The Secret History Behind Pan de Regla and Other Panaderia Eats

By Serna Estrella/June 5, 2013

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local bakery

A different kind of fast food.

Long before merienda meant stale convenience store hot dogs and burgers sold by disturbingly happy bumblebees (or even more disturbing ginger-haired clowns), peckish Filipinos have flocked for  generations to their neighborhood bakeries or panaderia. Rice might be the undisputed favorite carbohydrate in our country, but we’ll always have a soft spot for the cheap, fragrant buns in those glass display cases by the road.

Like a lot of things in our culture, the art of baking bread was introduced by Caucasian invaders (who probably weren’t used to eating all that rice). The Spanish government put up the first bakery in the country around 1631, sourcing wheat flour from China and substituting our native tuba wine for sour dough. When the Americans came in, they brought with them baking powder, yeast, baking sheets, and automatic slicers. But a quick glance at any local bakery will tell you that we’ve turned this bread business into something that’s very much our own.

Because, really, who else but Pinoys can come up with these kooky shapes and names?

Pan de Sal

pandesal

Pan de Manilaaaahhhh….

A mainstay in any panaderia worth its salt, this dark brown bread’s pointy tops are achieved by rolling the dough into a log or baston, which is then cut into uniform slices. These are then rolled in breadcrumbs, and placed cut side down (the cut side is called singkit in the baking vernacular for its resemblance to a chinky eye) on a baking pan before being tossed into the oven. The more traditional bakeries in the provinces bake their pan de sal directly on the oven’s red brick floor, giving the bread a mottled top that’s crunchier than its city counterpart’s.

pandesal singkit

You call that singkit? I have some friends who would disagree.

Why is it called that?

Pan de sal means “bread of salt” in Spanish, for the pinch of salt added to the dough. It was introduced to the Philippines in the 16th century as the Spaniards’ answer to the French baguette. The original pan de sal was made with wheat flour, so it was hard and crusty (and a far cry from the doughy, yielding specimens at the nearest Pan de Manila). But since our country isn’t big on wheat production, bakers eventually had to use a more inferior type of flour. This resulted in a weaker dough structure, and a softer texture.

Monay

Known as the mother of Filipino breads, the dough for monay transforms into the pinagong, the putok, the sputnik, and many others depending on the water content, proofing (rising of the dough), and baking time. It’s a soft, yellow bread, traditionally marked with a split down the middle, but some commercially-made monay no longer have this suggestive marking and are paler in color.

Why is it called that?

This was originally called pan de monja (nun’s bread), and was later called monay for short. Strangely enough, monay later evolved as a colloquial term for female genitals in some rural areas because of its, erm, provocative shape. Just imagine walking into a provincial bakeshop and asking the attendant how much her hot, steaming monay costs. Awkward….

Kalihim (Pan de Regla)

These soft bread pockets are stuffed with a brightly-colored pudding made from stale bread, milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla, and a mother lode of red food coloring. Variations on the filling also include those made from ube and pineapple.

pan de regla

Looks like someone needs to change their pad right away.

Why is it called that?

While some describe the taste of kalihim as tasty but boring, its monikers (and the reasons behind them) are anything but. The word kalihim implies a secret, which in this case alludes to the bakers who processed the previous day’s unsold bread into pastry filling. Some citizens of Tondo also refer to this afternoon snack as pan de regla (literally, “menstrual bread”) because it looks like the cross section of a used sanitary napkin. For the polite (or the squeamish), however, they can ask their baker for a roll of ligaya (joy). Though as any female who’s gone through puberty will tell you, there’s nothing joyous about being on your period. Never mind what Anne Curtis says.

Pan de Coco

For those unacquainted with these squishy, round buns, biting into one can be a pleasant (or not) surprise. Their sweet interior of grated coconut and sugar is nestled deep within the pastry, so they are sometimes mistaken for dinner rolls.

pan de coco

It would be a shame if someone accidentally dunked these into the olive oil-balsamic dip.

Why is it called that?

