There are places you want to go back. The people, the culture, their food, are more than enough reasons to return. Bacolod is one of them and has been on my places-to-visit-before-I-die-list for so long and one visit made me long to go back even if the plane has not departed yet.
Bacolod City is located in the northern part of the Negros island in the Visayas part of the Philippines, and very near Cebu, the hub of central Philippines. I have always known Bacolod as the sugar capital of the Philippines because books from the elementary years taught me that Bacolod has vast plains of sugar plantations, so vast you can see sugarcane to no end.
But when I went there I could hardly see plantations of sugarcane.
But when I went there I could hardly see plantations of sugarcane.
Bacolod means a hilly place, a stonehill or as the Boholanos called it, bakilid. But far from its original meaning, it has become a modern city in a wide and sprawling space. The City of Smiles, as the city is fondly called, is known for its Masskara Festival and would not only offer smiles and a masked hospitality but a real down-to-earth joviality never found elsewhere.
FIRST TIME KO
My first taste of Bacolod was at Aboy’s (Liroville Subd., Singcang, Bacolod City; Phone: +63 34 435 0760; Resto Hours: Mondays to Saturdays, 9:00 am–11:00 pm), an impressive restaurant with a lot of my favorite decorative pieces- masks. I felt at home right away at Aboy’s.
From the tales of our guide, Aboy’s used to be a small eatery but with good food and good service, the eatery became a full restaurant equipped with function rooms. A bigger place for bigger groups of hungry patrons means their business is doing well.
They offer an authentic array of Negrense cuisine combined with the fierce Ilocano recipe giving way to a new and different Aboy’s experience.
|Having a hard time choosing our food at Aboy's|
We feasted on squid fat adobo (a must at Aboy’s), ginataang pague (stingray in coconut milk), grilled manumbok (blue marlin), mushrooms, Bicol express and grilled squid. We capped our lunch with a complimentary tarragon tea and a little chitchat with the owner, yes, the guy called Aboy, who used to be a medical representative.
|The man himself, Aboy|
After our lunch has settled in a more comfortable position, my host, Lee Santiago, brought us to the old capitol building to visit a non-government organization he has been helping to promote their products, a real NGO that needed assistance, that has likewise been helping SMEs in the province. We actually bought some coffee and other goodies from them.
We then walked around Bacolod’s mini zoo ending at Bacolod’s Organic Market and the Museum Café nearby.
|Organic halo-halo at Bacolod's Organic Market|
Somewhere in B.S. Aquino Drive, if I remembered it right, there is this little restaurant called Carmine Cucina that is owned by an Italian chef, Carmine Pece.
|Chef Carmine Pece|
Not minding the tacky décor for an Italian resto, the food at the Cucina was my first taste of an authentic Italian cuisine, as the owner claimed, and they were actually good! My firsts- Gnocchi, Trippa, Salsiccia Padella, Linguini Pescatora, Pizza Caprecciosa, Zuppa Inglese. Godetevi il vostro cibo! Buon appetito!
TASTE OF NEGROS
You can never really claim you have been to Bacolod if you have not tasted cansi. Cansi is actually a soup made from bony parts of beef slowly cooked with batuan (Garcinia binucao) and other spices. The prized part is the bone where the marrow is invitingly tucked inside making the cansi not just a heart warmer but also a heart stopper, literally.
|Waiting for cansi to be served|
We went to Sharyn’s (Capitol Shopping Center, Bacolod City, Phone: +63 34 433 1374), a no-nonsense restaurant that reminded me of downtown Cebu. Only this one was cleaner. The staff might have wondered who we were because we arrived late, rowdy and curiously taking pictures of the bone marrow and nobody dared smile to us.
|I cansi clearly now|
Sharyn’s cansi and all other cansi around town is a sour bulalo version, the hours of cooking and heating the beef bones made the meat and tendons soft and easy to chew. The batuan may have made a difference of this stew. They seemed to have an abundant supply of cansi soup.
Then we made it to the Manokan Country in Rizal Street for our dinner.
At Manokan was where the famous Aida’s Chicken is located. Aida’s owner may have been a fan of Miss Bacolod since I saw pictures of the candidates in one of the walls. Intricate masks fit for beauty pageants also were displayed at their stall.
|Pass Aida please. Yes, the chicken.|
We ordered different parts of the chicken and have them grilled. I did not find them extra-ordinary though. But I admire the enthusiasm and the vivacity of the place. It was like a big market place of grilled-something waiting for guests to bite on. Manokan Country is a must-visit.
CAPPING THE EXPERIENCE
A day tour around Bacolod and the nearby towns made me feel like I have visited the whole of Negros Occidental. Tasting food on our way to Mambukal Springs was an experience I could not have done anywhere else in the country.
But on our last night, a royal experience in the house of Millie Kilayko set my travel to Bacolod beyond imagination and at par with the show of Anthony Bourdain.
|Millie Kilayko, the lady in red|
Millie Kilayko is one of the most gracious hosts in the whole of Bacolod. She welcomed us to her lanai and let us have a tropical fruit punch with Negros rhum while we witness how a good binacol should be cooked. Binacol is one way of cooking soup inside young bamboo tubes that were surrounded by a generous amount of fiery charcoal. She let us opened the bamboo tubes and we were engulfed in the aromatic stew of lemon grass, spices, mushrooms, slices of chicken and smoke.
In the table upstairs, a different setting awaited for us. The fare included Bangus Spanish Style, Mamaita's Crackling Noodles, Adobong Pitaw, Lola Sayong's Mechado and Brown Rice. Pitaw, which were actually ricefield birds, was my favorite in the menu. That, besides the binacol.
|Getting the binacol out of the bamboo tube|
|Millie explaining her menu of the night|
|Beautiful setting at Millie's table|
As my ride waited for me, I rushed to Calea, perhaps Bacolod's most famous coffee and cake house, to taste their cakes before leaving the city. At the last minute. It was a cool morning and drizzling and the best time to gorge on sugar and coffee. I sinfully ordered their bestsellers, Blueberry Cheesecake and the specialty Chocolate Cake and a mugful of coffee.
It was like saving the best for last!
|To die for- Calea's Blueberry Cheesecake|
There are a lot of affordable accommodations in Bacolod. For this travel, I stayed at Saltimboca Tourist Inn along 15th-Lacson Sts.; Tel.No. (034) 432-3617, 433-3179. The place is clean and offers free WiFi connections. Your room accommodation has a free breakfast of your choice. Saltimboca is located in the center of Bacolod where a lot of restos and cafes are just a walking distance away.
We hire an air-conditioned van to get us to places. A van usually costs 2,500 pesos per day. You can have your travel agency contact and reserve one for you. Or if you have friends in Bacolod, ask them to do it for you.
The Bacolod airport is actually in Silay City, a good 30-min ride by private car. So if you are taking the public bus or jeep, be sure to estimate your travel time.
|A nice combo: Piayitos and Dulce Gatas|
Bacolod’s piaya (or piyaya) is actually very good when eaten fresh. There are home-baked versions in Silay as compared to heavily commercialized versions in souvenir stalls in Bacolod and at Silay airport. The Casa Carmela piayitos, small and crispy version of the piaya, is recommended. They are really good, especially the ones with mangoes in them.
Cebu Pacific flies to Bacolod from Cebu three times daily and six times from Manila.