I have written about food and eating habits here before, but food is such an intrinsic part of our culture and daily existence it deserves further discussion. I know from my own experience what it is like to live without foods we take for granted. Like bread made with salt and not sugar. If the French left anything of value when they decamped from Indo-China it was how to make great bread. Vietnamese bread shops abound in Sydney and they make excellent bread. American bread is also of the salt rather than sugar variety, as is Spanish bread. So what happened in da Pilippeens?
Sugar Is A Major Crop
The inclusion of sugar in nearly all Filipino baked goods is, I believe, due to two main reasons. First of all there is a lot of land growing sugar cane and it was a major crop that made many of the haciendero’s rich. Even today, most sugar cane land is owned by the wealthy oligarchy that owns most of the country. If you have a lot of something to sell then you need to find lots of ways to sell it, both as exports and for domestic consumption. Filipinos have very sweet teeth (or is that tooths?) and you can discover this for yourself when comparing their Coca-Cola to ours, or their spaghetti sauces.
The other reason is that bread is considered more of a snack food or ‘sweetmeat’. Pandesal buns are cheap and give you energy for a few pesos. Starch comes from rice or sweet potato so the carb intake relies on sugar laden foods. Kids don’t take sandwiches to school, they come home for a cooked meal of rice and fish or whatever. Bread is not a staple in the same way it is in western diets. But don’t you miss a good white loaf?
Finding Decent Bread
My very first trip to the Philippines found me ordering a club sandwich from room service and wondering if the ham was off. Something didn’t taste right. It took me a few plates over the time I was there to twig; it was the bread. I thought back then, 1989, how successful a decent bakery might be. When I lived in Cebu I used to get miffed when Gaisano’s bakery ran out of the ‘Farmer’s Loaf’, the only item among dozens of varieties of bread that tasted like western loafs.
I tried making my own, but lacking an oven, my micro-waveable unleavened bread flakes were something of a disaster, and still giggled over to this day by the asawa and anaks. My sister and brother in law once visited us in Cebu and she brought me two fresh white loaves, purchased that morning on the way to the airport. I had half of one at a single sitting, lashed with fresh, cold butter and the odd dollop of strawberry jam. It was bacchanalian, brutal to my arteries, but oh so good! You can get decent bread anywhere there are large numbers of kanos, like Angeles, Olongapo, Manila, Cebu and so on. But you do need to hunt around. Or better yet, why not simply get used to the local variety?
Perry Gamsby, D.Lit, MA(Writing), www.streetwisephilippines.biz, Dip. Mktg is a writer and lecturer who lives with his Cebuana wife and five Aus-Fil daughters in Western Sydney. The author of a series of best-selling ‘self-help’ books for expats and those married to Filipinas, he is also a Master of Filipino Martial Arts and a former World Stickfighting Champion who has lived, worked and vacationed in the Philippines since 1988. Perry and his family return to the Philippines on a yearly basis. You can read more of his writing on Philippines topics at
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