Pan de coco is Spanish for coconut bread. The original recipe came from Central America and was brought over to the Philippines by the Spaniards in the 1600’s. The Honduran coasts were overflowing with coconuts, so the natives mixed the fruit’s milk and shredded meat with some flour and water, and baked the unleavened discs of dough in rudimentary stone ovens. But while we enjoy pan de coco as a sweet snack, its Honduran ancestor functioned as a sponge for the drippings of savory stews.

Pan de Putok

One of the many offshoots from the standard monay dough, the pan de putok’s top is clipped with a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to produce its signature crown-like ridges. And where a monay is usually soft and airy, this horned bun is compact and dense, with a texture that ranges from semi-soft to rock hard depending on its proofing time.

pan de putok

These look like the product of a three-way between a fire ball, a golf ball, and a dough ball.

Why is it called that?

Putok is the Tagalog word for “explosion”, and these crusty babies were named after their cracked tops, which expand from all the steam released during baking. However, like its monay parent, putok also has an unfortunate alternate meaning in the vernacular. In street slang, it’s synonymous with offensive body odor, particularly from the armpits. It might not sound as icky as pan de regla, but you wouldn’t want to be the hapless chap yelling, “Miss, may putok ba kayo?” at the bakery attendant. (Unless you want one of those rock-hard, horned buns embedded into your forehead as an answer. Ouch.)

Pinagong

This sweet and milky bread is a must-try when passing through the town of Sariaya, Quezon. Another one of the monay’s many offspring, this one differs from its siblings due to the milk powder added to the initial dough for a smoother mouth feel. The end product is said to be so rich and creamy that Sariaya townsfolk dip the bread in black coffee in lieu of using a non-dairy creamer.

Why is it called that?

Pinagong is derived from the Tagalog word for turtle. Each bun has a flat bottom and a curved top, which are decorated with three ridges or indentations that look like scales. Other versions even have protrusions on either end, which resemble the turtle’s head and tail. A popular myth also claims that the pinagong was the result of an accident: a baker who was making a batch of monay fell asleep while he was proofing it in the oven (I guess that’s what happens if your job requires you to be up and about at the crack of dawn). He woke up to find a chewier version of his intended product. Since the guy didn’t want to waste the batch, he carved ridges onto their puffy tops and sold it under a different name: one that paid tribute to its whimsical appearance (and probably to the fact that he accidentally proofed it at a slower pace).

Ensaymada

As with queso de bola, Misa de Gallo, and Noche Buena, the consumption of ensaymada (along with a steaming mug of thick hot chocolate) is a Christmas tradition that we got from the Spaniards, albeit one that we now enjoy throughout the year. Although we’re all familiar with multiple versions, such as those topped with ham or macapuno strips or salted egg slices, its Spanish forbear was a lot less festive (much like a lot of things during their centuries-long occupation) .

ensaymada

This looks like the coiled droppings of Daenerys Targaryen’s children.

Why is it called that?

First referenced in the 17th century, the ensaymada  originated in Mallorca, Spain (and is still known as a mallorca in some countries today). While our local version is made with butter and fresh milk, the first ensaymada had no such ingredients. Instead, it contained wheat flour, water, and pork lard, hence its name (the term “ensaymada” comes from saïm, the Catalan word for “pork lard”). Its texture was also hardier than the cakelike namesake we enjoy today.

Sputnik

Sputnik

Just like those laughing buns from “Cooking Master Boy”.

As the youngest of the monay children, these baby buns are not as sweet as their elder sibling, the pan de putok, but are far rarer (and much cheaper, at only PHP 2.00 apiece).

PacMan

Not *that* Pac-Man.

Why is it called that?

This baby monay was a tribute to the Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite launched from the Earth in the 1950’s. Like its starchy counterpart, the spherical satellite was diminutive, being all of twenty-three inches in diameter. When the 1980’s came along, the small, light brown spheres of dough went by another name: Pac-Man. I guess if you look at them sideways, those nasty gashes on the side sort of look like mouths eager to chomp ghostly opponents into digestive oblivion.

