From Bahao to Breakfast

From Bahao To Breakfast

Felice Prudente Sta. Maria

Breakfast as illustrated in a period cookbook

Breakfast as illustrated in a period cookbook

The rules keep changing. What time should we have breakfast? What should we eat? Should the meal be light or heavy? Is what we are eating safe?

Before calendars, watches, factory and office hours made demands, when one ate depended on sunlight, moonlight, day length, and nature’s rhythms.  Before science entered the kitchen and advertising confounded how to choose, what one ate was a matter of family upbringing, societal sense of season, and how taste buds adjusted to physical development. 

Spanish and American colonial eras influenced the earlier Philippine breakfast.  During those centuries, innovations in kitchen stoves and ovens occurred globally.  Lighting the day’s first cooking fire in the predawn light was demanding.  With wood or coconut husk as fuel, the kalan (woodfire stove) system was surely more time consuming than turning the knob on a recently invented gas or electric stove that even had an oven for baking built into it.  In the 16th century Chinese merchants brought in tinderboxes that supplemented the native sulpak, a wooden device to create a spark using friction.  Not till 1905 did the Philippines gain a match factory.  It became Philippine Match Company and is the antecedent of Phimco Industries, Inc.  By using Swedish technology, it became one of Asia’s most modern match producers in the 1930s.

The difficulty and the ease of preparing the day’s first meal are factors in what makes up the breakfast menu.  Breakfast likewise affects the characteristics of lunch. 


One wonders what pre-colonial breakfast habits may have been. Perhaps early written colonial sources can offer a few clues.

A Dominican missionary working in the Tagalog area during 1609 found that natives ate in the morning (agahan), at mid-day (nanghali), and at night (hapun). Four years later, the first Spanish-Tagalog dictionary was published.  Its Franciscan compiler, Fr. Pedro San Buenaventura, explained that bahao meant eating very little in the morning, and even food saved from the day before.  By 1754, the Tagalog-Spanish dictionary compiled by Fr. Juan Noceda and Fr. Pedro Sanlucar used pamahao as the term for almuerza (breakfast) or merienda (afternoon snack).

Bahaw is common to Bikolano, Hiligaynon, Sebuano, Samar-Leytenyo, and Tagalog where it means cold victuals or leftovers. In Pangasinan the synonym is baaw.  Bahaw is the root word of pamahaw, the term for breakfast in the Jose V. Panganiban Diksyunaryo-Tesauro Pilipino-Ingles published in 1972. 

It may be, however, that by 1905 pamahaw was not used as frequently as the term almusal (the Tagalog version of Spanish almuerzo).  Almusal is the only word for breakfast in the English-Spanish-Pampango Dictionary by Luther Parker, and likely was the case in Manila as well.  Almusal had replaced Kapampangan terms based on abac, the time of day from morning till noon recorded in Vocabulario de Pampanga authored in 1732 by Fr. Diego Bergaño, an Augustinian. Capamanabac was to eat, usually between 9 a.m. and noon. Manabac-nabac was to eat here and there on the same morning.  The contemporary, published Kapampangan synonym for breakfast is abákan, a term going back to abac.

“With every serving of breakfast rice, pan de sal and longaniza, Philippine cuisine can continue to cook up a liking for the nation’s sense of self.”


A light menu starts the day in Spain.  It is no more than coffee and a biscuit or a piece of bread with butter and jam.  In colonial days, it would have been more likely a cup of thickly cooked chocolate rather than coffee. Spain was synonymous with chocolate and it was served to passengers and crew on galleons plying the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans until 1815. 

Spain’s expeditionary forces brought the first Europeans to discover xocolatl (pronounced “shoh-COH-lat’l”), the royal brew of Aztec Emperor Montezuma made from roasted cacao beans considered precious throughout his empire. Spaniards removed the original drink’s chili peppers, sweetened it, and named it chocolaté. Roman Catholic missionaries realized the cacao drink could keep one awake for vigils, perk one up during predawn prayers, serve as Lenten fare if not made with milk, and provide nourishment on journeys into hinterlands while searching for new souls to convert. 

The Spanish King hoped to sustain his empire’s global lead in cacao planting and sales.  In the Philippines, cacao saplings seem to have arrived in 1663 when the new Governor-General, Diego Salcedo, carried in one for the Jesuit priest Juan Davila who planted it in Carigara.  In 1670, Pedro Brabo de Lagunas, a naval pilot, bought in live cuttings of Acapulco cacao that were planted by Juan de Aguila in Camarines.  They may have been the parent plant for Philippine cacao, tradition suggests.  By 1847 cacao was growing all over the archipelago for home consumption.  Cacao was even growing wild in the mountains of Negros and was said to have outrivaled cacao from Indonesia’s Ternate and Manado that became Portuguese and Dutch territories.

