A couple of boulangeries have recently opened in Manila (hello, Paul and Eric Kayser) and there’s even an honest-to-goodness New York-type of bagel place (you must try L.E.S. Bagels!). They’re typically located in the more upscale parts of the metropolis or posh shopping malls, but for homegrown types of bread, you only need to go to a panaderia or local bakery.
As someone who dearly loves bread, I grew up looking forward to merienda or after-school snack when my dad would buy something sweet or carb-y or both from the bakery three blocks away from the corner of our street in our old neighborhood in Manila. I loved it when we could go with him and I could inhale the wonderful aroma brought on by the mixture of flour, water, eggs, yeast, and shortening.
Behind the glass case of that corner street bakery would be trays of warm pan de coco, monay, putok, Spanish bread, those local sugared-dusted doughnuts, and ensaymada. The pan de sal would typically be at the back, freshly baked and waiting to be picked up and encased in a brown paper bag for you to bring home. There are many other types of bread in the baking scene now, probably considered more sublime, complex or even more mind-blowing (yes, I don’t doubt bread can be any of those things), but these ones from the humble neighborhood panaderia are likely the ones that have shaped many Pinoys love for bread and nourished many other kids during breakfast or merienda. It did that for me. And all I need now is a glass of Tang and my dad calling us to the table to have some bread.
Pan de sal. Here’s a staple in Filipino breakfast tables. It translates to “salt bread,” though this soft roll of bread dusted with crumbs on top is really a bit more sweet than salty and most of us Pinoys love to have it with our hot coffee. Or to slather it with butter and sugar, coco jam, corned beef, or even condensed milk. I’ve always been happy to put a slice of cheese in between and dip the whole thing in coffee (the few times I drink it), which I thought when I was growing up was what everyone else did. Until somebody told me otherwise and said it was weird. Weird and delicious, I say.
Pan de coco. My second favorite local bread pretty much sounds like the love child of a dinner roll and a macaroon. Pan de coco, which literally means coconut bread, is a dense bread roll with a sweet coconut filling.
Spanish bread. It’s a tie between pan de coco and this sticky sweet, buttery bread. It’s rolled, brushed with butter, topped with breadcrumbs and sugar, and coiled almost like a croissant. But like the pan de sal, eating it means finding your fingers covered in crumbs. But not all Spanish bread are created equal; the ones pictured above don’t have the satisfying sweet, buttery taste I remember (but I heard that the ones from Tito Panadero, a bakery in Pandacan, Manila, are really good and worth the drive).
Monay. I have a love-hate relationship with this bread roll, mainly because it was so dense and compact for my taste. But then my dad used it to make grilled cheese sandwiches (or more of monay-cheese sandwich and flatten the dense round bread on a frying pan with margarine) and in my head those were the best cheese sandwiches. It also made the perfect partner for ice cream sandwiches.
Putok. I always used to giggle when somebody in the house would ask who wanted putok or say, there’s putok on the table. Putok translates to explode, burst, crack, shot, or firecracker… you get the picture. But it also means body odor in Filipino slang and as a kid, of course you think of the gross meaning of a word first. But setting that non-appetizing image aside, putok is like monay‘s oddball relative. Its just as compact, dense and sweet, but it has a sugar-glazed star-cut or crown-shaped top (as if it exploded). The bakery pictured above is known for its putok. At 12 noon, the putok and pan de coco are taken out of the oven and most of the folks from a few hours ago, show up again for another round of carbo-loading. My kind of people.