Tuesday, June 18, 2013

House of Happiness: IHOP Arrives in the Philippines

The first IHOP restaurant in the Philippines at the Bonifacio High Street

            After a couple of months since it opened, American restaurant IHOP (International House of Pancakes) still has queues, especially on weekends, attesting to its popularity and the quality of its food.
It took 10 years, the last three spent in negotiating for the franchise, before IHOP, which is famous all over the world for its pancakes, omelets and breakfast items, was brought to the Philippines by Global Restaurant Concepts, Inc. (GRCI) through its subsidiary InterDine Corp., said Archie Rodriguez, its president and chief executive officer.
“IHOP has been interested in bringing the brand to this region for a number of years; Asia-Pacific and the Philippines in particular represent an enormous opportunity for the growth of the IHOP brand over the next 10 to 20 years,” Rodriguez revealed.
“Extending the unique IHOP experience into the Asia-Pacific region has long been part of our vision,” confirmed Julia Stewart, chairman and chief executive officer of DineEquity, Inc. “But the key to achieving that goal was finding the right franchisee who had the necessary experience in the area and who shared the same commitment to excellence and putting our guests first that IHOP’s reputation has been built on. With InterDine Corp. and their parent company Global Restaurant Concepts, Inc., we have found the perfect fit to bring our restaurants to this new region and extend our global brand.”
            IHOP is a welcome addition to GRCI’s restaurant franchises, which include California Pizza Kitchen, P.F. Chang’s and Mad for Garlic, bringing in “more mainstream, comfort food.” What is more comforting than breakfast foods. Breakfast is like a drop of sunshine, sweeping away the cobwebs of sleep and lethargy. Its smells—eggs and bacon frying, bread being toasted, refreshing orange juice, garlicky fried rice, fluffy pancakes—conjure happy memories. Breakfast fares are so popular that many people want them anytime of the day. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of restaurants offering American-style breakfast all day. Thus, the opening of the first Philippine IHOP branch was warmly welcomed, aside from the fact that the global restaurant chain has built a solid reputation for good food.
            IHOP, founded by Al and Jerry Lapin, along with early investors Al and Trudy Kallis, first opened in 1958 in the Los Angeles suburb of Toluca Lake, California, United States. After two years, the company started to expand through franchising. By 1992, there were 500 stores all throughout the United States. Average sales at that time per restaurant were more than $1 million. The following years saw IHOP restaurants popping all over the world until it reached the Philippine shores.
Big Steak Omelette
           With 360 square meter of floor space and two floors, the first Philippine restaurant, which can accommodate about 160 to 180 diners, was unveiled at W Global Center at the posh Bonifacio High Street in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Taguig City, wedged between California Pizza Kitchen and Mad for Garlic, a Korean-based Italian bistro.
            BGC has become a fast-rising lifestyle, retail and dining hub in Metro Manila in recent years. Because of its green design with open spaces and parks, it has also become a favorite place for runners. It is estimated that more than 5,000 runners a day pass by the W Global Center building, at the corner of 30th Street and 9th Avenue, as part of a morning and late afternoon jogging path, making it a prime location for IHOP.
“We are confident our guests will find that what IHOP offers—its unique world famous menu filled with items they crave, a sit-down all-day dining experience in a friendly, warm environment with food freshly prepared for every single guest will soon make IHOP their restaurant of choice over the competition,” Rodriguez averred. “And many Filipinos have visited IHOPs in the course of their travels overseas and have developed a love for the brand. In fact, a common post on the U.S. Facebook page is from Filipino guests who have been to an IHOP in America and are wondering when one will open in their own country.” 
John Merkin, IHOP’s vice president of operations and international, added, “Finding a partner with the operational capability to be able to implement and maintain the high standards that we and our guests demand was paramount in choosing the franchisee who would enable us to bring the brand to the Asia-Pacific marketplace. InterDine Corp. and Global Restaurant Concepts Inc. bring the necessary resources and experience as well as a proven record of success in establishing and running respected American restaurant brands in this region. With them as our franchisee, there are more than 100 million people in the Philippines who are about to discover why IHOP is famous the world over for great food and great service.”

