At long last, an alphabetical listing of the Sugar Sun glossary terms. Simply click on the graphic of your choice to open the annotated post in a new window. This list will be updated to include new terms as their posts are written.
I hope the posts are helpful in rounding out the historical context of the Sugar Sun series. If you have any suggestions or comments, please contact me through one of the methods to the left of this page.
Early on in Hotel Oriente, our heroine Della ventures to the most “swell” confectionery in Manila, Clarke’s Ice Cream Parlor:
Located at the entrance to Escolta, Manila’s Fifth Avenue, the establishment proudly proclaimed its name on both the roof and on a half dozen oversized awnings facing every direction. Even without the signage, the place was clearly marked by a large crowd. The spacious wood-paneled room was full of businessmen and civil servants from all over the islands, officers of the army and navy, and tourists from half the world.
Clearly, M. A. “Met” Clarke, a native of Chicago, knew an opportunity when he saw it. In August 1898, only four days after the landing of American soldiers in Manila, he arranged a long-term lease in this fashionable shopping district. As one visitor wrote:
To the American bred boys in khaki, the place quickly became known as an oasis in a desert. Weary, thirsty, hungry, and wet with perspiration, the commands coming from or going to the firing lines halted there long enough to quench their thirst or to fill the aching voids. Incidentally, the soldiers helped Clarke along by spending their money freely.
Later Clarke would sublet a slate of rooms on the second floor, and his monthly income from these rents would pay his entire annual premium. But Clarke could not have been so successful if his food had not been exceptional. Fortunately, it was.
Clarke’s was the place to find the best gingerbread, the best candy, and the best pink (condensed milk) ice cream in Manila—and maybe in all of Asia, according to the foreigners who lived there.
Despite being an ice cream and soda fountain, though, Clarke’s real claims to fame seemed to be bread and coffee. Clarke had three 16 x 18 foot ovens that turned out 36,000 pounds of bread a day. For our character Della, the value of fresh bread cannot be underestimated: “After three days of the atrocious food at the Hotel Oriente, her stomach almost jumped out of her throat to lay claim to a loaf.” (See more on the hotel’s disappointing food in the American era in the next post.)
Moreover, the coffee was locally grown in Luzon and roasted by Clarke himself. (I used to have a farm in Indang, Cavite, and they still grow beans in town and dry them out on every road and driveway available.) But don’t take my word for it. Read a contemporary account:
Clarke’s Coffee!—its delicious and aromatic flavor is suggestive of Arabian poetry and romance of deserts and camels of swift steeds and beautiful women. The beverage itself exhilarates you, gives you a feeling of buoyancy. Perhaps you are a connoisseur of coffee, and during your travels in Oceania or China you have been nauseated with the horrible concoctions served to you in hotels and on steamers—the vile black liquid that they call coffee. If you are, Clarke’s is the place for you. The coffee served to you there, nicely, daintily, temptingly, will make you smile with satisfaction, and you will begin to understand how the Americans do some things in Manila.
Clarke would have been the next Midas of Manila had he “not been a plunger,” according to the Magazine of Business account. He made and lost a fortune in gold mining and hemp-stripping machines. But this is the way of the early American period in the Philippines. Respectable businessmen (and women) had no reason to cross the Pacific. Those who did make the trip were often hucksters, carpetbaggers, and scoundrels. Clarke seemed one of the better of the lot, since he was not implicated in the quartermaster embezzlement scheme that rattled Manila in 1901 (and was the inspiration behind the scandal in Hotel Oriente):
Of course, Moss, our hero of Hotel Oriente, is not so certain that Clarke is innocent, just that he is crafty: “As if the police would know where to look,” he says. “That man has more warehouses than the Army itself.”
Sadly, Clarke’s empire was only to last until about 1911, when his losses in the mining industry sent him swimming back to California. Or did he really leave? Maybe he just changed his name to Starbuck…
Javier approached her, but she was too engrossed in her study of the food to notice. He positioned his chin behind the nape of her neck. “Bodbod,” he whispered.
Georgina spun so fast that she lost her balance. Javier steadied her before she could crash into the table and ruin the peddler’s week of hard work. She recovered, though he suspected her heart was racing. She pulled her wrist away from him before he could count the beats.