Spanish Bread

This crescent-shaped pan de sal derivative is a staple of many a Filipino kid’s summer afternoons at the local panaderia, usually accompanied by sips of cold Coca-Cola poured into a flimsy plastic bag.

Spanish Bread

Spanish Bread is as Spanish as Joffrey is a Baratheon.

Why is it called that?

Ironically, despite the vast number of our local breads descending from the ones brought over by our Hispanic conquerors, Spanish bread is the one example that’s completely our own. It has been theorized that it’s called thus because of its similarity to the ensaymada. Both breads are made with eggs, butter, and sugar, and are coiled prior to baking. Only Spanish bread is rolled into a flat sheet, and then twirled into a stout stick rather than into a bun.

Kababayan

If the Philippines were to have a truly local cupcake, this would be it. Pint-sized and moist, these gong-shaped cakes made with condensed milk have a creamy sweetness that could render any sort of frosting superfluous.

Kababayan muffins

I once had a childhood playmate who would stuff a couple of these down her shirt when there were no balloons around.

Why is it called that?

The word kababayan literally translates to “fellow countryman.” These baked goods resemble the straw hats worn by Filipino farmers, who lifted them up in salute whenever they bumped into each other. (Though if you ask me, those little “hats” also look like the sort that belong on this list.)

They say that a country’s plate (or bread box, in this case) can reveal a lot about its culture and history. If you take a closer look at ours, I guess you’ll find that we’re an ingenious people capable of wringing a multitude of creations from just one kind of dough and salvaging mistakes or leftovers into profitable breakthroughs, all while naming each creation with a quirky flair that you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.


Did you have a favorite panaderia treat growing up? Did you ever blush when you asked your mum to buy some pan de regla? Were you ever caught pinching someone else’s monay? Sound off below!


Images via Blogspot / Smithbites / Blogspot / Flickr / Blogspot / Kusination / Breadmaking Lessons / Flickr / Panlasang Pinoy / Sukitospoon / Guardianlv / Blogspot / Hungerbusterbakery

REFERENCES

Cordero-Fernando, Gilda.(1992). Philippine Food and Life. Anvil: Pasig.
Fenix, Michaela (ed.). (2008). Kulinarya: A Guide Book to Philippine Cuisine. Anvil: Pasig.
Sta. Maria, Felice. (2006). The Governor-General’s Kitchen: Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes. Anvil.

Serna Estrella

Contributor

Serna is a slim piggy who heartily believes that salads are not real food and that desserts (fruit salad not included) should have their own food group. When she's not terrorizing people with her Grammar Nazi tendencies, she likes to hunt for the perfect afternoon tea spot that lets her pretend she's still in the age of Austen (albeit with electricity and better dental care). See More.

  • henrik

    Awesome post!! I grew up eating all these panaderia favourites.
    How about Binangkal.. you know those deep fried round bread sprinkled with Sesame Seeds. those are my favourite…best dipped in a piping hot coffee.

    • Sergia Susana

      Thank you, Henrik. :) I’ve never had Binangkal. Perhaps it’s time to pay the neighborhood bakery another visit. :)

  • http://twitter.com/murasakimeg Midge K. Manlapig

    I’ve always been a sucker for Spanish bread; nothing comes close to the combo of warm Spanish bread dipped into thick hot chocolate. :D Though, well, pinagong is also nice on rainy mornings, split and slathered with plenty of butter.

    • Sergia Susana

      I love Spanish Bread too! One of my favorite cheap eats! :) I find it especially lovely when it’s fresh from the stove. And that warm butter/margarine-sugar smell!!! :)

  • hbsruiz

    pan bonete is my favorite :) soft and chewy freshly baked goodies topped with margarine

    • Sergia Susana

      Hmm, that sounds really intriguing. Where can you get pan bonete? :)

      • http://twitter.com/murasakimeg Midge K. Manlapig

        Some bakeries in Bulacan – mostly in Calumpit and San Miguel – still bake and sell pan bonete, and you can try Panaderia Dimas-Alang in Pasig. It’s a conical bun with a crispy crust and fluffy innards. It was a favorite of National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin.

