I’ve been missing out on Filipino baked goods. And considering Valerio’s City Bakery has been making them in National City since 1979, I’ve been missing out for a good forty years.
1631 E 8th St #1, National City
During that time, the family business has grown and expanded, so there are now more than a dozen Valerio bakeries, including an offshoot chain named Valerio’s Tropical Bake Shops, throughout California and even in the Midwest. Despite my personal oblivion, Filipino baked goods are in high demand.
So, I’ve tried to make up for lost time. For starters, I’ve learned that baking in the Philippines goes back centuries, drawing influence from Spanish traditions, China, and the Malay Archipelago, while incorporating favorite local ingredients.
Which explains why the first thing I notice in the shop is an ube cake roll. Actually, its characteristic purple coloring makes it pretty hard to miss. A type of purple yam indigenous to southeast Asia, ube is a staple of Filipino desserts, and shows up often on the shelves full of baked goods that line the Valerio’s shop. Most of the time, it’s made into a cream or paste, discreetly filling assorted pasties. But this cake roll glistens royal purple against a spiral of white frosting; the ube lends its color and muted sweetness to a moist and fluffy cake.
Were it made with chocolate, this cake roll would be cocoa brown and might be described as decadent. Ube will never be as popular as chocolate, but no kid would refuse this purple dessert, not at any age.
On the pie front, I found another common contributor to Filipino desserts: coconut. Chilling inside a cooler filled with perishable items, buko pie is essentially a gelatinous mixture of cake flour, milk, and whole coconut. Its texture falls somewhere between flan and meringue, interspersed with narrow strips of gnashable coconut flesh. I’m not sure you could serve this a la mode — the ice cream might taste bland by comparison.
Despite these appealing desserts, most of my interest went to a host of breaded pastries. Several landed on the savory side, including pan de sal, the sweet and salty rolls that Valerio’s reputation was built upon, and puto pao, which sees the rolls stuffed with chicken, pork, or beef. There are also pan de sal rolls filled with ube or mango.
The standout for me was called an ensaymada. The eggy pastry filled with cream cheese filling reminded me much of a cheese danish, except significantly thicker, which makes for a far more satisfying chew. Alternate takes feature ube or coconut, or some combination of cheese and fruit.
But these options barely scratch the surface of the dozens of baked items Valerio’s has to offer, ranging from breads and cookies to Filipino crackers. I found brightly colored steamed rice cakes, and behind a service counter, chafing dishes offer lunch items ranging from noodle dishes to entire fried fish.
Congratulations to Valerio’s for celebrating 40 years in 2019. Congratulation to me for having so many new breads and cakes to try.