The Sweet, Pulsating Life in the Heart of Sugarlandia

July 3, 2017

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So this is Bacolod where they say you can hear the heartbeat of Sugarlandia that is Negros Occidental. Barely an hour’s plane ride from Manila gets you to Silay City where rows and rows of sugarcane fields line the roads leading to Bacolod City. Now I know why Negros is called the sugar bowl of the Philippines and where the sugar that sweetens my morning coffee probably comes from.

A taste of Bacolod

After a breezy, no-fuss check-in at Sugarland Hotel, my sweet home away from home, I step out to take in more of what Bacolod has to offer. But of course, our first stop is where tourists go for their first taste of honest-to-goodness chicken inasal. I’ve tried Bacolod inasal in Manila, so I wonder how this chicken with an attitude tastes like where it comes from. But first, we decide on which chicken place to go as there’s quite a lot in the city. A popular choice is Chicken House on Lacson Street where countless inasal orders fly off the kitchen counter day after day. We each order a pechopak (breast and chicken wing) on a stick. I must say this is the real deal, nothing like what we have in Manila. It’s so much meatier, juicier, and tastier — and fall-off-the-bone tender! Imogene Kana-an, a native Bacolodnon, shares the secret of the authentic inasal: It’s marinated overnight in soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger. As if it’s not tasty enough, you dip your inasal in your DIY sauce of toyo, sukang sinamak, kalamansi, and siling labuyo. It’s perfect with steamed rice generously crowned with toasted garlic bits over which you pour some chicken oil while it’s hot. You can slather your rice with oil if you like, just don’t say we didn’t warn you about the cholesterol! And this is just the first leg of our culinary expedition, which is what you’re bound to do in Bacolod. Tip: A must in your eat-inerary is a visit to Sharyn’s Cansi House The Best In Town (so the signage says and they don’t disappoint) on Narra Avenue — its cansi (the Bacolod version of bulalo) was named one of the top street foods in the world.

Because sugar is the main industry here, you can imagine the number of bakeries and cake shops vying for your sweet tooth in every nook and cranny of the city. There’s the very popular Calea on 14th Street for those sinful, fancy cakes that’ll make you swear off your no-sugar diet. There’s more to cater to your sweet cravings: Felicia’s, Bob’s, Merzci, to name a few. If it’s good coffee you want, try Kuppa at Capitol Shopping Center — it boasts 60 years of coffee roasting experience. And then there’s Quan on La Salle Avenue, right across La Salle so it’s a popular hangout of students who enjoy its affordable meals (you can have them to go, too) like dinuguan, chicken arroz caldo, palabok plus a whole shelf of cakes and native goodies — try the panara (empanaditas stuffed with togue) and the famous napoleones (Danish pastry with caramel filling). If it’s native pasalubong (Bacolod’s famous barquillos, bañadas, biscocho, pacencia, tarts, etc.) you’re looking for, enjoy last-minute shopping at BongBong’s or Merzci at the airport (they have a store across each other) before your flight home. If it’s good bread and good old Bacolod pastries like fresh-off-the-stove piaya you want, head over to El Ideal in Silay City, a family legacy of Silay’s original bakery (since the 1920s), so Mark Sanchez, a third generation panadero, tells us. Don’t leave the place without ordering the guapple pie made of fresh guava the size of an apple, which you can pair off with a glass of refreshing Malunggay Cooler, a delightful blend of Moringa and lime.

Did you know …

Bacolod is an affluent, vibrant city where people work hard and play hard. Did you know that there are polo matches held here? In nearby Talisay City, you can take riding lessons at the Happy Horse Equestrian Center and explore the countryside on horseback.

Did you know that Bacolod has three world-class golf courses where international competitions are held?

Did you know that Silay City is called the Paris of Negros? If you love Paris in the springtime, you’ll love Silay any time of the year!

Did you know that Bacolod is also known as Convention City? The National Convention of Tour Guides is set to be held here.

Did you know that there are probably as many SUVs (sports utility vehicles) here as you’ll find in Manila? That there’s a Ducati and a BMW showroom here? That there’s a Bangko Central here?

Did you know that McDonald’s opened its first store outside Manila in Bacolod?

