F Bacolod, 5 more reasons to love the City of Smiles - jeepneyjinggoy

Bacolod, 5 more reasons to love the City of Smiles

Bacolod's dynamic art scene is just one of the reasons to love the City of Smiles

First, let’s look back at the sugar trail. After Nicholas Loney successfully boosting the sugar trade in Iloilo, he turned his eyes to the neighboring Negros island to expand sugarcane source. He then offered the Negrense farmers the same generous conditions he extended to the Iloilo landowners. With the low cost of Negros land, opportunity knocked on the doors of the wealthy Iloilo families, who emigrated to the land across the Guimaras Strait where they started their sugarcane empires (and built palatial homes). Soon enough, the region became a major exporter of raw sugar in the country. 

Today, this Western Visayas province is like sugar to ants. For some reason, after a bite of Bacolod we sweet-toothed Pinoys always find our way back to it. If it’s not the MassKara festival in October, then there are other reasons that make us hop on the plane and enjoy the place year-round: art, history, and topping the list, food. 

You may have missed out on something. Here are five reasons why we love Bacolod (more) and why it’s worth the visit again (and again). 

1. There’s something new in the food scene. 

Whether it's the piaya, Napoleones or the 5-roll Barquillos, the lip-smacking Cansi or chicken inasal, we crave for authenticity. While the region’s delicacies are available across the country, nothing beats having the heritage dishes at its origin. 

Must eat Bacolod cuisine staples: Piaya & Cansi

Just when I thought I had seen and tried everything Bacolod has to offer, something new and exciting cropped up. The recent visit to the place introduced me to Slow Food Negros, a community that champions food traditions, biodiversity and artisanal food producers. 

Slow Food Negros  sampler highlights ingredients endemic to Negros that listed in the Ark of Taste, a kist of food in danger of disappearing

The Slow Food Negros food sampler

Like how sugar gave birth the region’s famed sweet delicacies and batwan into Cansi, the Slow Food Negros community has turned to other food components endemic to the Negros Region to whip up flavorful recipes that may end up as part of Bacolod’s heritage cuisine, However, these are no ordinary ingredients, but ingredients catalogued in the Slow Food International’s Ark of Taste, which lists food in danger of disappearing if not protected. In Negros Island, batwan is one because its trees are not cultivated but grow naturally in the island’s forests; the Kasag (Blue Swimming Crab) is at risk of overharvesting because Western Visayas is a major fishing ground. The kutitot, a chili pepper variety, and the Criollo beans, considered one of the best kinds of cacao, grow in the island are part of the list. In using these ingredients, farmers are encouraged to protect and preserve these resources, and produce more. It’s a winning cycle. 

Perhaps the most surprising new dish I’ve tried at the culinary presentation (which aims to promote food tourism in Bacolod) uses an ingredient in abundance— Jairus Cambelisa’s Sweet Potato Croquettes— fried purple sweet, creamy potato balls coated with toasted coconut flakes, for a nutty flavor and texture contrast. It landed on my favorite list and may land on yours. 

Jairus Cambelisa’s Sweet Potato Croquettes

Drop by the Earth Market (which highlights the products of local producers) at Casa Gamboa in Silay City. It happens every last Saturday of the month. 

2. Heritage Houses that arouse curiosity. 

Talisay, Silay, Jaro, Bacolod City are addresses to the hacienderos’ homes, architectural beauties that are today’s heritage houses, some repurposed for commerce or museums. Talisay has The Ruins, and Silay (with 31 historical landmarks making it the second “museum city” in the country, after Vigan) has Balay Negrense, Hofileña Ancestral House and Balay ni Tana Dicang, to name a few. 

A romanticized past made The Ruins in Talisay City popular

Hofileña Heritage House

What made these homes popular? Aside from its architecture, the history. The Ruins’ charm lies in its romanticized story of the man and lady of the house while Balay ni Tana Dicang’s appeal comes from the story of an empowered woman, Enrica Alunan Lizares, a widow who single handedly raised a family of 16 children, managed an hacienda and became a leader in her community (Tana is short of Kapitana), that plus the current Balay na Bato has most of its original furniture intact. 

Balay ni Tana Dicang

Inside Tana Dicang's Balay na Bato where most of its original furniture intact

Mind the intricate interior design details of Tana Dicang's house

Having an accredited tour guide is wise. He can relate detailed history and inside stories, like the original occupant’s eccentricities and ghost stories, which certainly make the home more fascinating. Like Tana Dicang’s “tsokolate ah” and “tsokolate eh” in the past and how she makes her presence felt to unwanted guests today. Go and find out for yourself. 

