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Ubiquitous on dining tables of Cordillerans, lowlanders and mainstream Filipinos, pandesal (salt bread) also serves as the country’s another economic indicator, and you better believe it, according to Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR) and Region 1 business-minded fellows, who closely watch economic trends and are conversant about the common bread.
Last Thursday before dawn was breaking, a large group of farmers and vegetable traders, having transacted business at La Trinidad’s Vegetable Trading Post decided to take a morning break in a restaurant.
Ah Kong happened to be with them. As they entered the restaurant, it dawned on Ah that this was the only second time he ever entered a restaurant. The first was in the late ‘70s. It happened this way:
Ah Kong: (Napan restaurant, e first time na nga sumrek ti restaurant.) “Ay-yay-yay! Kasanu nga umorder ditoy? Ay, ammo kon. Aguray ak nu adda umorder nga customer ta isu ti tuladek.”
Adda inmay nga customer. Customer: “Miss, can I have one Swiss steak and French fries?”
Ah Kong: “Uray siak met, Miss, one SWEEPSTAKE and first prize!”
Some ordered coffee; some tea. Some ordered food. Ah Kong ordered sweepstake, este, coffee, but many in the group preferred to eat pandesal.
Waiting for their orders, their talk drifted on the planned closure of roads leading to Divisoria Market by the Manila City government that could cause disruption of delivery of perishable highland vegetables to the metropolis.
One in the group, Albert Caranto, from La Trinidad, decided to contact his source working at La Trinidad Municipal Hall. Both talked in their CP while others in the group stayed silent, merely looked at Albert, who kept nodding while talking with his source.
Then his somber expression lifted; a smile plastered his face as he said to his CP, “Thank you, thank you, ay salamat unay apoh!”
Albert pocketed his CP as the group waited with bated breath what he’d say. He winked at them and gladly said, “Nakisarita kanu gayam da Governor Melchor Diclas kenni Mayor Isko Moreno ket ginarantisadoan no Mayor Isko nga adda ti nasayaat nga adjustments nga inaramid ti Manila government tapno tuloy-tuloy panag-deliver tayo ti nateng idiay Manila.”
“Ni Mayor Romeo Salda gayam ti nakitungtung ti opisina ni Mayor Moreno para diay meeting panggep diay delivery ti nateng nga nag-resulta met iti nasayaat nga tungtungan da Governor Diclas kenni Mayor Moreno, kuna duay source ko.”
Members of the group heaved a sigh of relief with the positive information they got. They can continue delivery of vegetables to Manila.
A pretty waitress serving the group offered names of pastries sold in their restaurant for them to try but those who ordered pandesal shook their heads, smiled at her and one, Comides Pulido, vegetable trader supplying vegetables to Region III and Manila, said, “Di bali, adding nga napintas. Gumatang kami damdama kadagiti tinapay nga inbagam ta isu tu ti iyawid mi. Ngem itatta pay lang, kayat mi mangan ti pandesal nga napudot ken naimas a kasla pudot ken imas ti panag-isisem mo!”
Happy the waitress was, hearing nice and complimentary words that gave her a colossal burst of sunshine and made her morning work lighter; she left them and came back with a large brown paper bag of pandesal and butter.
Ordering more coffee and tea, the group set to work, halving the pandesal, putting butter devouring those pieces of bread famously known almost to all Filipino children.
As most Filipinos do it, most in the group first “washed” the pandesal by dipping these in their cups of coffee or tea before consuming it. The rest did it simply, biting at the pandesal or popping it straight into the mouth. Others, like dainty ladies, tore the pandesal before eating it.
Then, Salvo Artemio, 62, former baker for more than ten years but turned to farming when he married and successfully turned around his wife’s failing landholding in Benguet into a profitable business by planting asparagus and cut flowers, paused from eating, critically eyed the pandesal in his hand and said, “Ti panakaaramid ti pandesdal ti pangkitaan nu ti ekonomiya tayo ket ag-alisto wenno ag-karadap.”
“Idi baker (panadero) nak, ammo mi nu dagiti flour millers ti Pilipinas are in a technical quandary nu di da maka-import ti wheat. Panggep daytoy, saan da nga maka-deliver ti flour requirements dagiti bakers ken bakeries ti intero nga pagilian,” Artemio explained.
