Pan de Sal Noon at Ngayon

The Bread of Salt, the Pan de Sal was usually the size of one’s fist. Until then, no emblem gave me more confidence or greater joy. Today, it brings on a subdued sadness, for these rolls have shrunk to a miserable size of a chicken’s egg. Who can say, in a year or two, the pan de sal won’t just a wee bit larger than a quail’s egg? Is the meaning thereby degraded?”

These are the words of NVM Gonzalez. Well, we’re not there yet, having to buy pan de sal the size of a quail egg. Maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration but we all get the picture. It is getting smaller and smaller. It is as if its size is tied to the poor peso.

When I resided in Singapur there are days when I would wake up feeling a bit sad because I know that no matter how good the food is on the breakfast table, there’s no Pan de Sal. I rather skip breakfast.

Its not easy to kick the habit!

Observed by a foreign writer in the early 1900’s, “Pan de Sal was the only bread they seem to eat”. Of course, not true but considering how cheap and large they were before, they would have been hard to resist. But Pan de Sal’s popularity was bigger in Manila (and the Luzon provinces) compared to the southern regions where it have to contend with the preferred heavy servings of kakanin (like puto maya of Dumaguete) and root crops.

Over the years, many types of breakfast meals (foreign and local) came to challenge the Pan de Sal. It would one day give way to much nourishing “almusal”. Who can blame people nowadays for turning their backs on this Filipino tradition, the Pan de Sal you buy in the local panaderia is hardly filling anymore. They don’t make them (“fist sized”) like they used to. With the rising cost of  commodities people are just opting to buy other, lower priced but heavy on the gut breakfast alternatives.

The brownish crusty rolls in the old days was peddled in the streets, on foot, by the panaderos or delivered by the local panaderia. The perfect drink to match the small bread is the chocolate. Partnering it with coffee must’ve been a recent change because all through out our written history it was always mentioned with hot thick chocolate.

An aunt use to tell me that they eat it with “itlog na maalat” (salted egg) when she was younger. I once tried it. It was a strange combination but its not that bad. Spreads for Pan de Sal like the mantiquilla, sardinas, mermelada and keso in the old days are still popular today. Fruit jams were also paired with the bread.

The Pan de Manila bakery has exploited the market of nostalgic Filipinos longing for the old Pan de Sal. They have been gaining great success commercially. Their target consumers are the working middle and rich class. They captured the imagination of a generation who never experienced the neighborhood panaderia making good salted buns.

In the 1930’s, a pan de sal cost 1 cent. You could just imagine how big it was. You could just eat one and be satisfied. The price got stuck at P1 for a very long time but adjustments were made in its size. Bakeries, of course, were trying to muster some profit out of a peso.

These past years, bread makers expressed that they no longer can sell at P1. It signaled the end of the P1 peso pan de sal which had lasted for more than three decades.

Some people are trying to find new ways on getting the old Pan de Sal back. There are some that suggest using “squash” powder that would in turn make the pan de sal yellow. Could you imagine eating a yellow pan de sal?

The pan de sal as we know it will no longer shrink, as the national artist feared, but it will get more and more expensive, less popular and, yes, evolve into something we’ve never seen before.


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