A jicarra (a small cup like a demitasse) of chocolate and a bun were the common “little” breakfast upon waking up in Filipinas.  The bun, biscuit, or piece of roasted sweet potato accompanying the beverage was called a sopas because it soaked up every last drop of precious chocolate left in the cup.  Sopear means “to mop up,” as can be done with bread.  In Cavite, Kaibigan Bakery that has been in Tanza since 1920 still sells an S-shaped sopas biscuit baked in a wood-fired oven.

By 1898 as the Spanish era was coming to a close, the best accommodation in the country, Hotel Oriente, served a light breakfast of fruit, a little bread, and coffee or chocolate.  The term almuerza a las doce (“breakfast at 12”) meant the later “big breakfast” or lunch.  It was also called comida principal and was the day’s main meal. Café Oriental at Plaza San Gabriel advertised in Manual del Viajero en Filipinas first released in 1875. A tourist could enjoy during almuerza at noon: one serving or plate each of soup, eggs fried or as an omelet, a fried viand (fritada), beefsteak, meat as mechada or a stew with sauce, chicken or duck, fried fish with a sauce, salad, fruits in season, a sweet, coffee. The post-sunset menu had two dishes less than the noontime meal.  Natives were consistently described as eating only a mound of rice and a small piece of fish at almost all their meals.


As the 19th century turned into the 20th, the United States of America decided it would transform Spain’s Filipinas into its own colony renamed Philippine Islands.  Home Economics became a public school subject in 1904. By 1911, Alice Fuller had authored a manual for teachers of elementary grades.  Nutrition was introduced as a factor for food selection.  Menus for one week included the following for breakfast: Monday, coffee with milk and sugar, hot pan de sal; Tuesday, 2 boiled eggs, bread, chocolate, fruit; Wednesday, rice and milk with sliced bananas and sugar; Thursday, hot bread, guava jelly, chocolate; Friday, omelet, rice, fruit, coffee; Saturday, fried corn mush, eggs, coffee, orange; Sunday, rice, boiled eggs, coffee.  Lunch and dinner menus had rice accompanied by dishes such as mongos stewed with pork, shrimp and bitter melon, or fried liver.  Four meals substituted camote sweet potato or ubi root crop for rice.

Public health was of great concern.  In addition to the public school’s efforts, the Philippine Bureau of Sanitation used its network.  In 1916 it published a bulletin to advance the use of its model diet for 30 days designed with the assistance of Mabel F. Dobbs, the Bureau’s dietician.  It had been observed that the general public seemed to lack vitality.  Poor residents ate only rice and fish.  Due to just trivial illnesses, Filipinos could not continue their work and lingered in bed.  But Filipinos who enlisted in the Constabulary and Philippine Scouts where they ate nutritiously, receiving the correct dose of vitamins and minerals through food, built up their needed stamina. The Bureau emphasized that healthy workers were essential for any progress to take effect. If the general public could eat a balanced diet, they would be less susceptible to illnesses and more energetic, the Bureau explained. 

The bulletin promoted a model home garden so that vitamin-rich vegetables could be available for everyone. To be grown were radish, squash, upo bottle gourd, pechay cabbage, lettuce, tomato, New Era beans, corn, Canadian Wonder beans, bell pepper, eggplant, mongo, cucumber, camote sweet potato, mustard green, okra. It emphasized that the produce was for family use primarily rather than selling.  The harvest would provide variety to meals in addition to increasing nutrition.  The bulletin used for breakfast the word desayuno, a term not present in the 16th century dictionaries cited.  Almuerzo was the Bulletin’s word for lunch, and cena for dinner. Most of the menus served rice at all three meals.  The thirty breakfast menus suggested food combinations such as:

Fried rice, fried egg, banana, coffee with sugar;
Rice, Canadian Wonder bean, fried sweet potato with sugar, coffee with sugar;
Rice, smoked fish (tinapa), fried sweet potato, coffee with sugar;
Papaya, roast fish, pan de sal, coffee with sugar;
Ginger tisane (salabat), fried rice, and tapa or roast meat;
Banana, fried fish, pan de sal, coffee with sugar;
Chorizo sausage with fried banana, pan de sal, ginger tisane;
Fried rice, cooked shrimp, coffee with sugar;
Fried liver with fried sweet potato, coffee with sugar;
Pan de sal, chocolate, chorizo, papaya;
Fried rice, fried dried catfish (candole seco frito), coffee with sugar;
Pan de sal, scrambled egg [often poured atop rice], chocolate.

