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Serving up hot pandesal and political talk at Kamuning Bakery

Kamuning Bakery is a quaint little bakery and cafe on what used to be a dilapidated street in Quezon City.

Recently, the 76-year-old establishment has become a hot spot for politicians.

Among those who have visited the bakery in recent months include Vice President Jojo Binay, Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista, Sen. Loren Legarda, Sen. Bongbong Marcos, Sen. Chiz Escudero, Sen. Alan Cayetano, Sen. Sonny Angara, PhilHealth Director Risa Hontiveros, Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista—who dined and had coffee there with Kris Aquino—and Quezon City Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte. According to owner Wilson Lee Flores, many others are scheduled to visit.

This sudden interest raises the question: What is it with Kamuning Bakery?

Pan de suelo

Built in 1939, Kamuning Bakery was the first of its kind in Quezon City. In December 2013, Wilson Flores bought the property and spent most of 2014 rehabilitating it to its former glory while retaining its original structure and equipment.

But it's not merely its physical appearance that has survived time.

In an interview with GMA News Online, Flores shared that he unearthed 385 old recipes that the old owners left behind when he was renovating the shop. And after observing how the bread was made, he realized that the baking process had not been changed at all.

The bakery has been bypassed by the innovations in the field, and the bakers have stuck to the same routine they've been doing for decades.

Thirty-nine-year-old Larry Apostol, the head baker, has been working for Kamuning Bakery for 25 years. According to him, nothing has changed in the way they make the bread.

"Nung dumating ako, kung ano 'yung inabutan ko, 'yun parin ang ginagawa ko ngayon. Wala akong binago," he said.

"Sinaunang tinapay kasi yung ginagawa namin...pinagpatuloy lang namin yung dati," he added.

The bread Apostol was referring to was the shop's best-seller: the pan de suelo—bread baked on the floor of the oven rather than in pans.

"The pan de suelo bread that we make here, we're the only ones who are doing it the authentic way," Flores said. "You cannot do pan de suelo without the pugon oven."

The two pugon ovens built into the bakery 76 years ago are still the ones being used today.

Kamuning Bakery also offers biscuits and cakes that are no longer found in other bakeries, such as Dalagang Bukid, Sultan, and Aglipay.

"We are proud of continuing the baking tradition," Flores said. "Naniniwala ako na yung history of the nation, you don't find in textbooks, or museums. You can preserve it by the way we eat, the way we cook, the way we bake."

Pugon-baked pizza, chicken and lechon will soon find their way into the shop's menu, he added.

The Pandesal Forum

But while the bakery's following is explained by the traditions it embraced, its more recent popularity is due to the Pandesal Forums.

It started when a group of political science professors from the University of the Philippines, who were regular customers in the cafe, requested that Flores host their discussion regarding the survey ratings of the country's politicians.

Flores agreed and invited the media to cover the event, which was originally dubbed "Kapehan at Pandesal sa Kamuning Bakery."

When he attended the opening of an art exhibit, Sen. Grace Poe approached him and said, "Wilson, gusto ko yung Pandesal Forum mo ha."

Flores kept the name and before long, politicians started pouring in, engaging in discussions with scholars, professors, and students.

"It's an ideal place for people to discuss," Flores said. "I think because the address isn't elitist. It's not a 5-star hotel, or an expensive restaurant. This is for everyone. People from all walks of life come here to buy bread."








"Public school teachers and students, media, politicians...we're all in one place, breaking bread, drinking coffee, and talking about the future of the Philippines," he added.

The fact that Kamuning Bakery is known for its pandesal, the go-to bread of most Filipinos, may also explain the attraction of the country's leaders to it.

"Parang may pang-masa na feeling," Flores said.

Flores also shared that the forum allowed him to see politicians in a new light.

They often come across as two-dimensional, Flores said, expressing his surprise at the depth and intelligence of the politicians that are often overlooked.

"I was very impressed with everyone," he said. "This Pandesal Forum made me realize that what we see and what we read sometimes are not very detailed. Many of our leaders pala are very brainy."

However, even after meeting them in person, Flores maintained that he has not decided on which candidates to vote for in the 2016 elections.

"There are several people that I like, pero di pa ko nagdedecide. I want to study everyone," he said.

Urban renewal

When Flores rehabilitated Kamuning Bakery, he breathed life not only into the bakery but also into the entire barangay.

"The neighborhood became nicer," Flores said. "Natuwa yung mga tao."

After the renovations, more people started visiting and the rest of the establishments—condominiums, restaurants, shops—in the area followed his cue.

"It became a lively, lighter street," Flores shared. "I think it's good for urban renewal."

His next project is to plant kamuning along the streets that used to be lined by the trees, he said.

"That's why this place is called Kamuning," he said. "We can't find them anymore. I want to plant kamuning trees in all the sidewalks here."  — BM, GMA News