Cinn-a-stack Pancakes
            Confidence in the brand and the partnership bolstered GRCI to open up more branches here as well as in other Asian countries. Manuel Zubiri, vice president of GRCI, said they are set to open four to five more branches this year, with a branch in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, next to open. A total of 20 restaurants are to open in five years, leading the way for IHOP to open in Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam, and creating over 1,000 jobs in the region.
            “IHOP sees the Philippines as a potential gateway to the rest of Asia. The Philippines in particular has a record of successfully embracing American restaurants and other products. The Philippines presents an opportunity to reach millions of potential guests, and IHOP is bringing a unique dining experience to the region that isn’t available at any of our competitors,” Rodriguez affirmed.
            Rodriquez predicted that “buttermilk pancakes, along with the other variations and our omelettes” will sell like, well, hotcakes in the Philippines. 

Eggs, bacon and hash Brown, part of Stuffed French Toast Combo
  “Pancakes are a comfort food and delicious any time of day. People choose to eat them all through the day into the late evening. By offering them as an option all through the day, people have gotten into the habit of coming to IHOP to have ‘breakfast for dinner’ as some people call it,” he said.
“The average IHOP restaurant serves more than 325,000 pancakes per year. This means the IHOP system serves in excess of 500 million pancakes annually, lathered with 250 million scoops of butter, and drizzled with two million gallons of syrup,” he further said.
In the Philippine IHOP restaurant, 70 percent of the ingredients are imported and the rest is locally sourced to preserve the integrity of taste of the original IHOP, Zubiri said. He added though that as times goes by locally sourced ingredients will increase as they find suppliers that suit their needs and standards. Not only that, in time, there is a possibly of innovations and customizations unique to the Philippine store.
“In certain locations, IHOP adjusts the menu to fit local customs and tastes. For example, in Middle East IHOPs, pork products are not served. In this region, IHOP will be offering seasonal fruits and milkshakes and a different coffee than we feature in other locations, all tailored to the tastes of our guests in this region,” Rodriguez revealed.

Funny Face
 As of now, people are more than satisfied that the IHOP goodness that millions of Americans love is now accessible. Topping the favorites is, of course, their fluffy and heavenly pancakes, using buttermilk. One can choose the classic and plain original buttermilk pancakes (P195) or those with flavors and toppings.
A bestseller is the New York Cheesecake Pancakes (P285), prepared with creamy, rich cheesecake pieces and topped with strawberries, powdered sugar and whipped cream. The Double Blueberry Pancakes (P275) has blueberries and is topped with warm blueberry compote and whipped cream. Chocolate lovers can drool over the Chocolate Chocolate Chip Pancakes (P255), which are chocolate batter pancakes filled with chocolate chips and topped with powdered sugar and whipped cream. Cinnamon roll addicts can have their fix too with the Cinn-a-stack Pancakes (P235), which is layered with cinnamon roll filling and then topped with cream cheese icing and whipped cream. Have fruits and pancakes in one with Strawberry Banana Pancakes (P265), which has fresh banana slices and is topped with strawberries, more banana slices and whipped cream. The health-conscious can opt for Harvest Grain ‘N Nut Pancakes (195) with grains, oats, almonds and English walnuts, or the whole wheat pancakes with blueberries (P225).

Garden Stuffed Crepes
             Another perennial favorite is the omelette and IHOP offers it mixed with its famous buttermilk and wheat pancake butter to make fluffier omelette, and with many varieties: Big Steak Omelette (P325) with strips of steak, hash browns, green pepper, mushrooms, tomatoes, cheddar cheese; Bacon Temptation Omelette (P285) with bacon strips, diced tomatoes and cheese sauce; Country Omelette (P265) with ham, hash browns, onion and cheese and sour cream topping; and Chicken Fajiota Omelette (P265) with grilled fajita seasoned chicken breast strips, green pepper, onion, cheese blend, salsa and sour cream topping. They also have vegetarian omelette and healthy omelette varieties. Also, diners can create your own omelette from a list of ingredients.