        • Sergia Susana

          Thanks, Midge! :) And wow.. you had me at fluffy innards and Nick Joaquin. This pan bonete sounds like the stuff of carb legend. @.@

  • Carl Jandusay B.

    Na-miss ko bigla ang pinagong. Makabili nga ng sangkatutak pag-uwi ko ng Quezon. Masarap na kapareha ng pansit pabhab ang pinagong. O kaya bonete. Marikina, bagay din!

    • Sergia Susana

      Nice! I’ve never tried pinagong. Is it as creamy as they say? :)

  • Johann

    shared this on my FB wall. such an informative article!

    • Sergia Susana

      Thank you, Johann! :)

  • Addi dela Cruz

    Great article, Serna! Now I’m craving for Pan de Coco, loved it since I was little. :)

    • Sergia Susana

      Thanks, Addi! :) I’m a Spanish Bread fan myself. Hehe. Though I wonder what the original Honduran Pan de Coco tastes like. :)

  • ouili

    how about pande atis?

    • Sergia Susana

      Can’t say I’ve heard of that. Sounds intriguing, though. :) Will look that up. :)

  • Koldzzz

    Interesting post… wishing that you continue to write articles similar to this one. :)

    • Sergia Susana

      Thank you. :) Working on a similar article, good sir/ma’am. :)

  • ARR

    what, no write up on pagerper? challenge: I’ve been researching in vain about a distinct biscocho from batangas city. it has disappeared, never go the chance to go back home and talk to elders who remember.

    • Sergia Susana

      Ooh, sounds interesting. I’ve never heard of pagerper. Is that the biscocho type you were referring to?

      Yep, provinces have their distinct brand of baked goods. :) Where I’m from, we have these sticky cakes made out of rice flour that are deep-fried, then coated in sugar. :)

    • Abbu Cabrera

      I had pagerper in Taal, Batangas, near the old market where they sell tapang taal, a few meters from the Caysasay church. I remember distinctly because I fell from a motorcycle that fateful day.

  • Adrian De Leon

    I never imagined you knew so much street terms. Great piece! Learned a lot from this. :)

    • Sergia Susana

      Thanks, Adee! :) Surprise! Hehe. I actually learned all those while doing the research for this article. :))

  • Stephanie

    are you guys fully familiar with binangkal?it’s one crunchy tasty treat i used to lust over, now can’t find it in any bakeshop nearby :(

    • Sergia Susana

      Hello, Stephanie. I can’t say I’ve heard of it, but it sounds pretty tasty. Was it something you tried in the province? :)

      • Stephanie

        precisely :) it’s a cebu delicacy. i remembered my mom used to bring home a hoard of this round, sesame covered dough ready to be chomped away.

        • Sergia Susana

          I see. :) Well, a quick Google search for Binangkal didn’t turn up any bakeries that carry them, but there were some recipes that surfaced. It looks like you can make them at home by mixing up some flour, evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla, some sesame seeds, and a few other ingredients, and then frying the lot in some very hot oil. :)

          • Stephanie

            Nice! Thanks for the leg up. keep writing instructive articles :)

    • Sergia Susana

      Hello, Stephanie. I can’t say I’ve heard of it, but it sounds pretty tasty. Was it something you tried in the province? :)

  • taticarpio

    thank you for this article! i just want to go home now and tambay in the nearest bakeria eating pan de coco while sipping soda in plastic :)

    • Sergia Susana

      Thank you, taticarpio! :) Happy to help out our local bakeries. ;)

  • taticarpio

    thank you for this article! i just want to go home now and tambay in the nearest bakeria eating pan de coco while sipping soda in plastic :)

  • Lesly Bries

    Pan de coco is the best! You guys missed out on mentioning mongo bread though–great with a hot cup of coffee.