Did you know that Bacolod has the only vintage glasses museum in the country? This gem of a rare museum houses 3,000 glass pieces (including colored Depression glasses used during America’s depression years, 1904-1940, Victorian lamps, decanters, dinnerware, etc.) collected over the years by Bacolodnon Tomas Claridad Casiano while working as a floral designer for the rich and famous in Beverly Hills, California.

Did you know that although there’s traffic in the city, it’s so much more manageable because the streets are set up like grids so that traffic flows smoothly. And to decongest traffic, buses are not allowed in the city. Certainly, we have a lot to learn from Bacolod when it comes to traffic management (and discipline?).

Most livable city

The quality of life in Bacolod is such that it was named by a newspaper as The Most Livable City.That’s probably the reason why people smile the sweetest in this City of Smiles. And with this warm smile, they welcome the visitors to their city who often end up with a smile in their hearts.

This multi-awarded city has also been named The Best City to Live in the Philippines, Top Philippine Model City, and Most Business-Friendly City (as cited by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry).

“The people of Bacolod are very happy and fun-loving,” says City Administrator Atty. Juan Orola, Jr. with a smile as bright as sunshine. “We may not have the beaches but once motivated, the people can create activities that can endear the Negrenses to a lot of people.”

One such endearing activity is the well-cherished MassKara Festival held every October. But beneath the happy, colorful mask is a sad, tragic tale. Originally, it was meant to commemorate the sinking of Don Juan in 1980, where some Negrenses, including the wife to the then mayor, perished. MassKara means the faces of the masses.

“There is the emergence of a strong middle class where entrepreneurship is increasing the quality of life while the livelihood programs of Mayor Evelio Leonardia and assistance to the marginalized have created that kind of system where the currency or money evolves in the lives of the people, including the sugar workers who now earn a minimum wage of up to P12,000,” notes Atty. Orola.

In Bacolod, you’ll hear many an inspiring success story, like that humble piaya baker who started his business with just P2 in his pocket, a kilo of flour, and a pocketful of dreams.

Atty. Orola adds, “The continuing pouring of investments in terms of infrastructure has given people opportunity to earn a good living so they can send their children to school, put food on the table and at the same time, there’s an extra mile for them to move in the city and enjoy life.”

A tale of two townships

With the brightest smiles on their faces and great expectations, Bacolodnons are indeed happy to welcome a lot of new developments to their city. They’re excited to hear about yet another big developer investing in their future and that of their city. Megaworld is putting up the Northill Gateway township in the Bacolod-Talisay boundary, part of which is Forbes Hill, Megaworld’s first upscale village outside Metro Manila. Aside from Northill Gateway, another Megaworld township is rising around the area soon.

The Bacolodnons were happy to welcome no less than Megaworld’s young big boss Kevin Tan who visited the 53-hectare site recently. “I’ve always loved Bacolod,” Kevin gushes. “I like the people here, they’re very warm, very well-travelled, very discerning, which makes for a great retail story for our lifestyle mall. I like the culture here, I like the environment.”

It will interest Bacolodnons to know that the Northill Gateway is inspired by their own beloved The Ruins, dubbed as the Taj Mahal of Negros. An enduring tourist attraction, The Ruins was once a stately mansion built by sugar baron Don Mariano Ledesma Lacson after his wife Maria Braga died in 1911. It was the largest residential structure at the time, with its imposing neo-Romanesque columns and two-inch-thick hard wood flooring. But during World War ll, the American USAFFE had to burn the mansion to prevent the Japanese from using it as their headquarters.

“We took a little bit of the architecture of The Ruins into our development,” Kevin describes. “We wanted Northill Gateway to be kind of an extension of The Ruins. And we’re building a church as well, sort of like an anchor for the development.”

Kevin further describes, “Northill is a sprawling, more exclusive, residential enclave, more of a town center concept to service residents in nearby communities.”

Of course, as in all Megaworld properties, Kevin stresses, “We’re devoting a large percentage to open space, 30-40 percent. Here, it’s more generous, more sprawling. Our roads are very wide. The main roads are about 20 meters wide, which is about six lanes, while the inner roads are about 12 to 15 meters wide, that’s about four to five lanes.”

Don’t be surprised if soon, all roads in Negros will be leading to Bacolod. Truly, Bacolodnons have a lot to smile about!

Source: Ching M. Alano of The Philippine Star

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