New York Cheesecake Pancakes
             Rodriguez revealed that these two well-love items are in IHOP’s menu since the beginning.
“If you look back at the menu from 1955, the year the first IHOP opened in Toluca Lake, California, there are a number of items that you can still find on the menu. Buttermilk pancakes, of course, waffles and omelets have been featured throughout the last 55 years, as have the waffles, chocolate chip pancakes and several other favorites. IHOP is always innovating their menu, adding new items that become favorites like stuffed French toast, and introducing signature pancakes that appear for a limited time.  These have included everything from carrot cake pancakes to pineapple upside down pancakes,” he said.

Simple and Fit Omelette
              The menu is packed with mouthwatering items such as French toasts, waffles, oatmeal, hash browns, sandwiches, sweet and savory crepes, hamburgers, breakfast combinations (French toast, hash brown, eggs, bacon and sausages, for example), steak combinations (T-bone steak, eggs and pancakes, for example) and items for kids. Many of these items have the Simple and Fit options, which use low-calorie and low-carbohydrate ingredients. Customers can ask for egg substitute or low-calorie eggs, sugar substitutes, sugar-free syrup, turkey bacons, etc. Also, be sure to watch out for new items. Need I remind that these are available all day?  

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Fire for the Tongue and Soul

Classic Bicolano dishes as entrees


 The Bicol region has its share of patriots and revolutionaries who paved the way and contributed to Philippine independence, such as General Jose Ignacio Paua, a Chinese-Filipino revolutionary sent by Emilio Aguinaldo to the Bicol region in 1899 to raise funds for the newly-established Philippine Republic; revolutionary leader Simeon Arboleda Ola from Guinobatan, Albay, who fought against the Americans; and the 15 Martyrs of Bicol, who were executed and/or exiled because of supporting revolutionary causes.
We can remember and commemorate them this coming June 12, the 115th anniversary of the Philippine independence, by partaking of the cuisine doubtlessly they loved best, which is as fiery as their patriotic ardour. 
Edsa Shangri-La, Manila’s all-day dining restaurant HEAT (which is acronym for Healthy Eating, Amazing Tastes) affords us a taste of Bicol dishes through its “Pinoy Hot at HEAT” food promotion from June 12 to 30. This is their way of celebrating the 115th Philippine independence — by paying “tribute to the colorful Philippine culture and cuisine.”
The Bicol region — roughly 17,632.5 square kilometers, 5.9 percent of the country’s total land area — is at the southern end of Luzon Island, frequently visited by typhoons and sometimes ravaged by volcanic eruptions. The region is known for the picturesque Mayon Volcano; the world’s largest fish, the whale shark; and the world’s smallest commercial fish, the sinarapan or tabios. Of course, its cuisine is also well-known. 

Ginataang laing, taro leaves cooked in coconut cream
Bicol cuisine is one of the most distinctive of the Philippines’ regional cuisines, epitomized by three main ingredients — coconut milk (gata), from the region’s number-one crop; taro leaves; and very prominently chilli, specifically the bird’s eye chilli, that fiery fruit most probably brought to our shores from South America via the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade, which obviously changed not only our cultural and social landscapes but culinary as well, bringing to us sapodilla (tsiko), chayote, camachile, sweet potato (kamote) and of course chocolate. Gastronomy is very welcoming of influences. I wonder what would Bicol dishes be without this very important import, chilli. Of course, the endemic pili nut is in many Bicol sweets, favorite pasalubong items. The pili fruit itself can also be found in Bicol tables. We had them in Catanduanes, boiled or blanched, dipped in kuyog, their version of fish bagoong, and eaten with boiled rice. This is eaten especially during stormy season when fishermen can’t go out to fish. 

