SIMPLY, it is a liking for good food or that could just be abundant eating. Our “Land of Sweet Surprises” offers a lot and that could be the reason why foreign and local tourists are coming to Negros to look for “ambrosia” or “amrita,” the food of the gods.
Recently, I was invited as a resource person by this charming lady and tour operator of El Sola Travel and Tours, Pushpa Tan, to accompany her 16 Italian visitors in a food and cultural tour of the island. Pushpa has well established herself to endear foreign tourists to come to Negros and experience the sweet surprises.
A “merienda” at El Ideal in Silay was fascinating with this “herbal health beverage” coupled with guapple pie, buko pie, lumpia ubod and other delicacies that have stories to tell. Our Italian connection was simply amazed to know that Silay is the “Paris of Negros” at the turn of the century. Yves Leopold Germaine Gaston who introduced the “maquina de vapor horno economico” (steam engine) came from France.
Pushpa challenged me to play host in exploring Bacolod Central Market. I started with the dried fish section and the vendors there were so happy and provided as a “wet welcome.” The best sellers are dried squid, danggit, tabagak, sapsap, lubo-lubo, gumaa, bulaw, gusaw, and dalinuan. Special features include bone tocino, red tocino, white tocino, and palad flakes.
In the meat section, they were curious to see that pork and beef cuts are lighted red, and the entrails are just there without proper refrigeration. One meat vendor explained, “This would give the buyer the chance to see, feel, and smell what we are selling.”
The household section fascinated them because almost everything in there… from toilet bowl pusher to kitchen ware, to ready-to-wear items, to fishing nets, and woven bags. One lady student bought Calatrava-made baskets. “I could take this along with me and this is something beautiful to be displayed in Paris.”
The fruit section was just great with variety of fruits in season in attractive formation: pineapple, chico, banana, papaya, jackfruit, babana, indian mango, sandiya and bayabas. We attacked also the fish section…really very fishy-smelly and slippery. In the vegetable section, they asked the vendor if all the vegetables are organic considering Negros Occidental is the organic capital. The vendor whispered the answer.
In the afternoon, we had a nice coffee time in an “ordinary” coffee shop near the Buenos Aires Bridge. It was prepared by an old lady in a traditional way. We also visited Grace Organic Farm and the Negros First Organic Training Center in Bago. Our hosts told us their great efforts to produce rice, vegetables and animals that are organically grown.
My second day with them was in Mambukal Mountain Resort. Some excursionists were asking me what the foreign film is we are shooting because they see Italian ladies roaming around with their French-cut bikinis. I gave them my best answer without disturbing the bats. Their few hours were spent in trekking to waterfalls, dipping at the warm sulfuric water of the Japanese Ofuro, calming luxurious massage at the Blade Spa, and enjoying “lutong bahay” prepared by our caterer.
These Italian students are studying at the University of Gastronomic Sciences based in Italy. The other places they visited are Molocaboc Island for sea ranching, May’s Organic Garden for the herbs and food, Peñalosa Farm for the demonstration, Fresh Start-Bacolod for dinner with Chinchin Uy, Suyac Island for mangrove eco-tour, and Carbin Reef for snorkeling.
They also observed vinegar fermentation and tasted the best seafood of Sagay. They did not miss lunch with the descendant of a Frenchman, Msgr. Guillermo Gaston, in his “hacienda” ancestral house in Sta. Rosalia, Manapla. Occupying center table are his “adobo milyonaryo,” “familia pochero” and other wonderful things to eat that only Msgr. GG can offer.
Lady Pushpa was with them from the start up to the finish line. We had “sweet goodbyes” at the Silay airport and their professor, Rowan Hallet, said that more Italians are coming next year. They will be here to know more about our endemic ingredients.
We are already attracting more tourists. Tour operators, hotel operators, transport groups, towns and cities should join us in our best effort to promote Negros through Clean Tourism. Our best food and ingredients are just there. The comestibles simply make Negros a Delicatessen!