The brand Mama Sita has always been at the forefront of promoting and preserving Filipino cuisine as guided by the vision and passion of the late Teresita “Mama Sita” Reyes, a highly-respected figure in local food industry.
In 2013, it pursued this advocacy when it launched “Mga Kuwentong Pagkain,” a writing contest that gathered compelling food stories from everyday folks, with topics ranging from daily sustenance for the family or community bonds made stronger through meals.
Explaining the inspiration of the contest, Cecille Nepomuceno, information officer of Kusina ni Mama Sita told The Manila Times, “Herself an avid chronicler of food, Mama Sita wrote down countless recipes. Her menus didn’t just list ingredients and cooking processes involved in the creation of a particular recipe—they were also compilations of tips, cooking hints and amusing anecdotes about marketing, preparing and cooking her favorite dishes.”
Moreover, Mama Sita, with her “distinctive longhand style” oftentimes accompanied her writings with illustrations for easier and better understanding by the next generation of cooks and restaurateurs who continued her legacy.
Indeed, it is from this meticulous practice that Mama Sita’s traditional recipes have been preserved for the enjoyment of Filipinos today. Mga Kuwentong Pagkain, now an annual event, hopes to do the same for everyday Filipino families whose lutong bahay recipes should be valued just as much as the Reyeses’ cherish those of their famed matriarch.
“Just like last year, we opened the contest to everyone—writers, non-writers, or those who simply want to share their memorable encounters with food, unique local ingredients and old recipes, and methods of cooking. They were only given one rule and that is for their stories to celebrate our rich Philippine culinary heritage.”
On September 27, the second edition of Mga Kuwentong Pagkain concluded at the Adarna Food and Culture Restaurant in Quezon City, unveiling 20 culinary stories ranging from serious topics like rice sufficiency, to unique Filipino food processes as balot-making, all written in Filipino and English.
Among the finalists, three top stories were chosen for thoughtfully representing the Philippine food culture from the context of a family table, a fishing community, or even just between a pair of friends.
Tribute to mother
Earning the third spot is the story “80th Birthday” by businesswoman Rhodora Constantino where she pays tribute to her mother for teaching family values and closeness through her recipe, Adobo sa Kamatis.
In her essay, Constantino recalls how she grew up with her mother’s unique adobo without the customary soy sauce. Her mother, a tomato vendor, did not want to throw away leftover kamatis at the end of every day and found a way to make use of them in her version of the Filipino comfort food. While having adobo sa kamatis on the tale meant that business was bad for her mother that day, Constantino shares that the very family meals with heWhen the lady behind Adobo sa Kamatis turned 80 in 2013, Constantino and her siblings decided to cook the special dish to celebrate. And when she tasted the tomato infused adobo, the normally forgetful matriarch in her old age suddenly remembered every single family member’s name.
The sea’s harvest
Marichu Ramos’ “Harvesting the Sea” landed the second spot, featuring the salt-making townsfolk of Danacbunga, in Botolan, Zambales.
She honors the community’s devotion to the sea as she writes, “Salt-making in Botolan is painstakingly slow but the people of the Panayunan, the annual community that springs up every summer just to make salt, are proud of every meticulous stage. No half-heartnedness here, no cutting corners. . . It signifies not only a great attention for safe, clean and natural salt, but honors the sacrifice and intuitive determination of the ancestors.”
Flavors of friendship
The fictional and sentimental story, “Dalawang Mangkok ng Arroz Caldo,” by 16-year-old Mignon Frances Dumanjog, who grew up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates won the top spot.
She narrates a story of friendship between two men, Laurence and Rodney, who talk about their ups and downs over bowls of hot arroz caldo. When they were younger, they ate the Filipino porridge after they played in the rain. In college, they savored the soothing dish after experiencing their first heartbreaks.
Eventually, Rodney became a successful lawyer, and Laurence became an engineer who worked in Dubai. Eight years passed until the friends met up again, and they picked up where they left off with steaming bowls of arroz caldo.
The top three winners of Mga Kuwentong Pagkain were selected by a distinguished group of personalities that included author, TV host and self-proclaimed “Adobo Queen” Nancy Reyes Lumen; the Dean of the UP Diliman College of Home Economics Dr. Aurorita Roldan; the head of Ateneo De Manila’s Cultural Heritage Studies Program Dr. Fernando Zialcita; and the head of Pastor Day by Day Ministries, and founder and director of Kaloob Philippine Music and Dance Ministry Dr. Ed Lapiz.