Whenever I visit a new place, the first things I do are, first, visit the local parish church (Roman Catholic), to say a prayer of thanks for a safe journey. And second, go to the street corner bakery to peruse the various local breads and pastries on display. And in most probability buy some samples, especially those which look unfamiliar to me, to refresh me after a tiring trip.
Churches and local bakeries are, for me, the best representatives of the culture of a particular town. Of course the public market is the best one, but I delay my visit to the market for a time when I have the luxury of slow indulgence, to be punctuated by lazy stops at every stall and seated vendor. And so churches and bakeries provide the first, micro-glimpse of the town's life.
The general state of upkeep or disrepair of a town's church says much about the citizens' religious fervor, particular devotions, and a slice of the town's economic strata. Bakeries, on the other hand, are almost always the first purveyors of the region's delicacies. They provide an unpretentious introduction of the local food scene. Before an intensified, full-pledged paglamon in a local eatery or restaurant.
As this is a food blog, I'm making it a personal project to document the many breads, cookies, biscuits, cake slices and sweets I've bitten into so far. And I'm starting with this post, but with something which most Filipinos are familiar with - that roll of moist, soft bread filled with a pudding of days-old bakery left-overs, dyed bright red to make it look like jam sandwiched in, as another food blogger put it.
All around the country I see this, in many variations - the pudding filling in striking bright colors of violet (to make it look like ube), yellow (pineapple or langka), even green (pandan) and brown (monggo). But more commonly it is red, and generally it is sweet and a clever way of using up the unsold pieces of the bakery's monay, mamon, putok, and what have you. So it is cheap, cheaper than most pandesal, although some hoity-toity bakeshops in Manila sell some for brazen amounts.
It is a common enough bread, not remarkable in taste, no spectacular characteristics, and sits low (probably at the bottom) in the regard of bread connoisuers. What is special about this bread, though - intriguing enough, even funny - is its name, with many permutations in each area of the archipelago.
In Pangasinan it is called kabukiran, innocently enough, so wholesome. It being called by a Tagalog term is a bit suspicious to me, but perhaps the Pangasinan equivalent word, kaálugan, is not as romantic nor as evocative. Although why it should evoke images of idyllic ricefields is beyond me. Strange, for a lowly bread.
When this promdi, probinsyana, country girl of a bread, goes to Manila, she is called lipstick. Still innocent enough, only pertaining to an everyday beauty accessory. Although the connotations, particularly of red lipstick, are something else, and not entirely naive.
In Bicol she gives ligaya, happiness or joy. That should still be above suspicion, but then again, when Filipinos hear the word ligaya the first thing that comes to mind is Filipino bold star Rosanna Roces in that long, circuitous movie called Ligaya ang Itawag Mo Sa Kin (Just Call me Joy). And it doesn't refer to a simple nickname.
Not content with being happy, the bread tries to abandon nightly wanderings and gets a daytime job, and so she becomes a kalihim, the Tagalog term for a secretary. But in the literal sense, kalihim means one who keeps secrets, or one with whom secrets are shared. Which gets interesting, for of course, the bread has a secret of its own - that filling of sweetened old rolls.
Of course, kalihim, or secretary, has dubious connotations, as well, like keeping dirty secrets, or being accomplice to suspicious transactions. And in the ordinary sense, secretaries are generally regarded by the chief's wife and the office staff as malandi, a flirt, who toys with her boss. Many Filipino sitcoms and movies have scenes of secretaries sitting on their bosses' laps.
And then all pretensions are stripped off, exposing all secrets. The bread is now alembong, wanton, a coquette.
Which, when it comes down to it, is how girls wearing red lipsticks are referred to, really. Something lowly, used, dirty, dressed up with bright hues.
In the Visayan region it becomes worse, for we now encounter no more euphemisms, but are faced with the stark boldness of her name - burikat, which refers to scum of the streets, a kalapating mababa ang lipad, a GRO, girl for hire.
It's fascinating how this bread is made and eaten in the entire country but acquire different names, and yet keep the general vein of its shady reputation. A pandesal is a pandesal, from Batanes to Jolo, from bite-sized to humongous, be it salty or sweet. But the name-game of the lipstick bread is from kabukiran to burikat. Wholesome to downright immoral. Does it speak of our judgemental attitude as a nation, if at all?
Or maybe our penchant for being stereotypical, labeling and categorizing everything and everybody. Or maybe, just our ability to find humor in the smallest detail.
But wait, there's more. In Tondo, that veritable land of impudence and tactlessness, it is called, cheekily, pan de regla. Tainted. Stained. Because the center is red and the bread looks like a sanitary napkin. I rest my case.
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*Update: Other names for this bread in other areas include bellas (Marikina), pan de pula, floor wax, pan de red around Metro Manila, pam-pam (Bacolod), and balintawak in Pangasinan.
The Tinapay Series
- Puto Seko (Laguna)
- Dealo Apas, Broas and Other Southern Tagalog Biscuits (Lucban, Quezon)
- Charito's Delights (Catbalogan, Samar)
- Half-Moon Cookie (Puerto Princesa, Palawan)
- Baker's Hill (Puerto Princesa, Palawan)
- Crema de Fruta
- Pedrito's/Jech (Dagupan City, Pangasinan)
- Napoleones (Bacolod City, Negros Occidental)
- Panaderia de Molo (Iloilo City)
- Pastel (Camiguin)
- Inipit (Bulacan)
- Cinnamon Swirl Loaf (Baguio City)