Edsa Shangri-La, Manila’s Bicolano executive sous chef Sonny Almandres
The dishes of Bicol food promotion, which will be part of HEAT’s daily buffet, the Filipino station to be transformed into a cornucopia of Bicol delights, are anything but humble. HEAT has the good fortune of having Bicolano executive sous chef Sonny Almandres in its team. He transformed the classic dishes into eye-catching and intriguingly flavorful creations.
It will be indeed a gastronomic journey through the region as Almandres picked something from most of the provinces of the region which is composed of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Masbate, Sorsogon and Catanduanes.
Using Western techniques and plating to these traditional fares, Almamdres regaled us with his skill and knowledge in a luncheon the other day, savoring not only the richness of coconut milk and heat of chillis but also the exotic tastes of spices such as langkawas or galangal and tanglad or lemongrass. 

Grilled crayfish, grouper and tilapia from Sorsogon
During the luncheon, palates were teased with sinarapan sa tanglad (sinarapan on lemongrass), nilutong balaw (shrimp paste with beans and wild wood ear mushroom), kadingga (chopped pork innards and organs, their version of bopis), and kinunot nin Sorsogon (tuna and stingray meat fillet with moringa or malunggay leaves) served in dainty pieces.  
The appetizer is ceviche of banana heart and fresh dilis or anchovies. This is akin to the kulawo of the Tagalog province of Quezon, which is boiled banana heart, shredded and drizzled with a dressing coconut milk. The grated coconut meat is lightly toasted with live coals (Yes, the coals are put into the bowl of grated coconut meat and tossed about) before it is extracted for its milk, giving the juice a wonderfully smoky flavor. Since the two Camarineses are contiguous to Quezon, kulawo is a shared dish.  

Bicol Express, pork cooked in coconut cream, shrimp paste and chilli
Almandres deconstructed the banana heart ceviche — a taro root puff was topped with pickled papaya, pomelo pulps and fiddlehead fern salad, and the banana heart salad with anchovies dressed with smoky coconut cream sat atop a square of ripe papaya — Bicol in flavors, world-class in look.  
I’m not fond of seafood soups but surprisingly Almandres’s soup was one of my favorites in that lunch. The clear seafood soup with young sweet potato leaves was presented to us with homemade fish balls skewered with lemongrass stalks. It was very reminiscent of the sinigang and the Visayan fish tinola but sweetish and with a hint of heat, very apt for rainy days.
After these came the classic Bicol entrees, served on a long wooden tray, on a bed of ripe bright-red chillis. But one must not forget the intriguing condiment and drinks. A very noticeable condiment was Bicolano patis, which looked like fish bagoong, but it is juice from fermented shrimps cooked with coconut milk.
The drinks I was amused with. One was juice made from Formosa pineapples, the pygmy, crunchy and sweet pineapple variety grown in Daet, the capital of Camarines Norte. The juice has chopped chillis swimming in it, giving the sweet drink a surprising kick. Another was an alcoholic one — Cool Magma, a drink with lambanog, pineapple juice and grenadine, with a dash of chopped chillis, very refreshing and tantalizing. 

Ceviche of banana heart and fresh dilis
 One of the most famous of Bicolano entrees is the ginataang laing (taro leaves cooked in coconut cream). Almandres prefers to use the dried taro leaves because they are less itchy to the tongue.
Another popular Bicolano dish is the Bicol Express, which is pork cooked in coconut cream, shrimp paste and chilli. It is reminiscent of the Tagalog binagoongang baboy (pork in shrimp paste) but with coconut milk and heaps of chilli slivers. Many say that this is a quintessential Bicol dish, but the origin of this dish is still being debated. The Bicol Express as we know it today is said to be a Metro Manila concoction, named after the popular passenger train service from Manila to the Bicol region. It was named thus because it has the classic Bicol flavors present in the dishes simply called niladan, literally, something cooked with chillis.
On the other hand, Almendras, who uses baby back ribs for his Bicol Express, said that the dish was being served in karinderias by the side of the railroad track, where the Bicol Express passed by, thus the name. It was also so named because when you eat it, “talagang tatakbo ka nang mabilis” (you will run fast) to get yourself water to wash down the heat, he joked.

