Sans Rival: What’s in a Name?

Sans Rival. The name is a whispered hosanna on every Filipino’s lips. Filipinos love to eat, especially sweets, so the walls of Sans Rival, a purveyor of desserts, are nearly as hallowed as the Catholic church that sits proudly in the middle of Dumaguete. Sans Rival. A French name for a Filipino bakery that was established in 1977, it means “without rival”. It is a statement, a promise, a challenge.

Tony and I, we haven’t been all that impressed with Filipino baking thus far. We haven’t eaten that many, but we did pick up some doughnuts and scone-esque treats prior to our snorkeling expedition in Bohol and wound up with a bunch of dry baked goods that crumbled to dust upon first bite and sucked all moisture from our mouths. So, on the one hand, the bar has been set fairly low going into our first visit to Sans Rival. But then again, this place has been seriously hyped (if Filipinos are serious about one thing, it seems to be about how awesome Sans Rival is), which inches the bar just the teensiest bit higher.

By all accounts, our first trip to Sans Rival should have been a slam dunk, seeing how we visited after overimbibing during our Mexican feastesta, and the liquor coursing through us had given us a serious case of the munchies. We sidled up to the counter at Sans Rival and stared dumbfounded for a moment at the rows upon rows of petit fours and other bitesized morsels in the cold case. With so many choices before us and the happy glow of overindulgence making us bold, we opted to try three little sweets, united in the culinary theme of “must have chocolate NOW”, and each one costing less than $1USD.

Alas, perhaps as punishment for our gluttony, none of the treats was very good—certainly not worthy of the mellifluous praise that is heaped upon this bakery, and definitely not living up to the Sans Rival name. For me the biggest disappointment was that even to my liquor-soaked palate, none of the desserts tasted very fresh: they had the distinct flavor of something that has been left overnight in the refrigerator without proper storage leading to the pervasive taste of “fridge” in every bite.

We left disappointed, but not completely undeterred. Although the name Sans Rival has considerable clout in the Philippines, it is predominantly known for one one dessert in particular: silvanas.


To me, silvanas are Sans Rival’s spin on the classic French confection, the macaron. Sweet buttercream filling is sandwiched between two flat discs made of cashew meringue and then rolled in cookie crumbs. They are best served cold, straight from the icebox.

Tired of the omnipresent grilled chicken & rice joints that grow in the Philippines like weeds, we decided to give Sans Rival another chance, this time deciding to have a well-balanced meal where the much-touted silvanas featured as dessert rather than our entire meal. I ordered a slab of lasagna and Tony had a club sandwich (complete with pickled green tomatoes!). Not highbrow fare by any means, but yummy nonetheless and an excellent rally on Sans Rival’s part. Though the bakery’s non-dessert offerings are somewhat limited, these were solid enough that we’d definitely recommend having at least one meal here if you’re ever in Dumaguete.

But of course, we were there for the silvanas, and a meal that does not end with a shining dessert will always be something of a disappointment. We ordered two chocolate and two original silvanas, and took our first bite.

Immediately it was clear why Sans Rival’s fame rests on its silvanas. These little cookies are dessert gold! They are a textural wonder with the crispness of the meringue perfectly complemented by the buttery softness of the creamy filling. The flavors were subtle but rich, not overpowering, and not excessively sweet (no small feat in the Philippines). After polishing off the four we had ordered, we considered buying a box of 12 for the road, but without a fridge to store them, we knew that would only end in tears.

So, instead we settled on dropping by Sans Rival every day for the remainder of our stay in Dumaguete for a glass of freshly squeezed calamansi juice and a silvana on the side. The other desserts may be lackluster, but that’s little worry, since if you visit Sans Rival, surely it will be for the silvanas. And at around 30 cents a pop, they truly are without rival and certainly make their snooty French counterparts at 2 EUROS per piece a little more difficult to stomach, non?

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12 comments Leave a comment

  1. I have to say that the lasagna doesn’t look like the best to me, but I might have been a bit to tough in judging without having tried it and let my Italian background getting in the way.
    The silvanas though really interests me, especially after your detailed description, you literally made my mouth water.

    Mar. 24 2013 @ 11:51 pm
    1. Franca author

      I am pretty sure that anyone who isn’t Italian has very different standards by which we judge lasagna, so I am pretty sure you would have hated that lasagna, but for us it was a delight!

      But I think Silvanas are treats that can be enjoyed by everyone… even fussy Italians! 😉

      Mar. 27 2013 @ 4:20 am
  2. Definitely trying those if we go to Dumaguete (should we? We really have no idea what we’re going to do).
    I miss good comfort food. We had spit roasted chicken with oven baked potatoes, coleslaw and garlic bread today. I had the silliest grin on my face the whole time. I can’t help it. I love Asian food but I just really miss good European cooking! (this has very little to do with the nice ‘cookies’, just wanted to share and cookies are comfort food right?)

    Mar. 25 2013 @ 9:15 am
    1. Angela author

      We love Asian food too and really try to eat local as much as we can, but I agree that every now and then, you just need a taste from home! We have been craving sandwiches for months now, so it’s good to be in Vietnam finally where we can actually get them and not feel guilty about it!

      As for Dumaguete, I will say that when you go to the Philippines, you should not go planning to spend time in the cities as they will likely disappoint you. Instead, focus on the attractions and activities you want to experience and choose your destinations based on that. There are some great things to do around Dumaguete and it makes a pleasant enough base, but I would not specifically allot any of my 21-day stay in the Philippines exclusively to it.

      Mar. 27 2013 @ 4:23 am
  3. YUM. I could get on board with those little cookies. I understand how much work macarons are, but man, it’s always a little painful to shell out so much money for such a little cookie.

    Mar. 25 2013 @ 9:59 am
    1. Carmel author

      A good macaron is truly a work of art, but yes, they are ridiculously pricey. For my money, silvanas are nearly as good at a fraction of the price (especially if you haven’t had a real macaron in ages… 😉 ).

      Mar. 27 2013 @ 4:25 am
  4. mmmm nom nom nom

    Mar. 25 2013 @ 12:19 pm
    1. Hogga author

      That about sums it up! 😀

      Mar. 27 2013 @ 4:25 am
  5. Ooooh, makes me crave pastries to go with my morning coffee…. this is bad!! Those macarons look absolutely delish!

    Mar. 27 2013 @ 11:55 am
    1. jill author

      I make the same mistake all the time, reading other people’s food posts on an empty stomach… never a good idea! 😉

      Apr. 5 2013 @ 2:48 am
  6. I can’t wait to try those silvanas! I’ve been a baker of mainly patisserie myself for a couple of years and I’m a sucker for trying anything baked. I’m always looking for exceptional baked stuff and this looks great! We just got to Malaysia and we’ll be visiting the Philippines after. Can’t wait.

    Do you guys plan to visit Europe any time during your travels? I know a great bakery in Budapest, Gerbeaud, and you absolutely must check it out if you are there. They make very classical, very ‘advanced’ patisserie. If you need more convincing: If you plan on visiting the Netherlands, let us know, we can recommend lots of great places to eat!

    Apr. 1 2013 @ 7:24 am
    1. Nick Rutten author

      We definitely want to hit Europe on this trip, though when that will be (and whether we’ll have enough money to do so) remains to be seen. When/If we get to Europe, we’d like to spend a significant chunk of time in the eastern countries, and Budapest is on the list… and now so is that bakery! Not sure if we’ll get to do the Netherlands this time around (might have to wait for another tip), but if so, we’ll definitely hit you up for recommendations! 😀

      Apr. 3 2013 @ 3:46 am

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