On the way to the parish church in Talingting, we stopped by a shanty along the road to have snacks. The smell of freshly baked bread enticed us to jump out of the mini van. We were greeted by Lilibeth, the owner of the humble bakery, and we spied her husband and daughter kneading dough behind the glass display counter. There were no other tourists when we visited so we took a break and spent time talking with Lilibeth and her family. And this is her story.
The story of Lilibeth is a story typical in Siquijor. Because of a lack of job opportunities, she and her family left the island when she was very young. They went to Mindanao, just like thousands of other Siquijodnons I know. She worked as a farmer and then as a house help. She got married in Mindanao and had children. When life got harder in the land of promise, she and her family went back to Siquijor (just like many other Siquijodnons I know) and tried to start anew. Lilibeth admitted to not knowing anything about making pan bisaya, which is what we call our local bread in the island, we being Bisaya. She related that she just watched her neighbor prepare and bake the bread and learned from her through observations (I was thinking, shucks, she stealthily copied someone’s recipe).
Pan bisaya making is quite common in the island. Many can do it. Lilibeth said she was compelled to make bread for her family (who learned to eat bread because of her boss in Mindanao) because their family of four spends almost P200 every day just for bread. When she said this, I mentally calculated how much they need to earn in a day in order to be able to buy bread worth P200. (As of February 2017, the daily minimum wage in Siquijor was P308 for non-agricultural workers, P288 for agricultural workers in the non-sugar industry, and P303 for agricultural workers in the sugar industry.) Many things ran in my mind but I kept my mouth shut and continued to listen to Lilibeth’s story.
With all due respect to Lilibeth and to her family because they are working together to have a better life — the father and son were cutting wood for fuel for their clay oven (pugon), while her daughter was shaping the dough — but Lilibeth’s pan bisaya is not one I would consider authentic pan bisaya. Lilibeth has been covered by popular magazines and television shows and it is a pity because these people never managed to research further how the authentic pan bisaya is made. I felt offended for those who make authentic pan bisaya. I remembered my aunt, now deceased. She used to make pan bisaya in her also humble kitchen using the pugon. I would have loved to learn how she did it, but I never got to, I was too late.
There is one ingredient in Lilibeth’s pan bisaya that made it in-authentic — tuba (coconut wine) as leavening agent. Similar to Argao’s torta, Siquijor’s pan bisaya would use tuba as leavening agent because yeast was difficult to procure in the island.
Even if Lilibeth said she uses first class flour, yeast and baking soda in her bread, do I have the right to judge her bread as inauthentic? Do I tell her that her claim to make authentic pan bisaya is false and she is misleading the many tourists that flock her small bakery?
Still pondering on the authenticity of Lilibeth’s pan bisaya, I ventured to their backyard and wandered a bit. The beach behind their small hut is beautiful — white sand, long stretch of beach. Lilibeth and her family are on my mind. I felt bad that I think Lilibeth stole the recipe of her neighbor and sold the products of that recipe as authentic pan bisaya, and got recognition for it. I felt bad for the pan bisaya makers whose recipes they learned from their mothers and their mothers’ mother. I felt bad for the pan bisaya makers who never sought fame for their bread (which actually tasted way way better than the bread Lilibeth was selling). I felt bad for Lilibeth and the tourists who said they were buying authentic pan bisaya. I felt bad mostly for myself for thinking bad of Lilibeth and her family. Just because of a pan bisaya.