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Mascara dancers greeting tourists at the airport

Touring the Diverse City of Bacolod

By Ria de Borja

Our first stop in Silay was Casa A. Gamboa, a slow food venue headed by Reena Gamboa, the granddaughter of legendary food critic Doreen Fernandez. The menu included homemade kesong puti and chicken and pork adobo pandesal with batwan, a souring agent often used in Negros Occidental. Blue crabs, known for their delicate flavor, were also served. We were told blue crabs are included in the Ark of Taste, a global slow food movement that lists food in danger of becoming extinct (much like animals). Other food items on the menu were panara, a pastry made with mung bean sprouts, and puto lanson, composed of cassava, coconut milk and glutinous rice. Piaya made from muscovado sugar–another ingredient listed in the Ark of Taste–finished the meal.

DOT Secretary Christina Garcia-Frasco was present, as were the Vice Mayor of Silay, Honorable Thomas Maynard Ledesma, and the Congressman of the third district of Negors Occidental, Jose Francisco “Kiko” Benitez. We listened to speeches encouraging the use of slow food and ingredients that are in danger of disappearing from the planet–so that they may be replanted by farmers and other stakeholders and live on.

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From top L-R: Delicious Empanada, Paiya, putong Ube, dish from Casa A. Gamboa

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Bacolod City Mayor Javi Benitez

Our next stop was the Hawaiian Philippine Company, where we rode steam locomotive trains traversing sugarcane fields. It was a fun experience and made us imagine what it was like decades ago when these trains were first built. We were shown a video of the sugar mill’s history and how they produce sugar. There was also a demonstration of how muscovado sugar is made as we sipped on thirst-quenching and delicious sugarcane juice.

We were then taken on a short tour of the Don Papa Rum distillery. Don Papa’s Masskara rum, according to the Don Papa website, is “inspired by the masked fiesta and fantasy-filled Masskara Festival.” The Masskara festival in Bacolod, held annually, is a fantastic and joyful celebration that has been around since the 1980s. 

From Silay, we traveled to Bacolod City’s Bantug Lake Ranch. Bantug Lake Ranch includes boating, horseback riding and swimming among its activities. After a speech by Mayor Albee Benitez, with Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, Mayor Javi Benitez, Congressman Kiko Benitez, Congressman Greg Gasataya, Vice Mayor El Cid Familiaran and Bacolod City Councilors Em Ang and Jason Villarosa in attendance, we were treated to a fantastic lunch. 

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Lechon on a spit, a Bacolod specialty: Kadyos, baboy and langka or KBL, delicious chicken inasal

The menu was long and inviting. First were the appetizers, which consisted of apan apan or sauteed water spinach with bagoong, soy sauce and vinegar topped with crispy pork, ensalada nga langka which had ginger, onions and chili, and classic atchara. Next were the soups of KBL (kadyos, baboy and langka) and inubaran nga manok, which is made of chicken and banana pith with coconut milk, a souring agent, lemongrass and batwan. The main courses consisted of Bacolod chicken inasal, inasal nga isol kag isaw or chicken butt and intestines, and lechon baboy–all matched with atsuete rice. Dessert comprised of diet-busting cake samplers from famous pastry shops in the city, including Café Bob’s, Felicia’s Pastry Shop and Calea Pastries. We were also served piaya, napoleones and sorbetes ice cream. We were stuffed silly and felt happy.

But it was time to head to the next stop, the Bacolod City New Government Center. Amidst a beautiful local government building, there were spaces to stroll, jog or just enjoy the breezy setting. The area also has street food, perfect to munch on just before plopping down and watching the sunset. We were treated to lively entertainment of Masskara dancers and a turnover of a token from Bacolod City to Secretary Frasco.

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Sculpture in the City

Afterward, we took a unique art tour of the Orange Project and Art Gallery and its surrounding areas. According to its website, “Orange Project is one tangible contribution towards the elevation of arts consciousness in Negros. Its mission is both simple and complex. It is expanding creative potentials in a flexible space that has blossomed into an art hub. It is exploration, collaboration, explosion, reflection, and cross-discipline. It is art with no fear. And fun.” There were art installations and paintings on the two levels of the gallery, and the streets in the area were painted with murals and adorned with sculptures. We were given an art activity to add to the fun: paint your own mask. Of course, many of us tried to copy Masskara dancers’ looks, often with hilarious results.

Time was limited and we were unable to visit the Association of Negros Producers showroom. We were informed that it contained a vast display of items manufactured in Negros and was a must-visit for those coming to the area, with furniture, food, masks and other exciting items perfect for pasalubong.  

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Singers and dancers at the Governor's Ball

It was almost time to bid Bacolod goodbye, and our last visit was also the most special of the entire Western Visayas tour. We were invited to the Negros Occidental Capitol Social Hall to participate in the Governor’s Ball. The theme was ‘Old Negros’ and the prescribed attire was dark-colored ternos. Guests were treated to rondalla performers in the lobby while sipping on delicious cocktails.

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Clockwise from top: Chief Tourism Operations Officer Maria Teresa Q. Manalili, DOT Secretary Christina Frasco giving a speech, VIP guests at the Governor's Ball, DOT Secretary Christina Frasco. sitting.

Governor Lacson and DOT Region VI’s Regional Director Cristina Marlene Rodriguez introduced the keynote speaker, Secretary Frasco. There was a fantastic dinner of Negrense dishes and a cultural performance amidst a backdrop of leaves and flowers projected onto the walls. The setting and clothing of the performances were reminiscent of the golden age of Negros. The evening ended with a showcase of fireworks, and our eyes and hearts burst while the love for Negros Occidental was on a fantastic display. The campaign slogan didn’t need to be said; we all truly felt love for the Philippines at that moment.

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