Pancit Bato rinuguan, sun-dried noodles  with shrimps, pechay, crisp chicken meat and winter melon topped with pig’s blood
 Almendras’s pancit Bato rinuguan is a marriage of his two favorite dishes, which he relished as a youth in his hometown Ligao City in Albay — Pancit Bato, sun-dried noodles from the town of Bato in Camarines Sur, usually gisado or sautéed with meats and vegetables, and rinuguan, pig’s blood stew. Pancit Bato rinuguan has the noodle sautéed with shrimps, pechay, crisp chicken meat and winter melon and topped with pig’s blood.
At the center of the array was the catches of the day from Sorsogon — grilled fillets of lapu-lapu (grouper) and tilapia and ulang (crayfish) on skewers.
But one should not forget the pinangat, which is layers of taro leaves fastened by coconut leaf strips with any kinds of meat and cooked with coconut milk. Almandres uses the kind from Camalig, the town in Albay famous for this kind of dish, with soft-shell crab and young coconut meat, the lokadon kind, which is midway between the young coconut meat (buko) and the mature one (niyog). Also, it had a likable strong lemongrass flavor.
The array of desserts were equally delightful — Daet’s Formosa pineapple upside down cake with lambanog (coconut liquor usually found in southern Luzon, particularly in Batangas and Quezon) and lemoncito coulis; and macaroons with pili, calamansi (Indian lemon), coconut and jackfruit flavors. Of course, the chilli was not left out. They were in the chocolate chili truffle and chilli pralines. Why not? The ancient Aztecs drank their chocolate with a dash of chilli, truly heady and aphrodisiac. Chilli in desserts is not a far-out thing just like salt in sweets. I had chilli ice cream at the 1st Colonial Grill restaurant in Legaspi City, Albay, and it was a pleasantly surprising treat. We did not have an ice cream but we had the bird’s eye chili crème brulee, sweet, spicy, creamy, unpredictable. Now, you are consumed by fire, fired up to consume more.

Daet’s Formosa pineapple upside down cake with lambanog (coconut liquor usually found in southern Luzon, particularly in Batangas and Quezon) and lemoncito coulis, and bird’s eye chili crème brulee
Dainty appetizers: sinarapan sa tanglad (sinarapan in lemongrass), anchovy ceviche, and kinunot nin Sorsogon (tuna and stingray meat fillet with moringa or malunggay leaves)
HEAT is open daily from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. with breakfast at 6 to 10 a.m., lunch at 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and dinner at 6:30 to 10:30 p.m. For restaurant reservations and further information, call (+63 2) 633-8888 local 2922 or 636-9077 or send an e-mail to restaurantrsvns.esl@shangri-la.com.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

