Meet the Hardworking Small-Business People Behind Samar's Native Delicacies
When you browse through the grocery aisles, choosing which snacks to buy, have you ever thought of the people who make those goodies? If the product was manufactured by a big company, it was probaly made by numerous workers lined up in a factory. But if the product was made by a small entrepreneur, you can bet there’s an interesting story behind it.
In the province of Samar, the local government aims to transform Samarnon lives and promote peace through community-based, responsible, and sustainable tourism. Dubbed as “Spark Samar,” the campaign helps local entrepreneurs and small businesses promote their products, not just within Samar, but outside the province as well. Here are just a few of the province’s delicious delicacies—and the people who make them.
1| Sta. Rita’s Karlang Chips
In the municipality of Sta. Rita, farmers plant a variety of crops, such as karlang (a type of root crop from the taro family), cassava, camote, and bananas. When Typhoon Yolanda struck in 2013, most of the farmers’ crops were destroyed and they had to find alternative sources of livelihood. In 2014, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) conducted a training on making chips from different crops. Many women attended the training and received financial assistance to put up a center and purchase equipment. Thus, the Sta. Rita Food Processing Association was born.
Making chips is no easy feat. They start by peeling the crops, washing them three times, then slicing and frying them. After the flavoring is added, the chips are fried again, then dried for four to five hours before packaging. Through this small business, not only are the women able to showcase locally made products, they are also able to provide for their families and send their kids to school.
2| Manang Epen’s Galletas
This thin, crispy biscuit is a popular Filipino snack you’ll find in many grocery stores and pasalubong centers. In Samar, this local delicacy is made by Purificacion Uy Abantao, or Manang Epen. A chemical engineer by profession, Manang Epen worked in the National Food Authority Central Office in Manila for 10 years. But in 1989, she decided to go back to her hometown of Paranas, Samar to take care of her father. “Walang hanapbuhay dito so nagtayo ako ng bakery kasi ‘yun din ang aking passion,” she said. “I’m a single parent and I stayed with my father for 11 years until he died.”
Manang Epen took baking classes and modified the recipes she learned to make them unique. In 1992, she opened Purity Bakeshop in Paranas, selling different types of bread. In 1995, she learned to make galletas, which wasn’t popular in Samar at the time. With hard work and determination, her bakeshop flourished and her version of galletas became a household favorite. “My galletas is different from Leyte and I’m the only one making it in Samar,” she said. “We use calamansi as our flavoring instead of vanilla because nagbibigay siya ng lasa… hindi nakakaumay.”
3| Ping Ping’s Tinapa
Coming from a family of fishermen, Elizabeth de Guzman and her siblings had to deal with the hardships of life by the sea. Back in the seventies, their parents’ fishing boat was phased out, which caused them to lose their livelihood. Since her grandmother knew how to make tinapa, they decided to sell it at the local market to earn money.
“Nung una, ang tinapa ay pagkain lang ng pamilya. Naisip namin gawin itong hanapbuhay,” she said. With the help of local government officials, they were able to sell and promote their products.
Forty years later, Ping Ping’s Tinapa, which was named after their late mother, is still going strong. Elizabeth’s brother Sandy now runs the business. Every day, hundreds of fresh fish are gutted and cleaned, then steamed, smoked, and packed. Tourists and locals flock to their stores to bring home boxes of their high quality smoked fish.
“Sa isda kami naghirap, pero sa isda din kami bumangon,” she added.
4| Mayette's Native Food Products
Mayette Bernales’s business started out as a small sari-sari store, which she managed with her husband Norbing. She already enjoyed baking at the time and would make products from her grandmother’s and mother’s recipes. To improve her skills, she went to school in Catbalogan, where she would sell products to her teachers as a way to earn extra cash. She also learned how to make keseo, which is Samar’s version of kesong puti. She worked with the local farmers to increase production, get FDA approval, and market their products. Today, Gandara’s keseo, which is made by soaking carabao’s milk in vinegar, is known as the best keseo in Samar.
Eventually, Mayette and Norbing learned to make more goodies, such as tablea, corioso cookies, roscas, and more. With the help of DOST, they were able to purchase new machines and expand their production center. Today, Mayette’s Native Products can be found in malls, pasalubong centers, and bus terminals all over Samar. In 2019, their tablea was awarded Best in Innovation Packaging in Region 8.
5| Super JJED’s Tahong Products
In the town of Jiabong, local fishermen go out to sea in the wee hours of the morning to harvest mussels or tahong. The tahong grow on tall bamboo poles that are submerged in water. Armed with their tools, the fishermen dive into the water to pick out the fully-grown mussels. Together, the fishermen can harvest around 300 sacks of mussels a day which they then sell to different suppliers or ship to Manila and other provinces.
In Samar, locals cook mussels in a variety of ways, such as adobong tahong, lumpiang tahong, rellenong tahong, and many more. But aside from serving tahong at the dinner table, entrepreneur Danilo Gabin decided to create a line of delicious seafood goodies he could sell. He started the business in 2003, and today, he has a whole line of nutritious, protein-rich delicacies, which include tahong crackers, bottled adobong tahong, tahong in brine, ginisang bagoong, and many more. They’re sold in various shops across the region.
Like many entrepreneurs, Danilo hopes he can help the local economy and his fellow Samarnons. “My mission-vision is to give idle mothers livelihood. Mothers buy the tahong and shell it, then sell them to me. Kumikita sila, kumikita din ako,” he said.
Check out Samar’s native delicacies in a store near you or at the soon-to-be-launched Secret Kitchens of Samar Tour. For more details, visit https://www.facebook.com/sparksamar/.