Negros Occidental occupies the northwestern half of the island of Negros. Bacolod is the capital city and considered the second most populous municipality in Western Visayas region after Cebu. This is that part of the Philippines where you fly in, stuff yourself until you’re full and then head out to your next adventure.
Bacolod is most commonly known as the “City of Smiles” and for their celebration of the Maskara Festival.
More than anything, the fondest memories you can take back home from any Bacolod trip is your interaction with its people. True to their city’s name, the people here are all-smiles, so warm and accommodating. Illonggos and Ilonggas embody the spirit of their region and represent the ideals of what it truly is to be Filipino.
Tita Marissa Garcia (Aida’s Manokan)
The path to the grillers of Aida’s Manokan will have you walking across a labyrinth of chairs and jig sawed tables. Right through the food serving counters you will be led to a room that is heat damped and moist. There is nothing fancy about this kitchen.
No marble countertops, expensive chef knives and decorative equipment. It is not gram worthy by today’s standards but what comes out of these walls serve millions from all over. Their customers are given a taste of this region, their weary tummies and hungry souls are fed and they come home carrying stories of how this small kitchen gave them an experience they will never forget.
Hot beds of charcoal, fresh meat and grilling techniques honed through the years produces one of the iconic dishes that easily identifies with Bacolod – the Chicken Inasal. “Inasal” which literally means “chargrilled” is nothing but a direct translation of the process that is used in order to cook chicken. However, the Negrense’s take on this practice took a life of its own and is displayed through the flavors they were able to create and provide locals and tourists who visit their region.
Synonymous to chicken inasal is Aida’s Manokan. Established in the early 70’s, the family tradition of poultry excellence is continued by Marissa Garcia. Her reverence to their family heirloom fuels her passion to continue the legacy that was started by those that came before her.
Her enthusiasm for providing quality meals to every customer is one of the driving force that sustains Aida’s popularity in the restaurant business. Every flip of a skewer and each dab of their sauce tells the story of humble beginnings that created a food movement. A campaign that started with done for the day office people near the plaza, to having its own street layered with shops serving their own versions of this native dish.
At Aida’s, they ensure that every plate that comes out of her kitchen is handled well, basted properly and cooked to perfection. The “making sure you have a customer the next day” approach in doing business is a passionate take on sustainability and longevity. The love for food and having your customers first in mind is endearing and is probably the secret sauce to Aida’s success through the years.
Make sure every trip you take in Bacolod has a stop in Manokan Country. Look for the big yellow chicken at the door and help yourself to a hearty meal of chicken inasal, garlic rice with their trademark chicken oil.
Mr. and Mrs. Ramon Peñalosa (Peñalosa Farms, Negros Occidental)
“No Filipino should ever go hungry in his own country” – Ramon Peñalosa Jr.
Creating an ecosystem that works with each other is easily conceptualized but a daunting task to make it a reality. The cobwebs and failures that must be endured require patience and a deeper sense of purpose. The resilience needed to push forward no matter the circumstances can only be stomached by people with vision and an undying belief in what they want to accomplish. Years of trial and error, self-education and continuous learning transformed a family-owned machine repair shop into a scalable agricultural model that is the future of farming. It is a system that works with nature.
This all natural environment breeds no insects and no foul smell. A hearty meal can be enjoyed right next to the pig pens. Such a feat can never materialize if not for the undying desire of the owners deeply rooted in the four pillars of their advocacy. Now they are sharing this information to everyone willing to listen. Part of their life’s purpose is to make sure that agripreneurship and organic farming will be our answer to end poverty and hunger.
“The way to move forward is to go back to our roots,” a valiant stand for agriculture and its principles manifested in the words and deeds of Mr. and Mrs. Ramon Peñalosa of Peñalosa farms in Victorias City, Negros Occidental.
Leanne Aplasca (Southwest Travel and Tours)
That sincere smile and candid laugh together with zestful stories of childhood shenanigans and family bonding activities. That “malambing” tonality with every sentence spoken that is the weakness of men. That is the ilongga / Ilonggo vibe that has stereotyped this region from the rest of its neighboring islands. What makes the Negrense people unique is perhaps the strong sense of community.
Clannish to some extent but they have remained true to the ideals that has kept their province together. Strong values ingrained in family traditions deeply influencing locals that they are part of a regional family wherever they may be.
Such is the same for our dear friend Leanne–born and raised in Bacolod. Hers is the story that is present in majority of Bacolod’s youth. Bounded by strong family ties and hinged on a support system surrounded by people she grew up with for the majority of her life. Every restaurant has a significance, each street has a story to tell and her life made colorful by friends who have witnessed her life unfold before them. Her narrative is based on a timeline that wasn’t too long ago.
Her perspective gave us a glimpse of undiscovered local favorites, appreciation of local art and its significance to the people. Stories about her hometown’s history provided a better understanding on how it influenced society to this day.
Their stories are only a few of many. The love and connection they have for their dear Bacolod was heartfelt through their narrative. The sudden beam of joy for every nostalgic memory, whether it was with family or close friends, takes you with them as they recall how it happened. Perhaps this is why their food is really good. Rarely will you hear that “This is my province”, rather, most, if not all of them. said “This is my home”. Now, wouldn’t that put a smile on your face?
Bacolod is less than an hour away from Manila. Book your flights now with Cebu Pacific to enjoy the lights, sounds and flavors of this beautiful city.
As a good night’s sleep is warranted after a weary day of travel. Stone Hill Suites Bacolod, a luxury boutique hotel, was our top pick for this trip. Coincidentally enough, Stone Hill actually translates to “Buklod-Buklod” which means Bacolod.
Thank you to our friends from Southwest Travel and Tours for helping us get the best Negros Occidental experience. Tour visuals coming up!
BongBong’s Piaya | Shot by Alexis Lim
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Words by: Franco Rulloda