Mode of Transport: Pan De Sal
There’s a bit of clatter in the kitchen, I can tell Bailey has started her morning ritual of preparing her mother’s coffee (2 shots of espresso, one sugar, frothed milk, and a dash of cinnamon), my coffee (2 shots of ristretto) and her own hot cocoa.
She can’t wait for us to get up, so the bit of clatter becomes more thunderous. I pretend to be a bit bothered by it, as that is her want, but in reality, I endear my human alarm clock.
I have an inherent appreciation for those self-produced, loud, wake-up calls. My grandmother, a former Miss Philippines participant, though gracious in everything she did including being in her kitchen, made sure she made enough noise in the mornings to wake a household filled with 5 boys. It was a typical New York immigrant family household.
It was a Typical New York Immigrant Family Household
There were my three cousins who all came from the Philippines in pursuit of their Masters degrees and there was my brother and I, getting through grammar school and high-school respectively. All being taken care of by two strong women, my aunt and the aforementioned grandmother.
For the sake of knowledge, the reason for all of us being under their care was due to my cousins’ parents unable to come and live abroad in the States due to visa restrictions, and my parents having passed away early in their lives.
Feeding five young men, was not the cheapest of propositions; so we were raised on some humble Filipino staples. There were all sorts of stews, from the famous pork adobo to tripe and oxtail based ones (those days, nobody ate tripe or oxtail, so my grandmother got them as giveaways along with her purchase when she went to the local butcher; though I have a theory that her good looks had something to do with it).
I can only really speak for Filipinos, but I believe it to be true with most Asian families, that rice was always at the ready; which was certainly the case in our family. It was a sad day when our rice cooker broke down and needed replacing, as it meant no rice until the new one came along. It was this event that made me finally appreciate another filipino staple, the Pan de Sal.
[Tweet “Pan de Sal, is a Portuguese export, probably brought over by Magellan and his men, during the age of discovery.”]
Contrary to it’s name, Pan de Sal (salted bread), is actually more sweet than it is salty. Pan de Sal, is a Portuguese export, probably brought over by Magellan and his men, during the age of discovery. They are soft, small rolls that have an almost shortbread taste profile about them. It’s certainly not uncommon to have more than one when eating them. Like all good breads, there is alchemy involved; which I know nothing about, other than the fact that they taste great.
The neighborhood in which I grew up, had two large hospital facilities within 10 blocks of each other. Where there are hospitals, there are nurses; and where there are nurses, there are Filipinos. From the early 70’s to the mid 80’s, Filipinas had the monopoly on the trade. Back in those days, there was a huge demand for the taste of home.
A generation of immigrants to the U.S.A
It was this generation, that was part of the movement to emigrate to the States to get their education, attain jobs, bring their family over and flee their beloved country that was under martial law. There was a Filipino Specialty Grocery Store that supplied the growing demand in the neighborhood that friends of the family opened. It was here that my grandmother bought packs of Pan de Sal. I remember her always having a couple of bags stashed in the kitchen.
Tennis was my addiction when I was in high school, and the school would always reserve early court times, as that was the only time it was affordable for us Lower East Side kids to play. As a young man, I would rise very early on practice days, only to find my grandmother up before me, preparing a hearty breakfast for her Bjorn Borg.
[Tweet “These are some of my fondest memories, as there were few quiet moments in the house after sunrise.”]
These are some of my fondest memories, as there were few quiet moments in the house after sunrise. The sun would be a good two hours from rising as she sliced those little buns through the center, put them under the broiler for about a minute took them out and spread some butter on them.
They would be warm and soft with just a bit of crisp. She would have hers with butter only, along with her very sweet Nescafe instant black coffee. She would break little pieces off the roll and dip it in her coffee. Along with instant coffee, she also had an affinity for canned foods. So I was always given a wide range of offerings to go with my Pan de Sal.
It was a defining feature of my childhood.
The Greatest Hits of canned goods included: Corned Beef, Vienna Sausages, Deviled Ham, and of course SPAM. I would have Ovaltine with it. We would eat quietly together, almost as if we were in prayer until I had to leave. It was a defining feature of my childhood.
I never did become the next Bjorn Borg, but I did become a professional canned food eater. I was known for having introduced my college roommates to some of these offerings. I miss that woman every day; and as Brenda, Bailey and I draw nearer to our return to the Philippines, memories of my childhood come bursting back as if they were kept in a vault.
I consider myself an American; but recently, my in-laws brought us to a Filipino “Turo Turo” Restaurant, which literally translates to “Point Point”. You would point at whatever you want to eat and that would be doled up for you.
As I gazed upon my childhood favorites ranging from pork barbecue on a stick to some of the stews I mentioned, I realized that a part of me will forever be that immigrant boy that spent mornings with his grandmother dreaming of winning Wimbledon.
Brenda was impressed as to how close to fluent I was with my tagalog and how I knew the names of most of the dishes. I too was impressed as to how much she remembered about her childhood in the Philippines and her knowledge of the culture.
We had a wonderful time, sharing stories and reminiscing through food. We also started to get excited for our upcoming journey back to the homeland. As we were walking out, I noticed that they sold bags of Pan de Sal; so I bought a bag for home.
I get up and go to the kitchen to see what all the commotion is about. Bailey gives me a smile and hands me my cup. My first sip quickly wakes me up. I open the bag of Pan de Sal, slice a few of them through the middle, put a good pat of butter on them and put them in the toaster oven. My daughter and I sit in silence, waiting for her mother to wake up, enjoying our lovely little rolls.
[Tweet “I’m not a praying man per se, but I mutter to myself, “give us this day, our daily bread”.”]
She has hers simply with butter and dunks them in her hot cocoa every so often, and I put a slice of salami between mine (no canned goods in the house these days for health reasons). I’m not a praying man per se, but I mutter to myself, “give us this day, our daily bread”.
I feel great joy at this moment. I can see the sun starting to rise above the clouds, I hear Brenda finally getting up. The day is about to start. It’s about to get loud.
Have you been to the Philippines? Do you have any tips or advice for us? If you’re Filipino living in the Philippines, tell us where we should go. We’d love some help and please share this post with your friends, Salamat Po.