You go to Bacolod to eat—was a friend’s answer when I asked her what to do in the Negros capital. Indeed, the old charms of this province, the Sugarbowl of the Philippines, are its food. Besides chicken inasal, there’s the mouthwatering beef soup of cansi, fresh pala-pala seafood, and the endless list of baked goodies from biscocho to piaya and all types of pastries.
But none of those will you find at the Negros Museum Café. Food here doesn’t sound and look very local, and you can tell in one glance at the menu:
Emperor or blue marlin mustard sauce
Gindara burger with tartar sauce
Pork belly mustard crust with mustard mayo
Tambis pie—Ooops, that sounds familiar.
It’s extraordinary, fine-dining, world-class. And the heart and soul? It’s very Negrense. Every food at the Negros Museum Cafe tells a story, of love for natural and healthy, of compassion for local, and that we can do so much more with our own products.
Making A Difference
“Cassava fries is simple and much better than French fries, I hope many people learn to make it,” Chef Guido speaks about one of his creations. “It’s grown by the poor. And when more people get to do it, we help the poor.” I was moved. The business, I realized, isn’t so much about the money, but more about a humble cause of supporting the community and making a difference in the lives of others.
“We don’t buy canned. The last place to buy food is the supermarket,” says the Dutch chef who bikes up and down Libertad Market to pick the freshest ingredients for his restaurant. All ingredients are natural and homegrown, sourced from the sea and the small backyard farms around Negros. Fresh herbs and lettuce come down from the mountains of Buro-Buro. Sea salt come from Pulupandan and Bago. Bread, cheese, ketchup, and mayonnaise—essentially everything—are made from scratch in their kitchen.
The Negros Museum Café has been existent for five years and is a strong supporter of farm-to-table philosophy. It occupies the left wing of the Negros Museum, a dining hall which also serves as venue to exhibits and live performances (they have a jazz band playing every Sunday). Another part of the café is open space under the trees.
Storytelling With The Chefs
Managed by Gemma and Guido Nijssen, Negros Museum Café is a runaway winner in TripAdvisor ratings and is GMA’s Ang Pinaka #1 Restaurant in Bacolod. Everything in the cafe is done by Filipino hands, but Guido, the master chef who never does things straight from the book, whispers them the techniques. Asked if he’s open to sharing his recipes, he said “Drop by with your new menu and we give it a swing.”
The straight-talking chef reminds me of Gordon Ramsay from Hell’s Kitchen. But after sitting down with him, I had high regard for the man. “I was called Mr. Lekker or Mr. Delicious,” he pulls off a joke. He was referring to his title back home where he used to work as editor in chief for Lekker (which means delicious in Dutch), the top culinary magazine in The Netherlands.
For seven years, Guido managed 70 inspectors along the road who checked 10,000 dishes every year from top 750 restaurants across the country. Not long after he first came to Negros in 2005, Guido decided to leave Amsterdam and settle in Bacolod for good.
Gemma, on the other hand, is equally passionate about cooking and farming. She studied abroad for some time to polish the craft and, with the help of Guido, met with the best wholesalers and top restaurants in Holland.
Gemma is more than the owner. She’s the masterchef’s apple of his eye and most-trusted critic, and the two make an adorable partner. “Usually Sunday afternoon, I make nice things for her,” Guido shares. “I experiment a lot. And she says, Oh horrible. That means very good. Oh horrible. That means very good again.”
And now that “organic” has been the buzz word in the region, Gemma and Guido are excited about the attention organic farming and farm-to-table practices are getting. Guido believes organic is still in its early stages in Negros, but he says it’s coming quite fast.
What to Order at Negros Museum Cafe
Green Pea Soup
The parade of good-looking dishes started with green pea soup, which has a mushy softness and distinct flavor of Kasseler, a salted and slightly smoked cut of pork. It came with baguette on the side, a perfect treat for our breakfast-deprived tumtums. P65Blue Marlin Pie
For appetizer, we had these bite-size pies with a firm crust and the kick of mahogany smoked blue marlin. P180
Beef Ain’t Bitter
I’m picky with beef because it sometimes has a peculiar milky taste, but these bitterballs are irresistible. It’s made from local Negros beef, deep-fried to make its shell a little crunchy while keeping the filling soft. No, it’s not at all bitter. It’s called such because it’s a common snack food (paired with beer) during “bitter hours” in the cafes of Holland. Bitter hour is our Pinoy merienda, so that makes it “merienda balls”.
A Cheesy Salad
This salad that goes with whole wheat bread and topped with 3 cheeses—cumin, marjoram, plain cheese—is a powerfully nutritious dish for lunch or dinner. It has the freshest vegetables and herbs from the farms of Negros, and homemade cheese from local milk. Aside from the cheese, the two things I love in this salad are avocado and okra.
A Bias for Three
Another popular dish in the café is 3-3-3, so called because it has three kinds of meat (Pata Negros, Kasseler, and roast beef), three kinds of sauces (tuba, mustard mayo, and butter), and three kinds of bread (100% whole wheat, 50% whole wheat, and 25% whole wheat). Pata Negros is the local version of the most famous ham in the world, Pata Negra from Spain. This is prepared in the kitchen of Gemma and Guido, and is one of the many classic food they’ve given a local flavor. And who would think that fresh tuba, when boiled for long hours, will let you end up with a black sweet-and-sour sauce perfect for meat! This sauce is another product that can help the tuba producers in Negros.
The Scene Stealer
For the main course, the superstar is this colorful plate of aged local beef tenderloin with tuba-garlic sauce. It has medium-well tenderloin patiently prepared for seven days, a fiesta of the freshest vegetables on the side, and chewy organic brown rice coned in banana leaf. The dish is perfectly flavorful and healthy, it’s a mainstay in the café’s menu. P470
Oyster Mushroom Isn’t Oyster
The vegetarian diner and pasta lover will certainly pick this guiltless ravioli made from oyster mushrooms grown in the farms of Murcia. Topped with tomato salsa cream and grated parmesan cheese, and salad on the side, this vegetarian pasta is a complete meal that can make your tastebuds go loco.
A Sweet Duo
And the desserts, they were a shocker. Lomboy flan highlights the local fruit lomboy (also known as duhat) in all its three stages: as a fruit, as a flan, and as liquor. The creamy sweet dessert doesn’t taste far from a blueberry cake, and that red wine of sort based from lambanog is a cool refreshment. P145
Another local fruit, tambis, gets the spotlight in the dessert section. The fruit which doesn’t get so much attention in the fruit stand actually makes a good pie that you can easily mistake for apple pie. P145
It was a crazy dining experience. The food was definitely impressive and the story behind each of them inspiring. I’m convinced this cafe deserves a visit from everyone who wants to dip their finger into Bacolod culinary. It’s Negrense in spirit, world-class yet local, and has so much heart and genius.
Negros Museum, Gatuslao St., Bacolod City
Facebook: Negros Museum Cafe
Mobile: +63 916 908 6641
Open Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 AM to 10 PM
Cash payments only / prices subject to change
M O B I L E P H O T O G R A P H Y
All photos in this article, unless otherwise captioned, were taken with a smartphone. For this post, we banked on the power of Huawei Mate S, which is a super phone for both outdoor and indoor photography. Visit Huawei’s Facebook page for more details about their products.