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Keeping pandesal traditions alive

Featured image- PandesalA hearty merienda of pandesal and pancit bihon

By Sol Vanzi | Images by Noel Pabalate

A simple but memorable Filipino merienda before the New Year led us to a remarkable community secret—an old bakery that has kept on going despite all odds, wars, upheavals, and a devastating fire. Faithful customers swear by its authentic pancit, pandesal, baked chicken, and classic Pinoy breads, which we ourselves enjoyed inside the quaint panaderia.

The medium bilao of perfectly seasoned Pancit Bihon or Canton Guisado costing less than ₱700 was supposed to be good for six to nine persons, but it was more than enough for 10. It came with a free bag of freshly baked pandesal, which was so perfect with the noodles that we ordered another bag of 10 pieces for ₱30 to enjoy our pancit pandesal sandwiches.

Winner chicken dinner

Deciding to turn the merienda into an early dinner, we ordered two whole roast chicken (costing ₱280 per piece) from the rotisserie and were pleasantly surprised at the dine-in prices. The chicken was the best I have ever had. The skin was evenly browned, the meat juicy and tender, and the marinade penetrated even the bones. We decided to buy a few to give away as gifts to friends and relatives.

Also big sellers that day were old-fashioned Pinoy breads like kalihim (with an ube version), and ensaymada, which came with a twist of caramel drizzle.

As old as the city

One of the oldest, most historic bakeshops in operation, the Kamuning Bakery Café opened in 1939 at the then newly established Quezon City upon invitation of newspaper publisher and the city’s co-founder Alejandro Roces (father of famous newspaper publisher and activist Joaquin Roces, or Chino, as he is fondly called).

Founded by Leticia Bonifacio Javier, it was acquired and revived in 2014 by Wilson Lee Flores, who was only a student when he first read about the place in the newspaper columns and books of the late food critic Dr. Doreen G. Fernandez.

More than bread

Under Flores, Kamuning Bakery Café has undertaken the following sociocivic and cultural projects— World Pandesal Day every Oct. 16, giving out free pandesal or breads and free medical, dental, or optical services to urban poor families, the nonpartisan Pandesal Forum to discuss issues, the donations of profits to poor rural communities nationwide, and the annual World Poetry Day held every March 21. All teachers are given special discounts in memory of the late outstanding educator and poet Mary Young Siu Tin.

A fire from a neighboring resto-bar on Feb. 6, 2018 burned down much of the original café, with the exception of the two pugon brick ovens, an old narra tree, and the establishment’s walls and facade. Despite the tragedy, the staff continued baking in a small townhouse nearby and selling on the sidewalk outside its ruins. Flores didn’t want 20 bakeshop employees to lose their jobs.

Inspired by the musical film The Greatest Showman, Flores resumed partial normal operations in the original space on Christmas Eve of 2018 under a big tent. “Every bread sold contributes to the future rebuilding and restoration of this establishment, and to our unique philanthropic endeavors,” Flores says.

Man with a mission

Flores himself is as remarkable as the neighborhood panaderia he saved. A writer, college teacher, real estate entrepreneur, poet, economics/politics analyst, and baker, he has won three Palanca Awards and a record of 15 Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA). This is the highest number in the history of Philippine journalism, meriting Flores three CMMA Hall of Fame Awards.

He bought and saved the now 80-year-old artisanal, traditional Kamuning Bakery Café due to his love of history and old-fashioned, traditional food. He has also started the non-partisan, issuesfocused Pandesal Forum, an intimate gathering where leaders and newsmakers dialogue with media and intellectuals.

“Kamuning Bakery Café is more than just a bakery, it is a cherished and well-preserved legacy,” Flores says.

Source: Manila Bulletin

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