July 18, 2011
The traditions still lives on at Sugarleaf Greenhills for La Moderna’s Signature Breads. Here’s the story behind La Moderna.
Nostalgia La Moderna
Growing up in Manila and visiting our family bakery in Guagua, Pampanga as a child; helping the bakers and cashier during summer holidays in my teens; studying hotel school and introducing recipes for new products; I distinctly remember enjoying every minute spent in La Moderna.
All my senses were delighted with the sight of bakery employees working non-stop in morning and evening shifts; the aroma of the freshly-baked bread as it comes out of the oven; the sound of the mixers and slicers and the chatting of young Capampangan women wrapping big basketfuls of baked products; the texture of rising dough and flaky crusts filled with smooth egg custard; and of course, the taste of each and every product in its various stages of production.
Until now, I would still pluck out a cupcake or pan de coco as it comes out of the oven and eat it whilst hot; relish chewy sylvanna and sans rival sheets before these are coated with equally rich creamy butter icing; and ensaymada which I would enjoy with a cup of steaming hot tsokolate de batirol.
Now taking a breather from the corporate world to help market the bakery in Manila, I find great pride in the fact that I am contributing to the bakery’s legacy by sharing these wonderful experiences to others. Some people say it’s noble of me to do so. I would go beyond this and attribute it to the emotional investment generations of the Narciso family have put into the bakery.
Let me share with you our bakery’s story…
La Moderna has been with our family for five generations having been founded in the late 1800’s by my great grandparents, Ignacio and Maria Lansang Narciso in the quiet agricultural town of Sta. Rita, Pampanga. Its first milestone was winning a Gold Medal in the pre-war Philippine Exposition – an accomplishment we have taken upon ourselves to research more details on as accessible records indicate that the exposition was in the late 1800’s.
Since then, La Moderna was transferred to Guagua in 1947 by one of their children, Pablo Narciso and his wife Narcisa Carlos Narciso – the original entrepreneurial couple who settled in this prospering commercial town from Sta. Rita. Today, Guagua remains to be a bustling town which surprise visitors as they come into the plaza and see popular commercial establishments with branches in this town.
Starting as a candy factory, Apong Ambo and Ma Sisang nurtured the business and transformed it into a respected institution throughout Pampanga. Quality ingredients were transformed by the most loyal and talented bakers in the province (some of whom have been with the bakery for over 40 years) into tasty morsels enjoyed by the young and old alike. The wood-fired oven or pugon imparts a unique flavor to baked products.
After the Second World War, the bakery grew tremendously and delivered its products to satisfied customers from Pampanga to as far north as Dagupan, then a bustling depot in the region, and south as Divisoria, Manila where these treats were distributed throughout the metropolis.
My mother, Linda Narciso Songco, the eldest child of Apong Ambo, and her siblings relate to us that during those days, there were over 150 employees making the products in shifts 24 hours a day to keep up with the demand. You could savor the aroma of freshly baked bread wafting throughout the bakery and into the plaza in the early hours of the morning when tens of thousands of pan de sal and other bread products were sold to wholesalers.
As the flagship business flourished, Apong Pablo and Ma Sisang were blessed with ten beautiful children. The second and third children, Toto Narciso and Butchie Narciso Lagman took reins of the bakery in the early 80’s when Lolo and Lola decided to slow down. Though they were still very much involved in the bakery operations, eventually, Apong and Ima settled in Manila in the 90’s when Mount Pinatubo erupted.
La Moderna Today And Tomorrow
Now on its 61st year in Guagua, La Moderna still uses the same recipes, improved on with process technology to increase shelf life, and presented in more contemporary packaging in order to make them ideal for giveaways.
Products are introduced – some new and some old – to constantly expand and improve the product line. The items that become popular are still those like gorgoryas (traditional snack of bite-sized dayap-glazed fried bread fritters) which have been around for many years and were consumed by our parents and grandparents.
Our customers, especially from Manila and overseas, are delighted to see that the bakery still produces delicacies they enjoyed in their childhood. They relate that they haven’t seen sampaguita or masa podrida for a long time and when they taste it, they remember the days of their youth.
That’s what differentiates La Moderna from others bakeries in Manila and even in Pampanga. Though it has an extensive line of typical bread and pastry products (pan de sal, buns, etc.), the bakery’s most popular products are its signature items not commonly available elsewhere.
Travel Time host Susan Calo Medina considers La Moderna’s empanaditas among her favourites.
Respected food critic Chona Trinidad praises the bakery for its commitment to making authentic products and continue the tradition of simple yet delectable baked goods. She particularly loves the San Nicolas and masa podrida.
Masa podrida, sampaguita, mamon tostado and turrones de casoy have an extended shelf life of at least three months–ideal for transport as pasalubong to loved ones overseas.
Apong Ambo celebrated his 90th birthday last 15 January 2008. It was so nostalgic for the whole family as the children visited from the U.S. and Canada to celebrate Apong Ambo’s birthday with the bakery family some of whom worked for us for several decades. Some have met their wives and had families whilst working at La Moderna. Some of their children work in the bakery as well. The longest staying employee, Mang Pabling, has been with the bakery for 48 years. He is still very strong and makes pan de sal in the morning. Apong Ambo passed away last June.
It is inevitable that La Moderna expands. There is great potential in the product, the facility, the history and the overwhelming support of family and friends who encourage us to take La Moderna beyond Pampanga. My cousins and I strive to improve our packaging materials even more and so be able to export our products overseas.
The first successful step was to make the bakery’s signature products available in Manila – initially at various bazaars, and now regularly at the Salcedo Village Saturday Market. At Salcedo, people who buy the products enjoy them a lot and return to purchase more to give away to family and friends. Some even bring the goods abroad – the sturdy packaging of products lends to overseas shipment quite well.
Eventually, we all aspire that the bakery will have its own branch in Manila where more people will be able to share with us delicacies several generations of our family have enjoyed for many years.
Treasures From The Capampangan Kitchen
Masa Podrida – Filipino version of shortbread biscuits – excellent with coffee or tea
Sampaguita – melt-in-your-mouth creamy flower shaped cookies named after the national flower of the Philippines
Empanaditas – our famous and acclaimed yema-cashew filled pastry
Mamon Tostado – toasted sweet butter cake slices
San Nicolas – cookies introduced by the Augustinian friars during the Spanish period – made from fresh coconut milk and imprinted with the image of St. Nicolas de Tolentino – the patron saint of children
Turrones de Casoy – crunchy nougats introduced by the Dominicans during the Spanish period made from cashew, honey and egg whites wrapped in paper-like edible oblea
Gorgoryas – traditional recipe of bite-sized dayap-glazed (Philippine lime) fried bread fritters
Petit Fortunes – tiny cups of rich, moist cashew cake bites
Sans Rival – layers of cashew meringue and butter cream topped with slivered cashews
Sylvana – light and creamy cashew pastry with butter cream filling coated with rich butter cake crumbs
Taisan roll – creamy yema custard encased in a butter sponge cake
Freshly baked bread and pastries are available on special request: ensaymada, mamon, taisan, inipit, garlic bread, brownies, butterscotch bars, chocolate cake, carrot cake, banana cake, and yummies (moist cashew cake with cashew topping).