Fly Cebu Pacific to Negros Occidental Where the Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary, and Rice Becomes Extra Rice

November 14, 2019

There are many things we locals take for granted like, for example, how our seafoods in Negros are fresh, our organic farms supply us pesticide-free produce, how our restaurant bills are so affordable, and our dishes so delicious. Our desserts are so heavenly that even angels want to visit because they feel at home among the delicate layers of napoleones, the buttery squares of masa podrida, the flaky pies of piaya and the compact clouds of polvoron. Yet, visitors will never forget the dizzying array of cakes and pastries so sinful that these will make angels cry.

The inimitable avocado mousse of ELG Foods
A barkada breaks bread at 26 Herb Garden for some organic food

Here, There, and Everywhere

As a tourist guide in Negros, I have often had guests say that they come here for a food trip. There was this family of 5 from Davao City who said, “This is our third trip. We’ve gone around most of the sites, so, this time, we’re here just to eat.” It was really a restaurant-hopping adventure for this family who conveniently flew in direct from Davao City via the thrice-weekly flights of Cebu Pacific.

Punong Gary’s Place soothes, de-stresses, and feeds hungry souls
Don’t you feel like Tarzan among the trees?

There was also a group of four Manila-based ladies – lovely, accomplished, well-bred and highly-educate – who were first-time travelers to Negros. They knew what they wanted and they knew where they wanted to go. Most of the day was spent, what else, eating, but these were not budget meals, mind you. They wanted to enjoy sumptuous meals in gorgeous settings. One of these meals was the 8-course lunch at “reservations only” Punong Gary’s Place. Set in the middle of fish ponds and mangroves and towering ficus trees, the girls had their welcome drinks and appetizers and salads and soups and main courses and desserts (My goodness, how did they stuff all these down their trim tummies?) The soup was a memorable squash soup forced through a sieve that was so smooth and fine that it caused a French guest to sigh, “Comme velour.” (Like velvet.)

Home-made bread at Punong Gary’s Place. Get ’em fresh!

It was easy for the ladies to eat their way around Negros for a day. They took the early flight in and the late flight out of the Bacolod-Silay Airport with Cebu Pacific’s 5J483 and 5J489. So, even if the Municipality of Manapla is a good 50-minute distance from Silay City, we had an unharried drive back from our Hda. Sta. Rosalia merienda of Manapla puto, fried ibos with chocolate eh, and diced, ripe luscious mangoes – all eaten in the lush private garden of Joey and Ina Gaston’s residence. This was a special arrangement from the usual dining room balcony at the Jose Gaston Mansion overlooking the 80-hectare hacienda.

The long table is laid out with our merienda at Hda. Sta. Rosalia.

Look, I didn’t mean to brag here (although we Negrenses are known for being immodest) but, really, we level up for guests who look for something special so that things become extra-special.

Slurping on a Shoestring

On the other hand, travelers will find that, to match Asia’s number one budget airline, delicious finds may be had in Negros so one can enjoy eating on a shoestring budget and still say, “Manamit! Delicious!” Look around public markets, one can start the day with a P10 cup of native brew and native delicacies such as but-ong (banana leaf-wrapped conical rice cakes with a hint of ginger), or ibos (sticky rice cakes wrapped in coconut fronds). In some side street in Negros, you’ll have barbecued pan de siosa, pull-apart bread skewered, basted with achuete oil, and grilled al fresco so that you might want to follow your nose and have the best of both worlds if you close your eyes – inasal that will make PETA proud.

The ibos is a versatile rice cake. Take it with a sprinkling of muscovado, or dipped in chocolate eh.
Coffee beans drying in the sun at Ma-ao, Bago City.

In a carinderia somewhere along busy commercial districts are plates of home-cooked dishes ranging from healthy vegetable stews called laswa to sauteed sliced amargoso with beaten egg to the chicken livers darkened from frying and bathed in an even darker sauce, to the numerous meat dishes with oil floating on the surface. Our sauced dishes are meant to be eaten with rice to temper their greasiness. But here’s the star of these carinderias – the cansi that is the Negrense version of the bulalao – such a diva it is that there are joints serving only this beef shank soup soured by the one and only batwan. You don’t need brains to say “utok” which refers to that creamy delightful bone marrow quivering in its bony cradle. For cansi, you don’t need just rice, but extra rice with the scalding hot broth waiting to be spooned onto that mound.

By the roadside of Calatrave are these P5.00 bingka

You’re done. You pay the bill. You and your friends share a secret smile. (Dessert?) Yes!!! A few months ago, one of you had booked the barkada during Cebu Pacific’s seat sale. Thanks to this friend, everyone still has enough for more sugary treats in the Land of Sweet Surprises. So, off you all go to a pastry shop where angels dance on slices of sans rival and the cheesecakes can put the devil to his knees.

Coffee steaming in our cups as the fog cools the air. *Precious*
Kusinata at Salvador Benedicto.