Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4 (NIV)
THAT is indeed God’s truth. But while we are in this earth the Lord has gifted us not only with the bread we need to sustain our temporal bodies but with a variety of ways by which to enjoy his blessings. Thus, the rich heritage of bread variants made to warm perfection, a warmth both in body and spirit as NVM Gonzalez captures in his childhood memories, heading home from the bakery with the ubiquitous pandesal:
The bread of salt! How did it get that name? From where did its flavor come, through what secret action of flour and yeast? At the risk of being jostled in the counter by early buyers, I would push my way into the shop so that I might watch the men who, stripped to the waist, worked their long flat wooden spades in and out of the glowing maw of the oven. Why did the bread come nut-brown and the size of my little fist? And why did it have a pair of lips convulsed into a painful frown? In the half light of the street, and hurrying, the paper bag pressed to my chest, I felt curiosity a little gratified by the oven-fresh warmth of the bread I was proudly bringing home for breakfast.
The Bread of Salt
The book Panaderia: Philippine Bread, Biscuit and Bakery Traditions was launched one hot May Sunday in Powerbooks, Greenbelt Mall in Makati. As described in its Facebook invite page:
Panaderia: Philippine Bread, Biscuit and Bakery Traditions is a documentation of the stories behind the making of Philippine bread. The book follows the tale of the bread from bakery to dining table. It celebrates our tinapay (bread), tinapayan (bakery), and magtitinapay (baker). The book leads us inside the panaderia or bakeshops from north to south of the Philippines, both traditional and new, tracing how time and the economy have changed the way the panadero baked our breads.
Panaderia is written by Amy Uy and Jenny Orillos with recipes by Jill Sandique, edited by my sister Micky Fenix and published by Anvil. Many more credits are due in putting together this extensive coverage, but I will leave that to the book reviewers because, as of this point, I have not read a single word of the book.
I have, however, quite pleasantly discovered by attending the book launch how much personal history I have with many of the subjects of the book that set up their goods in the event, the bakeries that have touched my life and that of my loved ones through the half century of my existence.
First, there is Kamuning Bakery, founded and run by the Javiers. I knew Beth Javier and was some sort of a barkada fixture in that bakery in my student days. Their standout was the Pan de Suelo, a crustier and larger pan de sal celebrated by the late Doreen and Willie Fernandez.
In very recent times the time worn Kamuning Bakery and its original wood fired brick oven was revitalized by another good friend, Philippine Star business columnist and real estate broker Wilson Lee Flores, who brought the valuable corner property along Judge Jimenez St. in the central Kamuning area of Quezon City and decided to breathe new life into the heritage venture. This was such a pleasant surprise to me as the meeting of the two separate worlds I lived in suddenly met and was made whole.
And, as the indefatigable Wilson would tell everybody who would care to listen, he and I share a birthday – March 20 – the day he proudly opened to the public a full service coffee shop and restaurant as part of Kamuning Bakery.
Then there is Merced Bake Shop, owned by Dr. Mila Sevilla. She was a very good friend of my parents and Godmother to my sister Micky. Out of the many goodies the bakeshop has I grew up loving the soft, buttery Bonete and the chocolatey Beehive.
We would sometimes have breakfast in their EDSA, QC place – corned beef, egg and fried rice with brewed coffee – and at most times take home many Filipino countryside goodies that are supplied to them by the best makers around the country. One of which is the pastillas de leche from Bulacan, wrapped in white paper and packed neatly in small boxes. But these were no ordinary ones. They were made of real carabao’s milk and were thumb-sized, not those little pinky-sized ones that got lost amid all the paper wrapper.
At 90 years of age, Dr. Sevilla still goes to the provinces herself to purchase the best Filipino goodies to put in her store.
It was in Merced where my (then future) wife and I had our three tiered wedding cake made. It caused a bit of a debate because we wanted their delicious chocolate cake beneath the white fluffy icing, but Sevilla would have none of it because she thought it would not look pretty if a dark color would emerge during the cake cutting ceremony. So we had a compromise: the two bottom tiers of the cake would be our favorite chocolate while the top tier would be white chiffon and we would reach up to cut it.
We were so happy that when it was our turn in the food business we recommended Merced to supply the cake for the wedding we catered for the late reggae singer Papa Dom of Tropical Depression.
Tinapayan Festival Bakery was also in the Panaderia book launch. And why not, since its owner, Chito Chaves is probably best known to the public as the face of the bakers’ association, coming out on TV news every so often to dispel the negative effects of flour price fluctuations on the daily pandesal.
But I first met Chito and his bakery under a different, more pleasant circumstance. I interviewed him on radio after I learned from former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo herself that she would have the Malacañang household purchase ensaymada from Tinapayan during her stay in the palace.
Finally, there was Panaderia Dimas-alang. I neither knew the owner nor the bakers, except that it was very new our Pasig home when my wife and I just married. Dimas-alang is one of the oldest in the Philippines, and one fine evening we took a stroll and found ourselves staring at a sign on its glass escaparate, handwritten with pentel pen on a piece of white box cardboard: “Hindi Ko Akalain.”
Ano yang “Hindi Ko Akalain?” we asked the girl behind the counter. She grabbed one plastic bag from behind and showed it to us while singing what sounded like a soap opera sad song: “Hindi ko akalaing matigas palaaaaaahhhhhh…”
It was some sort of jacobina, a toasted hard layered biscuit that was extra crunchy that softens as you soak it in your mouth or in a cup of hot coffee or cocoa.
Yes, the warmth of experience among the oldest and best bakeries in the country, though I am truly excited to read and learn more from Panaderia the book. It should be one happy journey.