“Psst, Lori! Do you want to try the best pandesal ever?”
Pandesal plays a starring role daily on many a Pinoy’s breakfast table. They’re bready pillows that literally mean “bread of salt,” but which these days are decidedly more sweet than salty and multi-shaped instead of hewing to the traditional oval form.
Pandesal has plural iterations – pan de coco, pan de monja, pan de regla – the latter a vulgar moniker for red bread, but my favorite is pan de putok, or simply, putok. Putok of course means “pop” in Tagalog; there are other more colloquial meanings too but I’m not going there. Putok is shaped like a tennis ball, and has a very smooth surface as opposed to a pandesal’s nubby, crumb-brushed exterior. The defining characteristic of a putok is its “popped” top, thus its name.
Cookbook author Ginny de Guzman, has written a few articles about pandesal and during one of our all-about-baking conversations, I ask her about putok. Apparently, it’s also called pan de suelo because it’s baked on the floor of a wood-fired oven at temperatures reaching 500°F. The searing heat is what causes the bread to pop.
So when my good friend, Aldwin, asks me if I want to try the best putok ever (dang, that sentence doesn’t sound right), I’m thrilled. My pandesal purchases are more of the Pan de Manila sort, not that that’s a bad thing, but good pandesal is a rarity, wouldn’t you agree? The fluff passing off as pandesal these days is just that – too fluffy.
The best putok ever – and I must agree with Aldwin that it is – can be found at a nondescript (aren’t they all?) panaderia (bakery) in Kapitolyo. These buns of bliss are only available beginning at 2pm, at which time they practically fly out of the oven and into the eager hands of those waiting in line, and man, does the line get long! At three pesos a pop (wooh, unintended pun there), each putok is almost always warm, warming my hands and stimulating bready desire.
Invisible wisps of smoke fragrant of the wood with which it’s baked, tickle my nostrils. This mere stimulus of smell ignites massive drooling so I surrender. Crack! goes the crunch as my teeth sink into the sunken crater of crumb. Steam hits my nose – the dough is still hot! – this bed of bread is dense but as soft as a sigh, believe it. Teetering on a line but not veering over into too sweet, the bread is savory enough to be eaten on its own. I feel that this bread, in fact, is best when dunked into searingly hot coffee or chased down with swigs of soda, like we used to do when I was a kid.
The panaderia that makes this magical (to me it is) putok has no signage to speak of, but it’s called PJL Bakery: I’m curious, so I ask. When I’m in the area at just the right time, I buy at least 20 putok and scarf down at least seven on the drive home, the car’s air-conditioned air immersed in smoky wondrousness. Naturally, by the time I do get home, such energetic consumption of putok makes me feel like I myself will pop.
Tell me, where can the best pandesal / putok / pan de whatever be bought?
On West Capitol Drive in Kapitolyo located right across Empanada Avenue (a kiosk selling, what else – empanadas)
Putok available daily beginning at 2pm until it runs out or a greedy bread eater like me buys it all.