WITH the ongoing boom in restaurants in the metro, one summer activity that’s hardly being done especially by young people—perhaps due to the sweltering heat lately—is picnicking. Fortunately, Filipino cuisine vanguards Nancy and Sylvia Reyes went to the heart of Zambales this week to relive Filipino culinary legend and their aunt Teresita “Mama Sita” Reyes’ favorite activity with her family: celebrating the great outdoors over delicious food and bonding with the family.
According to Nancy Reyes, the idea of family picnics they grew up on is eating for the sake of eating, bringing the whole clan to a place far from the city and have food for everyone to savor.
“Kami kasi, yung family namin, pinaglihi sa pagkain. We can eat anywhere, strike anywhere. But the good thing is, ‘anywhere’ is sometimes far, just to eat together, to partake of the different kinds of baon like mechado and adobo. Yung mechado, yung mantika nasa ibabaw para hindi napapanis at ang kapal-kapal ng sarsa. Yung adobo, ganun din, adobong manok na nadudurog yung manok sa slow cooking,” she recalls. Furthermore, she said that it was their grandmother and Aristocrat Restaurant founder Engracia “Lola Asiang” Reyes, who really introduced the activity to her family.
Lola Asiang was very fond of picnics because she had a big family, and she loved eating and being around with her grandchildren. She would really take us on a long picnic, bringing the whole group. Kapag sinabing kami, ibig sabihin her 10 to 12 children with their children. And because her husband was the justice of the Supreme Court noon, libre kami sa isang bahay sa Baguio; we would all live in one house altogether. Kapag sinabi niyang summer vacation, akala niyo dun lang sa La Mesa Dam pero hindi,” she said.
After Asiang passed away, the Reyes clan became worried that their tradition of family picnics died with her. Her eldest daughter, Mama Sita, picked up her mother’s mantle and picked up where she left. Because of their similar character, which includes the love for food, eventually she became the representative of the family and continued their family tradition. In addition to picnics, Reyes said that Mama Sita would love to pick fruits on places that they visit.
About 150 kms. away from the noise and dirt of Metro Manila rests Rosa Farms, a mango plantation named after the sister of former president Ramon Magsaysay. Just a few minutes away from San Marcelino Municipal Hall, the 13-hectare mango orchard produced the sweetest mangoes in the world. With its verdant mango trees enveloping the whole farm, this is one of the best picnic sites near Manila, with only three hours of travel time from Metro Manila.
According to Ding Zulueta, manager of Rosa Farms, their grandparents David Jocson and Rosa Magsaysay acquired the farmland in the ’20s. Originally, the large land was a rice field until the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, where the entire land was submerged on ash. After the eruption, they decided to convert the land into a mango plantation, giving new life to the farm.
“Noong nagpunta kami ng Guimaras, may nakausap ako na ang sabi sa akin na wala naman daw mangga doon nung araw. Ang pagkakaalam daw niya ay baka galing din ng Luzon yung mga mangga kasi nga walang mangga sa Visayas. So binalik ko yung mga right variety [sa Zambales] tapos I contained them within the 13 hectares,” Ding Zulueta, owner of Rosa Farms, said.
Under the shades of giant mango trees, guests gathered around to chow on a picnic dubbed “Piknikan sa Manggahan ala Mama Sita.” They enjoyed the following dishes:
Kinilaw na Puso ng Saging
Halabos na Alimango at Sugpo
Sinigang na Gulay
Inasal na Manok
Inihaw na Baboy
Inihaw na Talong at Okra
Daing na Bangs
Green Mango Sherbet
After the feasting on the sumptuous lunch, everyone participated in different activities. While some were busy making kites, other chose to relax and get pampered with a massage. Aside from kite making, others played Pinoy Henyo, a game popularized by a noontime TV show.
Still, others watched as Sylvia Reyes demonstrated how to prepare Kinilaw na Puso ng Saging. According to her, the secret to a firm banana blossom is to blanch it first.
“Immediately, pagkahiwa ng puso ng saging, ilagay siya sa kumukulong tubig. Kung wala naman tayong liberty na isagad agad kasi mamaya pa natin siya gagamitin, magpakulo tayo ng tubig tapos lagyan natin ng lye. The lye preserves the firmness of the vegetables,” Sylvia said.
Like any other typical summer afternoon, a picnic would be incomplete without merienda. Everyone enjoyed nilagang mais, Arroz Caldo, and banana ruma, or saba strips cooked on rum.
At the end of the day, Nancy Reyes reminded that picnics are about communing with nature and with the family, all while enjoying the food that also came from nature itself.
“After all, the elements of picnic are fresh air, bonding, good food, resting, and laughter,” she said.
“What’s important is it brought memories, kasi ganyang talaga kapag mayroon tayong experiences that we haven’t had in a long, long time and then all of a sudden, we take a day off from our deadlines, laptops, telephone, iPod, appointments, diet, exercise, and talking to the usual people. It’s a break, it’s taking away from the cement and bringing you out in the country,” she added.
Eric Mallari, brand manager of Mama Sita’s, said that in a sea of tight competition between multinational food companies, Mama Sita’s gains an edge not just on the taste of their products but also in using natural ingredients.
“We take pride in saying that we use natural flavor, but again, other brands would loosely say that they use natural ingredients also. What we say is that our main flavor ingredient is natural. You can say that your products are natural, but the limitation of natural is vague. Let’s say this is our tamarind soup base because it’s made of tamarind; nothing else makes it sour. That also applies to other products also,” Mallari said.
“More than that, even what’s more valuable to us is the heritage, because Mama Sita believed in hard work, so we don’t go to shortcuts in achieving the best quality of products. There are no compromises when it comes to using which needs to be used,” he added.