An Organic Festival: The 2013 Panaad sa Negros Festival of Negros Occidental

Bailes de Luces Festival of La Castellana

 Organic farming practices and products took center stage at the Panaad sa Negros Festival, Negros Occidental’s grand festivity that promotes the products and destinations of its 19 towns and 13 cities, cumulatively showcasing the best of the province, as well as gathers Negrenses here and abroad and their visitors to its many events and activities.
In this twentieth year of the festival, the organizers, led by the Negros Occidental governor Alfredo Marañon, Jr., also emphasized the history of Panaad sa Negros Festival and how it has grown to be one of the major festivals in Western Visayas, if not in the whole of the Philippines, and took time to honor the festival’s founders.
On April 8 at the Panaad Park and Stadium in the province’s capital Bacolod City, there were reportedly about 10,000 visitors during the sweltering opening day in the middle of the Philippine summer, where many grand events happened including the Festival Dance Competition and the opening of the Panaad Tourism, Agri-Trade Fair and Exhibit, two of the most popular attractions.
The Panaad week from April 8 to 14 was actually replete with events and activities. Aside from the grand ones such as the Search for the Lin-ay sang Negros, a beauty pageant, a staple event in any Philippine fiesta and festival; the motorcade and floats parade from the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol to the Panaad Park; and the Festival Dances Competition, there were the Hataw sa Panaad show; the different shows featuring celebrities of the country’s two biggest television networks GMA 7 and ABS-CBN’ 2; the drum and bugle competition among elementary-level students; and the Panaad Drumbeating Showcase and fireworks to keep the people entertained.
Those inclined to sports attended the Great Titan Lifesaving Sports Festival; competitions in chess, boxing and taekwondo; the three- and five-kilometer road race at the Panaad Stadium; the annual derby or Panaad Bulang; the Murcia Panaad Run; the Mambukal Team Relay Race.
            Balancing the physical activities were the spiritual and cultural aspects headlined by the Paindis-indis sang Binalaybay and Rondalla Showcase at the Panaad Stadium, a poetry and plucked-string contest. Here, Luz Leonor from Calatrava was hailed as champion, besting 10 orators with her “Kay Kita, Usa Ra,” extolling her town’s food, destinations and people. John Rey Java of Himamaylan City and his “Organiko nga Pagpanguma Para sa Masulhay Kag Mainuswagon nga Probinsya” took second place while Edmar Villanueva of Silay City and his “Panguma Organiko, Ginapabugal Ko” took the third.
Aside from the poetry contest, the theater group Teatrokon Negros staged Balay Tali-ambong at the Panaad Park Stage, and the Elohymn concert, Latin dance sport contest, RMN’s Panaad Hip Hop Challenge and the Philippine Folk Dances Competition were mounted.
            Opportunities to learn and conduct business were provided at the Slow Food Convivium, the Livestock and Dairy Products Fair, the Farmers’ Day Celebration and Farmers’ Forum, the Organic Agriculture Forum, the PGNO-UPLBAA Annual Panaad Seminar, an “eco-garden” show, a solid waste management advocacy event and the TESDA Livelihood Skills Olympics.
Of special interest were the Convention of the National Federation of Motorcycle Clubs Philippines and the NPC-PAWS dog show.
The overwhelming reception and the range of events inspired Marañon to declare, “The Panaad Festival remains a crowd drawer with lots of visitors who are also with us today.”
“In our twentieth year, we are unstoppable,” he further boasted.
The Panaad sa Negros Festival was conceptualized in 1993 by the provincial government led by then governor Rafael Coscolluela coordinating with representatives from the private sector. Back then, the major festival of the province was the Masskara Festival of Bacolod City, which started in 1980 to uplift the spirits of the people demoralized by the collapse of the province’s economy that was based mainly on sugar. The Panaad sa Negros Festival was to be province-wide and gather the different festivals of towns and cities of Negros Occidental, like the Buglasan Festival of the province of Negros Oriental, the Cebuano-speaking half of the island of Negros, said to be first “festival of festivals” in the country.
The festival’s Hiligaynon name means “ vow (or promise) of Negros,” thus it is a form of thanksgiving to God as well as of renewing/fulfilling a vow or panata. It was also in commemoration of the founding the province on April 30, 1901. The first Panaad sa Negros Festival was a three-day affair at the Provincial Park and Lagoon of the Provincial Capitol in Bacolod City, where it was held for three more years. In 1997, the festival, which had become bigger, was held at the reclaimed area near the Bacolod Real Estate Development Corporation (BREDCO) Port.
            In 1998, the Panaad Stadium complex was built in the barangay of Mansilingan for the Palarong Pambansa with the subsequent construction of the Panaad Park to be a permanent home of the festival. The 25-hectare Panaad Park and Sports Complex now has the pavilions of the municipalities and cities of Negros Occidental. 