3. Sugarlandia treats. 

Heritage houses and food tours, all ticked on the list. How about the operating sugar mills? There’s a couple worth the visit. 

Did you know that the 1918-established Hawaiian-Philippine Company (HPCO) in SIlay is the oldest operational sugar central in Negros Occidental? Modern equipment may have replaced the old ones, but there are artifacts functioning to this day: the steam locomotives is used to transport sugar cane from the haciendas and the “Molino de Sangre,” the (carabao-powered) traditional mill used to extract sugarcane juice to make muscovado. Both are still engaged by the Jardine-Davis owned company. 

Must witness: the traditional way of extracting sugarcane juice 

Must see and ride: A locomotive train still operational.

In Victorias City is a company said to be the largest sugar producer in the country and one of the largest millers in Asia— the 1919-founded Victorias Milling Corporation (VMC). While sugar is VMC’s gem, there is another treat within the estate that will give the art-loving Catholic one sweet rush—the St. Joseph the Worker Chapel, a masterpiece in modern Philippine art and architecture, and listed as an Important Cultural Property by the National Museum. 

Must visit: The Church of the Angry Christ in the VMC compound

Must see: The church altar

Imposing & impressive piece of art by Ossorio

"Filipinized" holy images

The Last Supper mural at the church's rear wall

Inside the earthquake-proof church, artist Alfonso Ossorio’s mural of an angry Christ is an imposing piece at the altar, thus the chapel’s namesake The Church of the Angry Christ. The artworks’ colors are still as vibrant as it was on the day it was created, thanks to a specially formulated paint —Carbon carbide ethyl silicate No.14. Equally as breathtaking are the mosaics by Belgian artist Bethune using chipped glass; the mural covering the church’s rear wall which is still in its original form; and religious images carved out of wood. Most noteworthy is that each and every figure in the artworks is “Filipinized.” 

4. Dynamic art scene. 

In the Bacolod City center is a contemporary art hub, the Orange Project. It’s a nest for expression that embraces art in all its forms, from visual to performing. With the scenery in this art district constantly transforming, the hub is a frequent stop for art lovers. Such is the lure of art. 

The Orange Project's outdoor art

The space not only provides a home for Negrense to nurture their creative minds but it also provides a platform for other Filipino and foreign artists to share their visions. In doing so Orange Project’s aim to elevate the art consciousness in the region is gaining a foothold. 

Charlie Co's The Orange Project art gallery

Inside Project Orange Gallery

Admiring the artwork of one of the founders of Orange Project, artist Charlie Co.

Through the years it has evolved, the collaborative venture of two locals - visual artist Charlie Co and businessman-artist Victor Benjamin Lopue, lll, has established an art playground for everyone to have fun and connect with art and artists. 

What makes it more alluring? Its address is very accessible. 

5. Nature’s verdant embrace. 

While we all love to walk barefoot on sand, doing it on grass is as liberating and beneficial health-wise. With the province’s acres of verdant land, nature tripping is the way to go. Negros farmers are jumping on the eco-tourism bandwagon and integrating the travel and leisure concept into their farmlands. While growing crops, the farm also grows environmentally aware travelers. It’s thumbs up for Bacolod’s Farm Tourism. 

Horseback riding at the ranch (Photo-Bantug Lake Ranch)

One is along the Alangilan Road, Granada, is the Bantug Lake Ranch. The family-owned 7-hectare land that was once a sugarcane farm before it was converted into a fruit orchard to the inland resort it is today. The transformation displays a man-made lake on the landscape for fishing and boating, an array of animals including horses guests can ride, a swimming pool, restaurant, picnic cabanas and villas for accommodations. Practicing sustainability, the eco-farm raises its own poultry and grows its vegetables, which supplies its restaurant and the neighborhood as well. 

 Manmade lake. Go row a boat or fish. (Photo-Bantug Lake Ranch)

There are several more Farm Tourism sites around the province that promise a rejuvenating encounter with Mother Nature. 

Through the Department of Tourism’s Philippine Experience: Culture, Heritage, and Arts Program (PEP) that heralds the Filipino Brand and identity, the DOT Region VI - Western Visayas has crafted a list of highly-interesting tourism circuits, which spotlights Food and Gastronomy, Pilgrimage and Wellness, Living Cultures and Heritage, and an Arts caravan. Visit the DOT-VI office and select one or all. Explore with a certified tour guide to discover Bacolod’s old and new gems beyond its facades and popular knowledge.