    Not a traditional Filipino thing, I know, but a lot of bakeries also sell donuts–the fried twisty-kind covered in sugar. YUM. :D

    • Sergia Susana

      Ooh, mongo bread. I have a vague recollection of seeing that in a bakery years ago, but it completely slipped my mind. Perhaps in another installment. :)

      And those donuts rock! Chock-full of sugar and cooking oil, but then again, glucose and cholesterol levels aren’t really a concern when you’re a kid. :)

  • Tere Tenorio

    No bonete? :(

    • Lars Roxas

      ano ung bonete?

  • Joseph

    My favorites would be pianono and Spanish bread. Didn’t know the bread with red pudding filling has a name (pan de regla/ kalihim ). We just call that “yung me pula sa gitna”. I wonder what’s the story behind pandelimon? Does not taste anything like lemon. They look like dinner rolls.

    • Sergia Susana

      Yep, it does. :) And will try to look into the pan de limon backstory. ;)

  • AC

    I love pan de coco! I try to eat coco jam on bread in place of pan de coco when the people at home are busy. Can’t say it tastes the same but it tastes close enough to satisfy my craving for pan de coco.^^
    I haven’t tried nor heard of the ‘pan de regla’, and many others mentioned in the article, before. They all sound interesting :) great article! :)bd

    • Sergia Susana

      Thanks, AC! :) I would recommend trying the pan de regla, the Spanish bread, and the kababayan if you look your pastries on the sweet side. :)

  • Ramon Rocha IV

    Nice work! :D

    • Sergia Susana

      Thank you, Ramon! :)

  • Lars Roxas

    Serna, I really enjoyed reading this while I was editing it. Parang discovery channel! :D good job!

    • Sergia Susana

      Thanks, Lars!! :) I’m honored by that, truly. :)

  • Lars Roxas

    also, i apologize for this. #sorrynotsorry

    • Sergia Susana

      Haha. They look like they’re regurgitating…erm, never mind. @.@

  • Allen Genoraga

    Great post..How about tasty (bread loaf slices) and buns (those six or eight packs of monay in a transparent plastic bag)

    • Sergia Susana

      Thank you, Allen! :) Well, tasty bread was largely an American invention, and those buns are simple derivatives of the highly versatile monay dough. :)

  • steph

    LOVE this article! So informative AND entertaining to read! ^_^

    • Sergia Susana

      Thank you, Steph! :) Very glad you think so. ;)

  • Essie Atienza

    Great post! Kabayan was a favorite in our house. We used to frequent a bakery in Lipa that made really good kababayan. I wonder if it’s still around.

    • Sergia Susana

      Thank you, Essie! :) Kababayan was also a childhood favorite of mine, though we got our fix from an urban bakery. Haha. I am curious about the ones from that Lipa bakery you mentioned and how it differs from the cupcakes we get here.

  • Howard

    Greetings fellow GoT follower! (Tried the Wolf’s Bread?) I miss the fresh bonete from Kawilihan Bakery-with a pat of Anchor butter, sugar and a tetra brick of cold milk after school! I like the way you write(-: Keep it up!

    • Sergia Susana

      Greetings to you as well, good ser! :) Ooh! Wolf’s Bread! I have yet to try that. And I seem to have missed out on that bonete craze, but it sounds really good. Is it available in the city? :)

  • brixakp

    In addition to that, in our place in bicol, the very popular bread their is the pan de legzapi…it’s quite delicious…i remember during my snacks after school, my mother always ask me to buy pan de legazpi…

    • Sergia Susana

      Ah, what’s in a pan de legazpi? :)

  • http://dontaskmetosmile.wordpress.com/ Katrina

    My question is, who was the brave/perverted/curious/twisted person who cut a sanitary napkin in half and associated it with baked goods?

    • Sergia Susana

      I also wonder about who started applying pastry names to things like lady parts and underarm odor. @.@ And how the heck that trend caught on, for that matter. >.<

  • foodpick.me

    Pandesal is always best for me, as I can pair it with milk,coffee, chocolate etc. plus u can add whatever fillings you’d love ! :) great post.a

  • http://www.skysenshi.com/ skysenshi

    Pan de regla and kababayan. I now want to run to the nearest local bakery. <3 <3

  • MinQ

    We would call pan de regla by another equally hilarious name – “Tinapay na may lipstick”. Or to keep it up to date, why not call it Red Velvet Bread since the filling is made with godawful red food coloring haha.

