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Globetrotting Filipina on a food mission.


It all began in 1973. On a trip to the US, Teresita Reyes was appalled by the growing trend among Filipino expatriates of eating "gutter food" like hot dogs and hamburgers.

"We must make condiments [sauces and mixes] from the Philippines that provide nourishment and help people remember the country," Clarita Reyes-Lapus, Teresita's daughter, recalls her mother saying.

That led the Reyes family to set up the Marigold Manufacturing Corporation (MMC) in the Philippines, with Lapus' husband as the company's food scientist.

The company exports sauces and mix-in condiments to countries worldwide.

Marigold's products carry the brand name Mama Sita's, the nickname of Lapus' late mother, Teresita, who was born in 1917. She was one of the 11 children of restaurateur Engracia "Aling Asyang" and Justice Alex Reyes who established Aristocrat Restaurant, initially a snack mobile on Manila's Roxas Boulevard in 1936, but now a chain of restaurants known for offering varieties of Philippine food.

In early February, Lapus was in Cambodia's Siem Reap province to promote her country's caesium-free (radioactive-free), hand-harvested, natural and unrefined salt.

"A British national told me our salt has a sweet taste, it is not harsh," she says.

A true alternative to iodised salt that clogs kidneys, the after-rain salt is harvested in the dry season, after storm surges, she says with pride about the latest of the 106 condiments carried by MMC.

aACAyOld ways'

Belonging to the third generation of the Aristocrat founders, Lapus has no restaurant to boast of.

"But my kitchen is the world. The modern products I am travelling with are the best alchemy for Philippine food. Made with the authentic agricultural products that used to accompany the old ways of cooking in my country, they recall history of place and pride for Philippine flavour," she says.

She recalls her family serving cashew wine -- fermented from cashew apple -- during her 1968 wedding with husband Bartolome Lapus, a biologist who collected butterflies for scientific research, museums, and school laboratories.

MMC's array of exotic products include achuete, which gives food a natural red colour (aka paprika), vinegar from sugar cane, coconut flowers, and cashew nut. They also export sauces made with beef, beans, chicken-ginger, garlic, guava, oyster, onion, peanut, soy, and turmeric. Vinegar for adobo, a popular Philippine dish, is another of the company's specialities as is vinegar with garlic and turmeric for grilled chicken. They have a range of fruit juices, as well as congee with sweet chocolate and congee with ginger-chicken broth.

"Philippine oyster sauce is better than China's oyster sauce because we have the best tasting oysters in the world," insists Lapus.

Showing no signs of slowing down, the 72-year-old Lapus, has been continuing her mother's direct marketing style, which includes cooking demonstrations in wet markets in Metro Manila and in the provinces -- a campaign that began in 1982.

Lapus's globetrotting belies her age. In January, she was at the Winter Fancy Food show in the US. Before that, in December, she visited a market near Tokyo that promoted her products 18 years ago. In October, she was in the Netherlands attending the 50th anniversary of Heuschen and Schrouff Oriental Foods Trading. Lapus and other guests drove to Anuga Food Fair in Germany, the world's biggest food exhibition. She also held a one-day cooking demonstration at nearby Asian supermarket in Dusseldorf, and, later, gave Mama Sita's cookbooks at Pinoy Taste of Asia, a Filipino store in Prague which is owned by chef Martin Nizaradze, whose wife is a Filipina.

Last year in September, Lapus brought Philippine sauces during the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation's (APEC) meeting of women entrepreneurs at the Nusa Dua Convention Centre in Bali, Indonesia.

Two months before that, in July she had led a one-day cooking demonstration at Bistro 7107, a restaurant in Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia, which is owned by the brother of Manila Archbishop Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.

In June 2013 she assisted three Filipino chefs in making Philippine dishes at the main kitchen of Emperor's Palace, a complex with several restaurants in Johannesburg, South Africa. In May, Lapus had hosted the launching of cooking contests of nine privately-run primary and secondary Philippine schools in the Middle East and Shanghai, at Manila's Aristocrat restaurant. Winners will compete in another round in Manila on May 1 this year.

"I have been to 65 of the world's 196 nations -- with my products in tow," says Lapus.

"We invest in this kind of marketing to serve Filipinos worldwide and to push Philippine flavour in the international market," she adds.

Now, she says, foreigners think of Philippine food the way they think of Japanese and Thai food. Some Filipino students in Spain think that Philippine condiments could tickle the taste buds of South American nationals, who, like Filipinos, have a history of Spanish colonialism.

Dubai exhibition

Taking a break, Lapus asked her daughter Joyce Sandoval, product developer, and son Mark Lapus, "a geologist with golden taste buds," to attend the Gulfood Exhibition in Dubai that finished on February 27.

"Ultimately, we encourage Filipino farmers to cultivate a wider variety of agricultural products," says Lapus.

MCC established Mama Sita Foundation in 1999 to create a nursery in southern suburban Laguna where agricultural products with marketable value (to food manufacturers) are propagated. Replanted in five other plantations, the foundation now boasts 5,000 agricultural trees, from which some of Mama Sita's natural condiments are harvested.

And the market niche that the company created is growing. Two multinationals and two local companies are now close rivals in the Philippines.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Mar 1, 2014
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