The Life and Legacy of “Mama Sita”

(Reprinted with permission from Adarna House’s Book “What Kids Should Know About Filipino Food“)

Recently, this writer received a great “pasalubong” or gift from a dear fraternity brother (Bobby Mercado), who came to visit us here in Los Angeles. The “pasalubong” was this large red box filled with Mama Sita goodies such as: a small box of “Champorado” (porridge) kit, two packets of  heirloom rice called “Balatinaw” and another packet called “Minaangan,” plus there was a “Labuyo” Pepper Sauce, their own brand of Oyster Sauce and most of all, this child-friendly educational 68-paged handy book called “What Kids Should Know About Filipino Food,” written by a sorority sister, Felice Prudente Sta. Maria.
In her introduction to the special centenary edition, Clara Kalayaan Reyes Lapus, President of Mama SIta Foundation, said that this book “celebrates Teresita ‘Mama Sita’ Reyes’ love for children, her family and Philippine food culture, as it includes her food stories called ‘ Mga Kuwentong Pagkain,’ including recipes and food tips for both children and their parents to learn and enjoy.”

 

Following is a brief story on how the “Mama Sita” brand name evolved through the years:
  • 1917 – Teresita “Sita” Reyes was born in Manila on May 11, 1917. She was the third child of Engracia “Aling Asiang” Cruz, an entrepreneur in Divisoria  and Alex Reyes a bar topnotcher, who later became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • 1920-1927 – Alex was promoted as Assistant Attorney of the Bureau of Justice and he then moved his growing family from their crowded Divisoria shophouse, to their own bamboo home on a rented land flanked by rice paddies. For Sita, it was a happy childhood  of rainy weekends, enjoyed with cousins, as they searched for edible snails. On weekdays, she accompanied her mother to Divisoria to buy the freshest produce from their trusted “suki,” who also took care of her, as she waited for her mother to finish going around the market.
  • 1928 – Sita’s family moved to Ermita, next to St. Theres’s College, where she and her sisters studied. Aling Asiang decided to open a canteen in front of their house, where she served hundreds of college girls with home-cooked meals. It was then that Justice Alex suggested to name their canteen, “Lapu Lapu,” to honor the first Filipino hero and to signify the country’s delectable fish.
  • 1936 –  Sita married Fidel Reyes, a pioneer in modern Philippine agriculture. He offered his old farm truck to be converted into a food truck when Aling Asiang opened the Aristocrat rolling food store in Luneta Park. The young couple went back and forth to the Reyes’ ancestral homes in San Juan City and in Malolos, Bulacan, depending on the planting and harvesting seasons in their Calumpit (also in Bulacan) farm.
  • 1947 – Fidel lost his eyesight after the birth of their sixth child, Rosie. The couple had eleven children namely: Leonarda (first), Priscilla (second), Adolfo (third), Clarita (fourth), Engracia (fifth), Lourdes (seventh), Aida (eighth), Ramon (ninth), Carlos (tenth) and Francisco (eleventh). It was during this time that he Reyes’ ancestral home and warehouse along Paseo del Congreso burned down. However, instead of being disheartened by the misfortune, the couple worked together to rebuild everything they lost. Sita encouraged Fidel to expand his sugar, rice, salt and “alamang”  trading business. On the other hand, despite his impaired eyesight, Fidel pioneered the Central Mindanao Development.
  • 1951 – SIta revived the “Lapu Lapu” canteen from the ruins of her parents’ home in Ermita, which was bombed during World War II. She peddled “turon,” and other “kakanin” to other schools.
  • 1964 – Sita began travelling to other countries.with her kids as they finished college, to expose them to the outside world. “Para huwag maging magugulatin, ” her husband reasoned. It was while travelling when Sita observed how Filipinos abroad longed for flavors of home.

(First of two parts series)

Clara Reyes-Lapus, president of the ‘Mama Sita’ foundation. (Photo inset) Founder Teresita “Sita” Reyes was born in Manila on May 11, 1917. She was the third child of Engracia “Aling Asiang” Cruz, an entrepreneur inDivisoria and Alex Reyes, a bar topnotcher who later became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

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