The pavilion of Cadiz City

The pavilion of Silay City
The pavilion of Moises Padilla

The pavilion of Talisay City

Organic produce at the pavilion of Victorias City

Fresh seafood for sale at the pavilion of Cauayan

            Coscolluela remembered the pavilions to be very simple then, unattractive, in fact. He was honored during opening ceremony together with former vice governor Romeo Gamboa, former board member Michael Suarez, former congressman Monico Puentevella, Regina Ledesma, Erlinda Jara, Eusebio Po, Andres Valencia, Joaquin Teves, Angelina Echaus, Eduardo Ledesma, Amalia Unson, Wilmar Drilon, Bob Chugani, Roberto Leong, Bro. Rolando Dizon, Msgr. John Liu, Silverio Ureta, Noli Puentevella, Rica Suarez, Msgr. Guillermo Gaston, Girlie Belzunce, Cecile Asico, Donna Porter, Charito Motus and Rene Hinojales, as well as former governors Joseph Marañon and Isidro Zayco. These people had been instrumental in the founding and growth of the Panaad sa Negros Festival.
            Coscolluela related the difficulty involved in the planning and building of the park and sports complex, especially in the procurement of funding. The complex eventually cost P200.5 million, and he was criticized for building a white elephant. The stadium has hosted many sports events, and the pavilions had become more sophisticated and creative over time.
            Coscolluela related when one pavilion was beautified, the others followed. Bacolod City now has a replica of its city hall, while Silay City has an old mansion similar to the ancestral houses that attract tourists. Calatrava’s pavilion looks like a cave while Cauayan’s is a huge bamboo pole. The agricultural town of Moises Padilla has a pavilion that looks like a carabao.
These pavilions showcased their products and destinations, virtually becoming souvenir shops and tourist information centers. Famous for its dried fishes, Cadiz City received the Top Grosser Award among the pavilions for a total gross sales of their products amounting to P881,124. Many pavilions featured restaurants that served seafood dishes. A busy dried fish market sprouted around the Cadiz City pavilion. Also notable was the pavilion of the coastal city of Sagay, which featured aquariums of fishes, corals and stingrays, educating the public about the marine environment.
            Coscolluela hoped that activities in the park last all year round and that the pavilions will become satellite or extension offices of the different municipalities and cities, becoming tourist attractions themselves.
            Meanwhile, at the stadium, people were enthralled by the different festival dances.
The Panaad sa Negros Festival gathers together the different festivals of its cities and municipalities, which sees blossoming in the Festival Dance Competition, where towns and cities send their best street dance groups.
The Panaad Festival did away with parading through the city as it is usually done in other festivals, and instead had this year’s 17 contingents competing immediately at the stage at the Panaad Stadium.
            Emerging as champion is the scintillating Bailes de Luces Festival group from La Castellana, dazzling spectators with lights incorporated into the dancers’ costumes. Spanish for “dance of lights,” the Bailes de Luces Festival is celebrated during the Christmas season, culminating on January 5, which is the foundation day of the town. While light has many meanings, for the people of La Castellana, it “symbolizes the forever burning desire in the heart of every resident to excel in all endeavors towards the glory of their beloved town.”
            The Udyakan Festival street dance group of Kabankalan City came in second. Udyakan is in celebration of the anniversary of when Kabankalan was declared a city on August 2, 1997. With an aim to showcase the cultural traditions of the city, the steps in the street dance are based on the five folk dances of the city.
            Third-place winner, the Balbagan Festival group of Binalbagan, highlighted the stories of the origin of their town’s name. One theory is that Binalbagan comes from the word balbag or “to beat.” It is said that traders pounded tree barks, which was used to cover their harvests of shrimps. The bark was believed to remove the unpleasant odor and to prevent the shrimp from spoiling during shipment. Folklore tells that a giant snake blocked the mouth of the Binalbagan River, an area the people came to call Binalabagan, which eventually became Binalbagan.
The Hugyaw Kansilay group of Silay City got the fourth place. The city’s dance recounted the legend of the kansilay tree, from which the city got its name. Long time ago, there was a princess named Kansilay, the daughter of the chieftain Bubog. Her village was attacked by pirates led by Lunok. The people defended their town, however, Bubog was killed and Kansilay was mortally wounded and eventually died. At her grave, a plant emerged growing into a sturdy tree with purplish pink flowers. Called Kansilay, the tree became abundant in the area and thus the name of the present city. Aside from this story, the dance also told of Silay’s livelihoods. It was also a celebration of life and display of faith.