Javier handed some change to the vendor and took the sweet in question. “Bodbod,” he explained. “It is made of sticky rice and chocolate. Here. You will like it.”
She tore off a small piece and held it up for further inspection.
“Really,” he said, trying not to laugh. He counted off the ingredients on his fingers. “Rice, coconut milk, sugar, salt, and chocolate. No tricks, I swear.”
Needless to say, Georgina liked the bodbod. I mean, what’s not to like? Sticky rice with mango alone was responsible for a fifteen-pound weight gain back when I was 19. Add chocolate to that mix? I’m a goner.
I was inspired to write this post because Suzette sent me a picture of a the Budbud-Kabog stall in Legazpi Market in Makati, and I got all jealous, like Fifty Shades of Green. And the owner is from Bais! And he has sugar baron stories! I’ve got more research to do…checking PAL fares now.
Anyway, bodbod was one of the highlights of my research trip to Bais, Tanjay, and Dumaguete. Apparently, I’m not the only one: Andrews Calumpang wrote a song about the delight, entitled “Ang Budbud sa Tanjay.” Tanjay even has a festival to bodbod every third week in December, where they make the world’s biggest bodbod (80 kilos) and the world’s smallest (fits in a matchbox).
If you’re new to street food, you’ll notice the eco-friendly banana leaf packaging. Given my fight to extricate new earbuds out of their blister pack this morning, I think we should sell everything in banana leaves. According to Choose Philippines, the antibacterial properties of the coconut oil will keep the bodbod fresh for a week.
All signs point to bodbod! Fate wants me to eat all the sweet treats. It’s destiny!
Pan de sal. Salt bread, literally. Think of them as delicious little rolls that go with anything. My husband made pulled pork shoulder for an American Fourth of July while we lived in the Philippines, and I realized the pandesal was born to be a slider. It was like they were made for our cross-cultural family extravaganza.
Of course, they weren’t. They were made for the Almighty. The Spanish brought wheat flour to the Philippines because how else can you make a proper Christian host for communion without wheat? Early versions were cooked directly on the oven’s red brick floor, according to food historian Felice Prudente Sta. Maria. This method gave the bun a crisp hard shell.
Americans, though, introduced metal pans in the name of hygiene, it is said, resulting in the softer bun which still dominates today. (They also introduced a reliance on American wheat by eliminating tariffs on US goods coming into the Philippines while still charging tariffs on Philippine goods sent to the States. A good old double-standard, but I digress.) Either way, the original pandesals were larger: 9 to 15 centimeters long, 7 to 9 centimeters wide, and 4 to 6 centimeters thick (according to a source in Sta. Maria’s fantastic book, The Governor-General’s Kitchen).
These days, a typical pandesal is about the size of a fist—or the maximum amount of bread you can stuff in your mouth at one time. I’ve tried. Instead of salty, they also tend toward the sweet, some being made with milk or even condensed milk. (This is similar to a Portuguese sweet bread roll, probably an ancestor or cousin of the pandesal.) Finally, they are rolled around in bread crumbs before baking, which gives it a great texture.
They are lovely for dipping in Spanish tsokolateor coffee or anything you want. They are considered by many as the national bread of the Philippines. When fresh and hot, they are manna from heaven.
To be honest, I’ve known very few Filipino vegetarians, though maybe it’s simply the company I keep. This does not mean that I’m a huge fan of roast suckling pig, or lechon, but I see its attraction.
To appreciate the Filipino national dish, you have to be willing to see your animal go from farm to table right in front of you. (And for that, I must apologize for the featured Creative Commons photo by whologwhy.) I’ve used a photo below of how the lechon would likely be served to you, cut right off the pig after being roasted on a spit for hours.
Typically, the younger the piglet, the more fatty and therefore the more prized the lechon. Personally, I prefer more meaty lechon, which my barkada (my peeps) took as evidence of my poor taste. I let them have the lechon while I slyly ate all the kinilaw na tanigue (ceviche Spanish mackerel) or fresh lumpia (spring rolls), among other dishes.
The lesson is this: do not disparage Filipino food. Anthony Bourdain has visited the islands twice—most recently this past month—and he called the local lechon the “best pig ever.”