Saturday, August 25, 2012
Pan de pugon, for the uninitiated, can be loosely translated from the original Spanish as "bread of the hearth oven" and refers originally to home-baked bread using the old fashioned brick oven but now is often used to lump together many types of home-style bread products using all or some of the traditional dough making and baking techniques dating back to the Spanish colonial period until the early years of the last century.
I had lived much of my pre-school years in Lianga but even in the 1970's, bread was something you bought from the neighborhood bakery which happened to be just located conveniently beside our house.. I never had the opportunity to sample homemade bread although my mother was fond of baking cakes and other pastries. Bread was mostly thought to be too ordinary, too time consuming and uneconomical to produce in any quantity at home.
Marihatag's pan de pugon is produced in a small makeshift stall just beside the town's bus terminal along the national highway. The stall itself is drab and surprisingly ordinary, the kind that might be selling pork and chicken meat on barbecue sticks elsewhere. The only sign that it is a bakery of sorts is a contraption made of old wooden planks, plywood and cannibalized sheet metal that sits in the back and from which, in the midst of a shimmer of heat haze, a plume of grey smoke slowly continues rising.
This is the oven heated by wood charcoal from which the small bread loaves come out after baking. They emerge toasty and brown, the outer skin dark and taut yet the inside white, soft and chewy. The warm, yeasty aroma is deliciously appealing and the taste not overly sweet or cloying but just enough to make you reach for another piece even when your stomach tells you already had enough.
A variety of the same bread shaped like hole-less doughnuts and stuffed inside with bukayo or sweetened buko or young coconut meat strips is also available for those who may need a sugar fix. I prefer the plain loaves myself but the latter is a different taste variation I like looking forward to from time to time.
Like the ubiquitous pan de sal of breakfast fame coming from the typical street corner bakery, however, Marihatag's pan de pugon are best eaten fresh from the oven. After a few hours at room temperature, they become rather hard and tough although a little warming up in the oven toaster can restore some of its appetizing goodness. Storing leftovers in the refrigerator or chiller can help keep them from spoiling for a day or two especially the bukayo variety but they will never be the same treat you bargained for when they were still piping hot and oven fresh.
So nowadays, as trip to Tandag back to Lianga is never complete without the halfway stop in Marihatag. Even if time is short and there is a need to hurry, there is always the quick glance to check if the bread stall is open and that the telltale smoke from the oven is wafting skyward. If both conditions exist then who can begrudge any person a couple of precious minutes in order to be able to to indulge himself, even for a moment, in what is definitely a unique taste experience that conveys, in the best gastronomical sense, the warm, comforting and delicious taste of home.