QUICK BITE/Jersey City; A Comforting Quilt of Breads

The New York Times
March 27, 2005

Bite into an ensaymada -- a fist-size brioche, smeared with butter and sprinkled with sugar -- and you will have sampled a staff of Philippine life. The ensaymada is served as breakfast, as snack, or even at weddings -- and it's not even considered a dessert.

In the Philippines, the influence of four centuries of Spanish rule can be tasted in a blend of the flavors of Spain, China and the tropics.

That same ensaymada can also be filled with ube (purple yam), macapuno (coconut) or mongo (a kind of black bean). While the ingredients are Spanish or tropical, the concept seems very Chinese (think sweet pork buns).

All of these comfort breads can be found at the Philippine Bread House, which, for 26 years, has served the Filipino community here; and some people travel from all over for such flour-based deserts as the pianono and the mocha roll ($3.75 to $4.50), the brazo de Mercedez (like a meringue pie that has been rolled together) and, of course, traditional birthday cakes and multilayered wedding cakes.

Along with the ensaymada are sweet dinner breads like pan de coco and pan de sal, as well as breads rolled with ube or mongo. (Stacked on shelves at the store entrance are wicker shopping baskets, ample enough to load several loaves.)

But just across the aisle, the Chinese influence becomes apparent with rice-flour-based desserts like puto bungbong, a purple ube gelatin sprinkled with coconut, and a colorful layer of chewy, sugary rice pastry called sapin sapin (literally, layer layer). Alongside that is nilu pak, made from cassava, condensed milk and sugar.

Situated in the compact Santander Plaza, named for the family that owns the bread shop and leases out the other store spaces, the Philippine Bread House bookends what is a kind of one-stop Filipino shopping center -- a grocery store, a take-out restaurant (another one is in the Bread House itself), a hairdresser and, across the street, a store that sells traditional Filipino household items.

Philippine Bread House, 530 Newark Avenue, Jersey City, (201)659-1753.