Asia has a surprisingly burgeoning coffee culture, with cafes, coffee houses, street coffee stands, and dessert eateries literally everywhere, from Thailand to Cambodia, the Philippines and Vietnam. But one of the best places you can visit for some coffee and dessert is right here in my adopted hometown, Dumaguete, in the central Philippines, Sans Rival.
In fact, the name Sans Rival refers both to the name of the establishment and also their most famous desert. It literally translates to “no rival” and the dessert was probably invented hundreds of years ago during the Spanish colonial rule.
The island that Dumaguete is on, Negros (from the Spanish word for ‘black’) is also called the Sugar Bowl of the Philippines because it’s the main center of sugar cane production since Spanish colonial rule, and so there are a surprising number of high-end and cosmopolitan bakeries and cafes in the capital city, Bacolod, as well as Sans Rival.
Sans Rival still sits in its original historic building, as the epicenter of the Rizal Boulevard lineup of bars, restaurants, and other establishments. But it’s undergone several makeovers, and the result is the nicest and most elegant restaurant in Dumaguete – but without losing its warmth.
The main building is well lit and open inside, with epic-ally high ceilings and big windows, but still keeps its old-world charm with wrought iron fixtures, the original planked floorboards, and such.
Sitting on a corner lot, up the side street you’ll find the Sans Rival Bakery and Café, which is where the whole thing started and still what the Sans Rival brand is best known for. It began as a humble café in a garage back in 1977.
In fact, they now have Sans Rival cafes in at least a dozen locations all over the country, including two in its original birthplace, Dumaguete.
So enough with the formalities already; what is a sans rival?
It’s layered cake but with the consistency of ice cream, with layers of meringue, icing, sugar, butter, and crushed cashew nuts. Whoa!
The Sans Rival Restaurant Menu
But my favorite is the silvanas dessert at Sans Rival, which look like discs of a roughly sandy color and texture, but is more like a creamy cookie of butter and cashew nut filling in between the crunchy-chewy meringue outside.
Both are served cold or at room temperature after you bring them home, so they’re the perfect choice for pasalubong – the Philippines tradition of bringing friends and loved ones a memorable little (and often edible) gift when you travel. So not only do they sell sans rivals and silvanas at Sans Rival café in their signature decorative blue box, but they have kiosks selling them at many airports, including here in Dumaguete and also nearby Cebu. You can always see people bringing the boxes onboard their airplanes!
Outside of the café, the Sans Rival restaurant here right across from the sea wall and pedestrian plaza also has an impressive menu, including healthy salads, soups, and two of my favorites: squid sisig and crab cakes.
But before you get to eating, definitely visit Sans Rival for their sweets and take a bit of the Philippines history!