Sorsogon Pizza

Sorsogon Pizza


I served as a Peace Corps Agricultural Advisor, assigned to Baranguay Salbacion, Magallanes, Sorsogon, Philippines, from 1979 to 1981. A major part of my work was to build & manage a nursery for the propagation of coffee, cacao, and black pepper, as one of  several outposts of a USAID-funded project, the Sorsogon Crop Diversification Program. 

SCDP had been designed and proposed to USAID by an earlier Peace Corps Volunteer, Paul Driscoll, who had also recruited a recent agriculture graduate from the University of the Philippines to implement the project. 

Nelson was married, with a young daughter, and, through Paul, had become friends with nearly all the Peace Corps volunteers in the province. Collectively, we rented a house in the provincial capitol, as we all needed to come there monthly to cash our living allowance checks. For most of us, the round-trip could not be accomplished in a single day. Nelson and his wife, Carmen, a fantastic cook, often entertained groups of us at their home when we were in town.

A nutrition PCV left a stovetop oven in the house we rented when she completed her service. We almost never cooked anything in the house, and it sat unused until someone decided to give it to Carmen.

Baking was not generally done in homes in the Philippines. Rather, they purchased what few baked goods they ate from local bakeries. Carmen was completely unfamiliar with baking, and her first efforts at bread-making were less than completely successful.

My older brother had learned to make pizza in his frat house, back when pizza was not widely known, and prepared it in our kitchen enough times that I knew how it was done. I can’t remember how or where we got mozzarella. It must have been somewhere in Manila, but I don’t remember. Tomato sauce is available everywhere, I guess.

There was a Shakey’s Pizza in Legaspi, the large city where the nearest airport to Sorsogon was located, but there was no pizza available within hours of Sorsogon. I vividly remember Carmen pulling that first 12” pizza out of that little oven, to oohs & ahs from the assembled volunteers.

To describe Carmen as entrepreneurial would be an understatement. When a storefront became available a few doors away from her family's business, she opened a cantina featuring pizza and beer. Partly due to the novelty factor, and in no small part to her business sense, the cantina prospered. She continually improved the decor, and expanded the menu. When MTV music videos became available on tape, a VCR and TV were installed, and Kristina’s Cantina, (named for their 2nd daughter), became the place to be.

  With profits from the cantina, and a family loan, Carmen purchased the local LPG distributorship. She later opened a second cantina, which didn’t serve alcohol, to cater to teens. Over time, she opened two more, formal restaurants. Nelson and Carmen were able to send their third daughter, Mara, to the U.S., where she obtained her degree in restaurant & hotel management in Connecticut. I attended her graduation, as did her parents, after having spent a week staying with my family in Delaware. She remains in California, managing a  restaurant in a large hotel. 

It would be difficult to gauge my success as an agricultural advisor, but you can still get pizza in Sorsogon.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.