I am surveying the eskinitas of Carbon Market on a Saturday in search of a bread infamous for its name: the Pan Burikat. Carbon Market is the widest farmers’ square in downtown Cebu, with bakeshops planted sporadically throughout the vast layout filled with vegetable, flower and ukay-ukay stalls. I was tipped the bread I’m looking for is more ubiquitous here than in any other area in the city, and they are sold in plastic packets at five pesos each.
“Naa mo’y Pan Burikat?” I inquire, checking if the bread is available, but also very aware that I just uttered that word in public: “burikat,” which in Cebuano means female prostitute. According to Chef Rose Marie Lim, who teaches pastry arts and baking at Caro and Marie, Cebu, the Pan Burikat is made up of a pretty simple list of ingredients: egg, flour, margarine, vanilla, diluted milk, red liquid food coloring, and sugar. “For those of you who do not like food coloring, this bread is not for you,” she says.
Indeed, this traditional neighborhood bakery staple is distinguished by its scarlet filling that seems to ooze out of its bread casing. Some say it looks like a woman’s mouth tinted with a red lip color, hence it’s also called Lipstick. It goes by other names, too, of course: there’s Kalihim, there’s Pan de Regla, but in Cebu it’s called Pan Burikat. Which reminds me of how Italians call one of their pasta sauces Puttanesca, which roughly translates to lady of the night, and is believed to have originated from the bordellos of Napoli.
I must admit I’ve never been comfortable saying that name aloud—Pan Burikat, I mean—and believe it’s wrong to continue referring to this popular bread to this day using a derogatory term for a lady sex worker. I’m also glad to find there are others who share my opinion.
Sophie Batas, owner of the three-year-old Bionics Bread and Snack Haus in Kalunasan actually changed the name of her Pan Burikats to Pan de Gwapa when she launched her business. But she says her customers got confused. “Some of them would just right away say—do you have Burikat?” she recalls. So she shifted back to its old name. Among all the breads she sells daily, says Sophie, whether it’s walk-ins or delivery, Pan Burikat remains her bestseller.
San Jose Bakeshop President Jojo Tiongko is also not comfortable using the name. “I am not judging people here; it’s not people that are the problem. I just do not like to promote [the bread] as such. It sounds unnatural to me,” he says. San Jose does not regularly sell Pan Burikat—meaning it’s not on its daily displays—precisely because Jojo is bothered by the moniker.
Like many Cebuanos, Jojo grew up eating the Pan Burikat. “When I was in high school, it was my favorite snack. It was sold across our school, packed in plastic. Bread in a plastic is always soft. Cebuanos like that kind of bread with red filling, that jelly-like taste,” he says. “Cebuanos like bread with palaman, so with this, there’s no need for us to put sandwich spread anymore.”
I had my first Pan Burikat when I was seven, from a neighborhood bakery in Mabolo. It was my first encounter with the word, and I was puzzled as to what it truly meant, or where it came from. Apparently, there is no telling the exact details of its origins, says Cebuano history professor Trizer Dale Mansueto, since there has yet to be an authoritative publication or research released about it. “But presumably, Pan Burikat has been made during the American era in Cebu at the height of the night clubs,” he says.
Indeed, many Cebuanos grew up enjoying this bread and attach it to the happy memories of childhood, and as is the the case with many things we enjoyed during our younger days, we tend to have a less serious attitude towards them in adulthood. “Yes, I have very fond memories of this snack along with the Bagumbayan bread and Fig Pie, which were packed by fives or tens in plastics in a big basket, peddled on a motorcycle,” says lawyer Elaine Bathan. “These are snacks which our grandparents would buy for us along with our favorite soda.”
But Atty. Elaine agrees the name has got to go. It needs to be changed into something more uplifting for women. “The misogynistic attitude here does not pertain to the bread’s name alone. We continue to live in a society prejudiced against women,” adds Atty. Elaine, a member of the Cebu Lady Lawyers Association. “Naming the bread whether for easy or marketing recall but holds women in contempt is misplaced. There should be a better name for a bread or pastry that is known for its distinct color, flavor or taste,”she says. “One that best describes it for what it is and not for what it reminds them of.”