Although during Spanish times, peddlers around Manila sold milk and there were daily doorstep deliveries, neither carabao nor cow is cited in the 1916 diet. The Bureau of Sanitation discouraged unpasteurized fresh milk, worried about unsanitary bottling and sick cattle as sources.  It may also have been an issue of perishability.  Ice boxes and refrigerators were luxuries and not available nationwide. Powdered and sweetened condensed milk were increasing their presence and would eventually become substitutes for fresh milk in some town centers.  Canned condensed milk originated as an American patent in 1856.  Eagle brand, a product of inventor Gail Borden’s company, was pioneering. It seems to have been during the American colonial era that condensed milk grew its Philippine market.

A clue to how the Filipino breakfast was changing is described in the Singalong-San Andres Women’s Club Menu Cook Book first released in mimeographed form to raise funds for its women-led, community, and civic programs of 1949.  It became very popular and 1,000 copies were printed annually for several years.  The menus are significant because they capture Philippine cuisine as it had incorporated both Spanish and America colonial-era influences immediately after World War 2.  The Asian character of Philippine foods had not disappeared in Manila, to which Singalong and San Andres are districts. Puto, palitao, suman sa ibos (rice cake varieties) with mango, fried pinipig (flattened rice), and pinipig calamay, for instance, share billing with Hispanic ensaimada and pan de sal.  

Coffee, introduced during Spanish times but boosted by American brands (as shown in the 1916 Bureau of Sanitation bulletin), was rivaling chocolate as the morning beverage of choice. Canned goods had been sold continuously from the late 19th century, and more vigorously from the 1920s.  Spam and sardines were two of the varieties that figured for breakfast in 1949.  While the breakfast menus were filling, the foods for lunch and dinner were more substantial and took longer to prepare than morning fare.  In those days, women cooked and it was not unusual for husbands and students to return home for lunch.

Heirloom Fare

The Filipino breakfast of today at leading hotels and restaurants is often described as the farmer’s, the fisher’s, or the haciendero’s version. Provinces have their nuances, usually underscoring locally preserved fish, meats, and sausages. Gone is the appearance of chorizo on the menu; longaniza is the popular term.  One will find links of today’s breakfasts to the menus described in the San Buenaventura dictionary, Bureau of Sanitation, public school textbooks, and the Singalong-San Andres recipes. Influences from the Chinese pansiteria with its noodle soups and steamed buns have also been added to contemporary breakfast choices.  As once remote frontiers become increasingly accessible, their foods will acquire mainstream status: Mindanao curries, halal dishes, and localized rice cakes for example. Breakfast will continue to evolve as will Philippine cuisine. 

It is satisfying that we continue to link today’s foods with pride in heritage.  With every serving of breakfast rice, pan de sal and longaniza, Philippine cuisine can continue to cook up a liking for the nation’s sense of self.   


Menu by Mrs. Mariquita V. Adriano: fresh fruits, ensaymada, Kraft cheese, and chocolate


Ensaymada (Source: Valerio’s Bakery)

Ensaymada (Source: Valerio’s Bakery)

1-1/2 cup lukewarm water                                     1 tbsp. sugar
4 cakes yeast                                                             2 cups flour

Mix well and set to rise in a warm place for one hour.
To the sponge yeast, add:
½ cup sugar
8 egg yolks
2 cups flour
Mix again and set to rise for one hour.

Cream thoroughly 1-1/2 cup butter.  Add ½ cup sugar and 8 egg yolks.   Add to the dough.

Add 6 cups flour with ¼ tsp. salt. (If margarine was used, omit salt.) Mix well. Knead on floured board until fine in texture.  Cover and allow to rise 10 minutes.

Grease board and knead the dough slightly. Cut into equal portions and roll each very thin.  Spread butter generously on the surface.  Roll and shape. Place in greased ensaymada mold and let it rise until it becomes double its former shape. Bake in hot oven for 30 minutes.  When done spread butter and sugar on top. Wrap in wax paper.