  • babsicatn

    i’ve been waiting for a post like this! i’ve been meaning to share the ensaymada with bacon from san pedro laguna. i do not know if it exist anywhere else but man, they are delish!

  • AE

    Good read!! :)

  • Chelly

    Goodness, I remember having kababayan regularly when I was a kid because I used to hang out at my mom’s office. She’d ask some people to buy Coke too, so what I did was pour Coke into a mug, and toss in a kababayan. I’d plod it down again and again until it floats to my satisfaction, THEN I eat it. Thought it was heaven.

  • balitangk

    pan de regla, pan de coco *drool drool*

  • Peej

    Maybe the writers can properly attribute the information to their sources. This can be done APA style or thru footnotes. While they list their references and sources, they don’t mark which part of the write up they used it.

  • Kendrick Tan

    Kababayan beats any other muffin on the planet. Back in Samar, we call it puto-puto. I have a recipe for this which is really good, and I’ve made it many times already. But something baffles me, how do they make that ‘bump’ at the middle? I guess it’s a baker’s secret. Would anyone please help??? :)

  • Shiela Acenas

    I love the spanish bread and pan de coco!

  • Abbu Cabrera

    I have a number of my favorite panaderya goodies from all over the country. In Cebu and the neighboring Bantayan island, “sopas” is a kind of slightly saltier pan de sal with a dense center. Iloilo has the wonderful “teren teren” that is shaped like a train, each “car” is filled with creamy custard. Bacolod has “sambag” and “half-moon”, which are sweetened breads that taste a lot like polvoron; sambag gets its name from the Ilonggo word for sampalok or tamarind, and the half-moon is shaped as such. Bacolod also has the “double body”, which is a sweet bread sandwich with a dulce de leche filling. Cavite has the marvelous ‘bonete’. Bulacan has “inipit”. It has been a tradition that I raid bakeries during my travels. Iloilo and Bacolod has been my favorite so far. Their baked goodies are very good.

    • Abbu Cabrera

      I forgot broas, which are really glorious ladyfingers from Bacolod and Iloilo. Still from Bacolod, there is this bread that we call “pan de siosa”, and neighborhood ihaw ihaw joints would skewer it on barbeque sticks, grill it on the fire and brush it with oil + banana ketchup. The best meryenda, ever! Pure nostalgia.

  • bernie

    loved this article…suddenly craved and want some carbo loading :) now i want to go to the panaderia. also, there’s the pianono and egg pie that i really missed :))

  • María Fernández

    Awesome. How bout “Brazo de Mercedes”?

  • Jennifer

    Loved this article. Im from the California and grew up always having either Pan De Sal or Pan de Coco for breakfast whenever my mom or lola would go to the nearest Filipino food store. Recently I went back to the Philippines to visit my lola and going to the bakery was an awesome experience!!!

    • Jennifer

      oops i meant from California

  • chaka lopez

    bonete :(((((

  • Oggigaga

    Nega Sardines

  • Jhonry C. Dela Cruz

    What a great feature article! Cool choice of words too…
    This post got me hungry.

  • resty o

    oh i quoted you, if you don’t mind

    • Lars Roxas

      what’s this?

      • resty o

        your site seems to filter out comments with links no?

        • Lars Roxas

          yup. it’s an anti-spambot measure.

          • resty o.

            too bad. i was about to direct you to my comprehensive lists of pinoy breads and cookies. (sometimes the lines are not clearly drawn)

            very nice writeup btw

  • resty o

    and some of the commenters too

  • MelnHerna

    PLEASE SOMEONE………….send the Recipe for Pan de Legazpi (Legaspi?)
    to Kusina ni Manang or/and cnhbowen@yahoo.com or instruct me how to
    find it on the Internet.