reasons. I had decided that I liked Lety’s the best...until another fateful drive home, this time from Laguna to Manila in 2007.

Thelma Javier, my traveling companion, asked me if I had ever tried the Original Buko Pie of Laguna. My negative response prompted our car to screech to a stop across from the Soft Pillow Hotel and pull off to the side of the road. When I saw the queue of more than twenty people in front of a small take-out window, I figured something special was going on behind those walls. I was correct. In fact, The Original Buko Pie was so darn good, I just had to meet its creators.

Sol Pahud, the manager of the family business, agreed to talk with me. She greeted me at the side gate, and I entered a small courtyard bordered by flowering plants and shrubs and off in one corner, three cute though yappy dachshunds. We sat at a table shaded from the blazing sun by a big umbrella.

“How did the Original Buko Pie business start?” I asked Sol.

She credits its conception to her older sister, Nanette, who in March 1965, while in her late twenties, developed the Original Buko Pie recipe. “We belonged to a poor family and we wanted additional income. My eldest sister worked as a cook with the family of an American visiting professor at UP. The family taught her how to cook and bake, and she also went to school to learn how to make cakes. One day she got the idea to bake pies. She tried all kinds. The one that clicked was buko. We started the business 43 years ago with P2,500.”

And what makes their buko pie so much better than the rest?

“We only use natural ingredients. No preservatives. And we do everything by hand. No mixers. But what people say distinguishes our pies from the rest is the filling.” Sol gives me a coy smile, arousing my curiosity. I lean in closer to catch her every word.

“We only use coconut that is harvested the same day!” Sol emphasizes the word ”same.“ Let’s say, one day, we only get 1,000 coconuts, then that’s all the pies we are going to bake. When we run out, we run out.”

“How many pies do you bake in a day?” I asked.

“Our average daily pie count ranges between 500 and 1,000. But they are not all baked at once,” Sol quickly adds. “To start, we bake 100, and when we’ve almost sold out, we bake more. This way they are always hot and fresh. And this is one of the reasons why we don’t have any branches in Manila. The pies must be fresh.”

Next, we talked coconuts. Sol explains that the tender coconut meat she uses comes from 40-day-old coconuts harvested in Laguna (Region 4) and Batangas. She has stringent standards regarding the quality of the coconut meat she receives. “It has to be “mala-kanin,” she tells me, “like soft rice.” And, if it fails Sol’s quality-control check, because it is either too hard or not cleaned well enough, the vendor gets it back. The meat of four to five fresh coconuts goes into one Original Buko Pie – now that’s a lot of coconut!

Sol places a premium on all of her ingredients. Apart from inspecting every morsel of fresh coconut, she uses only top-quality products, such as Baron flour, fresh eggs, sugar, vegetable oil, and Alpine Full Cream Milk. In addition to buko, some of the other flavored pies and sweets for sale include pineapple pie (Sol’s personal favorite), tropical pie, a mix of pineapple and buko (my eight-year-old son’s favorite), buko-apple pie (also delicious) and cassava cake mixed with young coconut (a bit heavy for me).

The first shift of bakers start at 2 a.m. and the first pies emerge from the ovens at five. Forty-eight bakers make use of 30 ovens.

Kitchen tour time. I walk into the main kitchen and find muscular men mixing huge wads of dough by hand, rolling out the pie crusts, filling them, and popping them into the oven. It’s a beautiful sight and smell. But what impresses me most is the tangible passion of the bakers, who lean into the ovens to gingerly check their pies, or to gently remove the baked ones.

From the kitchen, we head to the coconut inspection area. “No other journalist has ever been back here,” Sol admits. “You are the first.” I thank her as I poke my head into immaculately clean storerooms. My gaze finally settles on five coconut inspectors, who are examining a new shipment. Another group is busy cutting mountains of snowy white coconut meat into small squares. Sol leans down and picks up two strips of coconut to show me the difference between the soft young meat and the tough older one. She is obviously proud of her efficient operation and her dedicated employees, who hold shares in the company. “The shares keep them committed and honest,” she says.

Twelve years ago, Sol’s sister Nanette, the creator of the Original Buko Pie, moved to San Francisco, where she still lives. “Whenever Nanette comes back here she is happy to see our progress. Of course, she gets an honorary income. After all, it’s HER original recipe!” Sol laughs. “You know, we tried changing it, but people complained. So, we went back to the original. Now, no matter what people say, we stick with the original. We can’t cater to everyone’s taste. We’ve learned to stick to our own.”

Sol’s other sister, Virgie, emerges from the main kitchen carrying a piping hot buko pie. We all sit down in the courtyard. She slices it. I take a bite. Yummmmm. The young coconut slides across my tongue as the perfectly flaky crust melts in my mouth. I hope they never change the recipe.

 

Contact: Original Buko Pie, National Highway, Brgy Anoa, Los Banos, Laguna 4030; tel 049-536-3783. Catherine Jones is an author and freelance food-travel writer who enjoys exploring the Philippines and meeting interesting people. Visit her web site at www.staybalanceddiet.com.

BUKO MSORMAL PIE SOL
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