Menu by Mrs. Mariquita V. Adriano: Royal bibingca, native cheese, chocolate and coffee

Royal Bibingca

Royal Bibingca (Source:

Royal Bibingca (Source:

2 cups flour                                                               2 eggs
4 tsp. baking powder                                             ½ cup coconut milk (thick)
½ tsp. salt                                                                  3 tbsp. grated cheese
1 cup sugar 

Sift all dry ingredients.  Beat the eggs very well until lemon colored, add sugar.  Add flour alternately with coconut milk.  Bake in native bibingkahan lined with banana leaf. When light brown sprinkle on top grated cheese and bake until golden brown.

Native Cheese

Native cheese (Source:

Native cheese (Source:

For every cup of carabao’s milk add 1/2 tbsp. vinegar and ½ tsp. salt.  Mix well.  When it begins to coagulate put [it] in a cheese-cloth bag and drain the whey.  Place in cheese mold and press it so all moisture is removed.  Serve either fresh or fried.

Menu by Mrs. Margarita V. Adriano: oranges, longanisa hubad, fried eggs, rice, coffee and milk [Possibly as both an addition to coffee and a drink for children.]

Longanisa Hubad

Longanisa Hubad  (Source: Tara’s Multicultural Table)

Longanisa Hubad (Source: Tara’s Multicultural Table)

2 kilos raw pork with fat                                          1 cup toyo sauce (good kind)
3 cloves garlic (well pounded)                             1 laurel leaf and a branch of
¼ tsp. salitre [saltpeter]                                           oregano if desired
1 tsp. fine salt                                                             1 tbsp. sugar

Choose young pork with thin skin.  Remove skin and cut meat and fat into cubes about 1 centimeter. Sprinkle with salt and salitre.  Mix well with pounded garlic.

Boil toyo [soy sauce], sugar, laurel and oregano.  Strain.  Let cool before adding to the meat.  Mix well and put in glass container with cover and keep it in the refrigerator.  It can be cooked for breakfast the next morning.

In cooking, for every cup of meat add 3 tbsp. of water and simmer until meat is tender. Then remove the cover and stir to fry until water has evaporated and fat comes out.  Cook until dark brown.

We call this hubad in Tagalog, which means undressed, because it is not served in longanisa style. [Meaning the meat is not shaped and encased like regular sausages.]

Menu by Mrs. Amparo L. de Ocampo: Fruits, bibinca de cassava, milk and coffee

Bibinca De Cassava

Bibinca de Cassava  (Source: Kitchen)

Bibinca de Cassava (Source: Kitchen)

1 cup grated fresh cassava                                      2 eggs
½ cup shredded buco                                               3 tbsp. melted butter
1-1/2 cup thick coconut milk                                   4 tbsp. grated cheese or 3 pieces
1 cup sugar                                                                    white cheese

Beat eggs.  Add sugar, melted butter, buco [young coconut], coconut milk, and cassava.  Pour into a banana-leaf lined tin.  Bake in a hot oven.  Brush top with egg yolk and sprinkle with cheese and sugar.  Return to oven until done.

Menu by Mrs. Encarnacion G. de Villanueva: papaya with calamansi, pinipig calamay with palabok and latik, chocolate

Pinipig Calamay

Pinipig Kalamay (Source: Pintrest/Carmen Santana)

Pinipig Kalamay (Source: Pintrest/Carmen Santana)

1-1/2 cups pinipig                                                     Pinch of salt
2-1/2 cups coconut milk                                         ½ tsp. anise seeds
¾ cup sugar

Mix all above ingredients and cook over slow fire stirring constantly until thick.  When oil comes out an mixture no longer sticks to the pan, pour unto a platter and spread evenly pressing with the back of a spoon.  When cool, cut [it] into squares.  Sprinkle toasted palabok, sugar, and latik on top.

[Palabok, meaning “added elaboration,” could be the “Coconut Toast” topping for Kalamay Pinipig described by Enriqueta David-Perez in her Recipes of the Philippines released in 1953: Toast 1 cup coconut from which the milk has been extracted with 2/3 cup sugar in frying pan. Stir constantly until brown and crisp.]

This is the last of three articles by Felice P. Sta. Maria written for LUTONG PAMANA, a fund-raising effort of Grupo Kalinangan, a non-profit, non-stock organization incorporated in 2016.  Cultural heritage professionals and volunteers from different disciplines work to help local government units and neighborhoods manage their cultural heritage resources.

Felice Prudente Sta. Maria

Felice Prudente Sta. Maria is a cultural worker who pioneers Philippine culinary history. Her awards as an author include ASEAN’s most prestigious SEA Write Award presented in 2001.

Published on : 01/08/2019 by Puerto Parrot

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