Fiesta Treats: How Streets Of Philippines Transforms Into Party
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Bacolod’s MassKara festival has been celebrated for nearly four decades. In spirit and expression, it is a lot like the New Orleans Mardi Gras or the Rio Carnaval. 

Vibrant parades featuring the ornamental smiling masks for which the province is famous are the highlight of the festival. There’s also a street-style party at its centre.

Dishes like chicken inasal, batchoy and napoleones are very popular among locals and tourists while ‘boodle fights’ — community-style meals eaten at one long table — are a mainstay of MassKara.

Like the carnival of Rio de Janeiro and the Mardi Gras of New Orleans, the MassKara is Bacolod’s world-famous celebration. Hotels in the city get booked out around October 23 as tourists and locals flock from all over to observe and take part in this high-energy festival. 

The festival has its roots in surprisingly gloomy beginnings. In the 1980s, with the sugar economy in the doldrums, Bacolod and its surrounding regions (where it was the primary industry) underwent a severe depression. A tragic ferry accident at the same time dealt a blow to many of Bacolod's families. It was determined that something should be done to boost spirits, to drive home the message that the city of Bacolod would overcome these hard times. Accordingly, a street festival was planned, with parades and dancing. A central feature of the festival was the use of ornamental, smiling masks. The MassKara, or The Festival of Smiles, became a Bacolodian tradition ever since. 

Today, every barangay (ward/district/administrative unit) puts up a vibrant, colourful performance as part of the parade. Lacson Street is the heart of the festivities, where a free-for-all party unfolds along with music, dancing, and the ever-present masks — making for an electrifying event. 

And where there's fun, can food be far behind? From carinderias (small roadside eateries that serve lutong bahay, or home-style food) to swisher restaurants and even vendors, Bacolod's chefs are kept on their toes, feeding the throngs of ravenous visitors. Chicken inasal — i.e. chicken roasted/grilled over an open flame/charcoal, seasoned with sauce that comprises calamansi (Philippine lime), pepper, coconut vinegar and annatto (a local condiment that imparts a reddish orange colour to food) — is a hot favourite. Add a bowl of sinangag (garlic fried rice) to the side and you have yourself a proper meal. If noodles are more to your liking, then Bacolod has plenty of places serving batchoy (egg noodles with pork and chicken, in a bone marrow broth).

Another popular merienda (snack) is the napoleon, a dessert that originated in Bacolod. It's a delicate, small square of a puff pastry, with a custard filling and a sugar glaze. 

However, if you’re looking for something a lot more filling (and a lot more informal), Bacolod also has plenty of “boodle fights”  — a community-style meal that has its origins in Filipino army mess halls. It involves everyone gathering around a large table laid with banana leaves, on which a vast quantity of food is placed. Rice is placed at the centre, followed by layers of grilled meat, fresh and dried seafood, vegetables, fruits and sauces. You stand by the table and dig in with your hands (i.e. kamayan-style) — no cutlery is allowed. 

To wash it all down, you can try a glass of Don Papa MassKara (a Philippine rum infused with local spices, fruits and honey) topped with crushed ice, a twist or two of lemon, and cola. With Bacolod's weather, and all the dancing one gets up to, it’s a welcome cool-down indeed.


By Ritisha Garg

Serves 2-3. Total time: 20 mins. 


  • 2.5 cups coconut or palm wine
  • 5 pieces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 cup condensed milk
  • 1 egg, beaten



Warm half a cup of the wine in a saucepan over low-medium heat.


Add the chocolate, stirring gently until it melts and forms a smooth liquid. Take the saucepan off the heat and let it cool.


Once cool, whisk in the other ingredients.