“Dakami met nga panadero ket i-adjust mi a ti timpla-en mi nga arina, “Artemio further explained.
“Isu gapu nu apay aglabas addu nga tawen ket pabassit met ti panaka-aramid ti pandesal, ken saan la a pandesal, other pastries pay,” Artemio ended as he popped a small-sized pandesal into his mouth and downed it with coffee.
With more than a decade in baking expertise, Ah Kong, who was with the group and listening intently to Artemio’s explanation, Ah concluded Artemio knew whereof, what he talked about.
Less an hour later, the paper bag full of pandesal was emptied of contents, with only two pieces remaining, intentionally left uneaten as offering to gods of the farmers and vegetable dealers and the Supreme Omnipotent whom they believe the reason why they raise their heads heavenwards in humble supplication for that fair share in everyday living through industriousness and callused hands.
Pandesal is to Filipinos what loaf of bread is Americans and pan dulce is to Mexicans.
Like the Benguet farmers and traders mentioned here who partook of breakfast, pandesal is often associated by us to “almusal” or “agahan,” bespeaking of breakfast food.
Before, pandesal produced by bakers were big in size. Nowadays, however, a pandesal is mostly the size of a lemon and that’s a lemon in the size of being small.
To give you a clear picture of how small a pandesal nowadays is, Ah tells you that the eye bags of a woman is quite bigger than our present pandesal.
For pandesal indeed, is an indicator whether our economy is bullish or pessimistic.
However, for the past that pandesal got smaller and smaller until its present state, we can say with conviction that Philippine economy wavered between being bullish and pessimistic hence, pandesal of today is like something invented in America (noted for creating big things) and miniaturized by Japan.
For that was how the Benguet farmers and traders saw so, the morning they had their almusal. One of the farmers, Carlito Padengan, from Kibungan, before he dipped his pandesal into his cupful of coffee, kissed his pandesal and exclaimed, “Adda tu ti aldaw ket agbalin ti pandesal tayo nga kasla kadakkel ti bunga ti native nga masaprola.”
You know too well how big our native masaprola passion fruit is, not the yellow American passion fruit usually sold in Baguio’s fruit section. If you don’t know masaprola, seen or tasted one, you ain’t a highlander nor lowlander and that’s a pity.
Well, the farmers and traders in that La Trinidad restaurant were one in opinion the pandesal of today is generally an inferior version of its forebear which was a beloved goody.
“Such deterioration in quality,” Ortego Palambit, one of the traders said, “is the effect of the state of the Philippine economy.”
“And because it tells the story of the country’s economic condition, the pandesal will always become an economic indicator by its price and size,” analyzed Palambit.
Condring Kalpito, a farmer who not only watches Philippine economic trends but politics as well, interposed, “Whenever pandesal shrinks, opposition politicians call public attention to that fact and decry the economic hardship that it indicates. Since the ‘50s, pandesal has been shrinking but its price rising, belying claims of government technocrats that Philippine economy has improved.”
Then Condring asked, “What say you, Ah Kong?” Ah rubbed his short nose and answered, “Pandesal doesn’t lie. It’s still small and costly, which means any announced growth in gross national product doesn’t mean anything.”
“Even the specially baked pandesal of today reflects not so good times for its price is still quite high. It’s bigger not because its size is what pandesal should be but because its special and higher priced, yet not necessarily as good as the pandesal of old,” Ah explained.
Many of our old folks remember the pandesal of old having a crunchy surface all over, its top side having a crisp and craggy crack that ran from end to end in an irregular line like a big crease on a forehead.
There was a lovely crackle when you broke the old pandesal, its inside slightly moist and fluffy with flavor attributed to pure wheat flour and the pinch of salt that made it salt bread.
Pandesal is the breakfast staple of the Filipino masses. Middle and upper classes in the country prefer American or other foreign bread.
Because of the economic picture that the shrinkage and cost of pandesal represents, and the fact that even half dozen of pandesal cannot really fill one stomach, the Benguet farmers and traders think it would be better for pandesal not to be sold per piece but by the kilo.