Bolo Sans Rival: The Goan Cake In Danger Of Extinction

Bolo sans rival, a rich yet dainty dessert, translates to ‘cake without a rival’. ‘Bolo’ is Portuguese for cake and sans rival means ‘unrivalled’ in French. Made with layers of meringue sandwiched together with velvety buttercream, the cake is of French origin and is also a Filipino dessert. The story goes that two sisters from the Philippines, Milagros Leelin-Yee and Clarita Leelin-Go, decided to reveal the closely guarded recipe of the cake and published it in the ‘Goldilocks Bakebook’, which also has other timeless Filipino recipes.

It is believed that sans rival was invented between the 1920s and 1930s, when many Filipinos went to Europe for their education. After returning to the Philippines, they started using some of the baking techniques they learnt while studying abroad. 

The original recipe used almonds, but cashew nuts became the local substitute since they’re plentiful in Goa. And so, the French gateau sans rival (an almond dacquoise) became the bolo sans rival (a cashew nut dacquoise).

The Goan recipe also uses almond extract, perhaps a soft yearning to continue using almonds, which were part of the original recipe. Despite the fact that both Goa and the Philippines are hot and humid—a hostile environment for meringue and buttercream—the cake continues to be a festive tradition in both places.

In present day Goa, only a few restaurants and bakeries prepare bolo sans rival. It becomes more popular around the holiday season, but most modern bakeries don’t prepare it. It’s uncommon even in the kitchens of Goan families. The cake hasn’t spread like wildfire because its recipe is treated like a secret. It’s likely that the few cooks who make it want to keep their businesses going since making the cake is a skill that takes flair and practice. 

One restaurant that prepares and serves bolo sans rival is Fernando’s Nostalgia in Raia, South Goa. Fernando’s Nostalgia was the brainchild of the late chef Fernando Aluiso Ribeiro Da Costa. Now, his wife Margarida Tavora Costa manages the restaurant and takes much pride in their bolo sans rival, which she believes is practically non-existent in Goa anymore. 

If the recipe for bolo sans rival dies with the few people who make it, the cake will soon become unavailable. Considering the fact that its recipe is in the repertoire of only a privileged few, it seems imperative now more than ever to save this cake from extinction. This can only be achieved when more people show a willingness to learn how to make bolo sans rival and carry Goa’s culinary legacy forward.