Taste Test

Bongbong, Marby, Shamrock, and More: We Try 6 Brands of Otap

November 12, 2018

Within the realm of Filipino biskwit—distinctively local takes on biscuits or cookies, consumed as casual, barely-sweet snacks-slash-coffee—is otap, also known as utap or hojaldres. With a crisp but flaky, puff pastry-like body riddled with granules of sugar (some of which stay as crystals while others melt and get caramelized as it bakes), otap bears a similarity to French palmiers, but is oval in shape and made with shortening and/or coconut oil. Though this meryenda favorite is best associated with Cebu (from which they are thought to originate), you’ll sometimes find versions from purveyors in other parts of the country; and though often marked as pasalubong fare, it can occasionally be found in a few supermarkets and other specialty shops in Manila. How do the different versions compare?

Bongbong

Bongbong’s is for those who like their otap thicc. | PHP 66/200g

You get only one cookie within each sachet of this Negrense brand’s otap, but it’s the widest and fattest of the lot, coming around a quarter to a third of an inch thick. Covered with relatively big granules of sugar that sparkle against its pale-leaning body, each otap holds an impressive flakiness, with numerous layers of pastry distinctly spaced apart. Individually, the layers are just light but crisp; yet they collectively make for a satisfying crunch (what with the otap’s thickness), shattering into thin but crackly flakes with added crunch from the sugar. Flavor-wise it’s on the minimal side, coming barely sweet (the sweetness comes solely from the sugar topping)—just enough to enhance the ever-so-slightly toasty but mostly neutral-tasting pastry within.

Sweetness: 2.5/5 | Flakiness: 5/5 | Crunch: 4/5

Conching

Conching’s boasts of deep, toasty, caramelized-sugar notes, but could be flakier. | PHP 61.60/220g

This Cebuano brand gives you two otap in each sachet. They’re inconsistent in size; on some sachets one piece would be marginally smaller, but most pieces are of the standard 2-3 inch long form, generally on the thin side. They sport a darker hue not just from being more toasted (evident in the toastier depth of flavor, which helps even out the sweetness), but, we suspect, also from the use of brown sugar (or a mix of white and brown sugars) on the exterior. Though some pieces retain a semblance of flakiness around the edges (where they puff up), these cookies are the least flaky of the lot, with the pastry coming denser toward the center. It thus makes for a harder bite, but you get a bit more chewiness from the melted, slightly caramelized pools of sugar within its crevices. Following the said toasty flavor, it ends on a peculiar somewhat malty, fruity note reminiscent of boxed cornflakes—it’s unexpected, but delicious.

Sweetness: 3.5/5 | Flakiness: 1/5 | Crunch: 4/5

Laura

Laura’s is thinner but flaky still—and you get cookies three in an individual pack. | PHP 55.22/210g

Hailing from Angono, Rizal is Laura, which is the thinnest otap of the lot but gives you three pieces per Japanese paper-wrapped pack. Thinness of pieces aside, you still get a moderate amount of layers—not as much as the thicker versions of Bongbong or Marby, but still more than Conching—that shatter and feel crackly, its sugar coating greatly helping to contribute a welcome crunch. Like Bongbong it’s barely sweet and leans toward the relatively pale, not-so-toasty end, but this brand stands out with its distinctly milkier, maltier flavor that pleases the inner child.

Sweetness: 4/5 | Flakiness: 3/5 | Crunch: 3.5/5

Marby

Marby’s version offers a great crunch and flakiness, but has an odd aftertaste. | PHP 43.50/210g

Perhaps the easiest brand to come by in Manila, the more commercialized Marby also comes with two pieces in each pack (utilizing Japanese paper, like Laura’s). Though short, each piece is thick, ranking just below Bongbong’s; it leans toward the visually pale end and comes generously coated with glitter-esque granules of white sugar. Given the thickness, it also boasts of tons of flaky layers within that are just a touch lighter than Bongbong’s, but feel distinctly crunchier given the greater amount of sugar crystals. Likewise, it’s on the sweet side, but not overpoweringly so; you still get ample starchiness from the not-so-toasty pastry base evened out with a touch of salt. What we’re not so into, however, is the odd, chemical aftertaste (like what you’d find in commercialized white bread), confirmed to be present even in newer packages we bought.

Sweetness: 4.5/5 | Flakiness: 4.5/5 | Crunch: 5/5

Nits

Obscure as Nit’s may be in Manila, its delicate consistency and complex flavor make it worth the pursuit. | PHP 66.41/310g

This Cebuano brand is a relatively rare sight in the metro, but is well worth seeking out. Within each wax paper-wrapped portion are two pieces of otap with a relatively narrow but long form of a mid-level thickness. They’re the darkest-hued of the lot, being both toasty and possibly coated with brown sugar like Conching’s. Nit’s stands out against the others for its texture: crunchy outside but distinctively light and delicate within, holding multiple layers that succumb to a flaky shatter even at the most vigilant of bites. The sweetness comes mild but it nonetheless stimulates the tastebuds with its rich, toasty depth. The relative lightness makes it feel a tad less filling, but also gives this brand more sophisticated character; you’ll want to savor each piece slowly with a good book and a cup of tea.

Sweetness: 3/5 | Flakiness: 4/5 | Crunch: 2.5/5

Shamrock

Also Cebuano in origin, Shamrock gives you two pieces in each package as well, coming just second to Laura’s in thinness for the most part (you’ll occasionally find thicker, puffier pieces as well). Past the generous coating of sugar (it almost forms a translucent outer shell), it’s dark and toasty within; and despite the thinness, you get ample flakiness, albeit on the distinctively crunchy (but not tooth-achingly hard) end. Sporting the slightly-milky, slightly-eggy taste often similar to that of other Filipino biskwit (e.g., Jacobina), this brand carries the toastiest flavor of the six brands, balanced with a mid-level sweetness both in the pastry and on the sugar topping. It finishes with a mild but peculiar aftertaste we can best describe to that of jackfruit, but this does not take away from the otherwise great sensation of its other elements.

Sweetness: 3/5 | Flakiness: 3.5/5 | Crunch: 4/5

The Verdict: Shamrock

Deciding on a winner is always a challenge, especially as the players that stood out for us did so for completely different reasons. On one hand is Bongbong’s, with its thicc, especially flaky, mid-crunchy and mildly sweet profile. On the opposite end is Nit’s, with its thinner, more delicate, toastier and more sophisticated character. Somewhat close to Nit’s with its dark, toasty flavor and thin but flaky body but given a much crunchier, more snackable interpretation is Shamrock. Our hearts are as torn as our stomachs, but—if only for the necessity of making a decision, and for giving you the best of both flavor and texture—we give Shamrock the grand prize.

Patricia Baes SEE AUTHOR Patricia Baes

Trish thinks too much about everything—truth, existence.....and what’s on her plate. Her ongoing quest for a better relationship with food has led to a passion for cooking, gastronomy, and a newfound interest in its politics. She dreams of perfecting the art of making soufflé with her crappy toaster oven.

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