            On the other hand, Minuluan Festival dance, which was bestowed the fifth-place trophy, told the town’s history when it was called Minuluan. Here, the people of the village, led by Kapitan Sabi, an expert in the local martial art called arnis de mano, successfully repelled the attacks of pirates from Jolo in the seventeenth century using only rattan canes against the kris of the enemy.
            Joining the contingents as guest performer was the group that depicted the MassKara Festival, Bacolod City’s popular festival that highlights the Bacoleños’ “zest for life and unbridled optimism amidst trials and hardships.” The name was coined to mean “face of the people,” and the masks always depict smiles.
At the heart of the Paanad Park were the Organic Village and the Organic na Negros Agri-Fest, exemplifying this year’s festival theme: “Panaad@20: Celebrating Negros as the Philippines’ Leader in Organic Agriculture.”
Negros Occidental has always been known as the Sugar Capital of the Philippines, supplying more than half of the country’s sugar production. It is the commodity that propelled the province to the top. However, as world sugar prices went down, the province’s economy collapsed. Now, Negros Occidental is diversifying its products, and sees fight future in organic farming. Marañon aspires that the province will be the “Organic Food Capital of Asia.”
“We believe we are ahead in the whole country in terms of organic farming. We have the land, the farmers, and the capacity to train the farmers and to expand what we have,” he once said. “We promote organic farming because organic food is healthy, all natural, and without chemicals. Many of our farmers are enthusiastic in producing organic food, especially as it is a vehicle for sustainable rural development and a means of alleviating poverty and increasing food security in the island.”
The province has a considerable history in organic farming. From 1980 to 1990, alternative farming was introduced by non-government organizations. These NGOs, together with small farmers, initiated the Sustainable Agricultural Program in 1990. In 2000, the Sustainable Agricultural Network was organized with 20 NGOs, people’s organizations and government offices. The organic efforts saw culmination in 2005, when the governments of Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental signed a memorandum of agreement to transform Negros Island into the “Organic Food Bowl of Asia.” The following year, the First Negros Island Organic Farmer Festival was held at Aguinaldo Street in Bacolod City. In 2007, the Organik sa Negros Weekend Market was launched; a provincial ordinance banning genetically modified organisms (GMO) entry to the province was signed; 10 organic villages were established; and Organik na Negros Organic Producers and Retailers (ONOPRA) was organized with 46 member organizations.
            In 2008, organic sectors were organized and tourists wanting to learn from these organic farms started to trickle in. The following year, the fourth Negros Island Organic Farmers Festival was held, and the Negros Island Certification Services (NICERT), the first organic certification body accredited in the country in compliance with the Organic Agriculture Act of 2010, was formed. In 2011, the organic festival highlighted the importance of organic cuisine with 25 chefs showcasing the preparation of organic food. Also, Slow Food Negros was established, spearheaded by the Negros Cultural Foundation, organic farmers, chefs and cooks. In 2012, more than 4,000 hectares of land were being converted for use in organic agriculture with some areas already certified. 

The Organic Village
            The Panaad’s Organic Village was a separate event in itself with its own fair and activities. The market featured an astounding array of products. The province has many organic food brands led by Fresh Start Organics. Additionally, there were cooking demos, talks and seminars, a night that featured live bands and organic beers and wines, and even a beauty pageant called Lin-ay sang Organic, whose winner would be the ambassadress to promote organic farming in the province and beyond.
            Although there have been organic booths in past festivals, the Organic Village was a new feature. For the first time, they organized the organic farmers and suppliers to be gathered in one venue.
            The Panaad sa Negros Festival was indeed a feast for both the soul and body, nourishing one with seafood, organic products, spectacles, stories and the warmth of the Negrenses.

Negros Occdiental governor Alfredo Marnon Jr. during the opening ceremony
Balbagan Festival of Binalbagan