The disruption of people’s lifestyle, wrought by pandemic restrictions, has influenced people’s dietary habits. The boredom and anxiety linked to quarantine measures drove people to snack or eat more.
Throughout the lockdown, retailer Maritess “Tokie’’ Tantoco Enriquez, director of the Rustan’s Group of Companies, spent much of her time reading the news feeds for food finds. Nursing asthma and allergy during the tough quarantine, she craved for kakanin and native foods from Bataan and Bulacan, the province of her father, Ambassador Bienvenido Tantoco, Sr., the co-founder and patriarch of the Rustan’s Group.
When restrictions eased, Jackie Flomantes, her father’s personal assistant, would go home every weekend to Malolos, Bulacan. Tokie asked if her favorites—ensaymada, kaliskis de empanada, chicharon, kesong puti and longganisa—were available. They were, and Flomantes was delighted that orders for these delicacies would give the Bulacan vendors the much-needed income.
Seeing an opportunity to do good, Tokie created a Viber chat, Mga Paborito ni Tokie, targeting her immediate vicinity, the residents of Forbes Park and Dasmariñas Village in Makati. Since then it has become her advocacy to support small and micro-entrepreneurs during this crisis.
The customers are made aware of regional specialties, and Tokie unwittingly has become a curator of Filipino comfort food.
Bulacan is famous for jumbo pastillas enriched with carabao milk, sweet tamarind, macapuno (sweetened strips from dwarf coconuts) flavored with buttermilk, biscocho (twice-baked cookies); glutinous rice delicacies such as espasol with rice crisps and sweet white gourd and kalamay with coconut milk curds.
Mercy’s Empanada de Kaliskis became an instant hit for its crumbly but crispy crust and fresh chicken and potato filling. The saltiness, sweetness and spiciness burst in the palate. Culled from an heirloom recipe in 1820, the empanada is made the old-fashioned way, hand-rolled on banana leaf and fried with layers of waves suggestive of a smile.
“The villages loved it. I was initially getting 70 orders a week. Now the orders are down to half,’’ recalls Tokie.
The Ensaymada Malolos from Eurobake is the classic big, golden brown sweet bread, crowned with butter, cheese and flecked with sugar. Bulacan’s ensaymada is distinctive for its salted egg topping or ham. Eurobake developed its famous inipit, a custard-like filling with a hint of citrus, pressed between layers of feather-light cake.
Another heirloom recipe, Ensaymada Villegas, is a pillowy soft version.
To satisfy cravings for munchies, Bulacan is proud of its pork cracklings with or without the layers of back fat that add flavor. It also has the salted water melon seeds, squash seeds, sunflower seeds, peanuts and Corniks (fried garlicky corn kernels).
Rosalie’s is a famous souvenir store for native delicacies in Marilao, Bulacan. Its star product, the suman with pinipig and coconut strips, is touted by foodies as one of the best.
The rellenong bangus—milkfish stuffed with tasty fish, ground pork, vegetables—is ready to eat.
From Bataan, her husband’s home province, Tokie also gathered the sweet and the savory. The province offers sautéed shrimp paste, assorted tinapa (smoked fish) such as the best-selling bangus, tuyo, herring, galunggong and tilapia.
Geno’s Ice Cream is known for its unique local flavors. Pulps of gabi, ube-keso, mais-keso, ube-macapuno, buko-pandan keso, buko salad-keso and halo-halo are generously infused with the rich, preservative-free ingredients.
Upon a customer’s requests, Tokie sourced as far as Ilocos with help from Sen. Imee Marcos. A local contact collected the garlic, local vinegar, salt and the native sausages. Longganisang Laoag is a fatter and garlicky sausage with less or no vinegar compared to the Vigan longganisa. The latter has spicy, salty, tangy and garlicky flavors and infused with vinegar.
Delivery by bus could be costly. By coincidence, Tokie’s nephew was going to Ilocos and offered to get the products. The goods were snapped up, but she has yet to place a second order—the logistical challenges are considerable.
“The nice thing about Ilocos garlic is that you only need a little to cook because it’s so potent unlike the garlic from China. But with the transport cost, it comes out very expensive,’’ she says.
Based on referrals, she was able to get longganisa from Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. They come in two varieties: the batotay with beef filling and the pork hamonado are the sweet but garlicky counterparts of the derecado, the salty native sausage. The longganisa Tuguegarao from Cagayan is similar to the Vigan version, flavored with sukang Iloko and annatto seeds.
Tokie notes how longganisa lovers would know that the best ones are produced in these places.
Puno’s Ice Cream and Sherbet is a treasured brand from Nueva Ecija. Made with coconut milk and cassava starch, it now has unique flavors such as Cheese Cashew Macapuno. It started out in the mid-20th century as hand-cranked dirty ice cream. Today the Puno family invested in Italian machinery for the factory.
From Batangas, Tokie offers honey from the bees in her farm and vermicast for the plantitos and plantitas.
Closer to home, Tokie has found a supplier from Pateros for the balut, penoy and salted egg. An original delicacy from Laguna, the inutak, glutinous rice with purple yam and coconut milk, is now made in Makati.
To help out a millennial entrepreneur, Stanley Chong, Tokie is distributing the Krunchy Patatas, potato chips flavored either with salted eggs or truffle. “It’s so addicting,’’ she says.
Tokie keeps the business within the neighborhood. The orders are picked up from her place.
“I’m a middle person. I don’t deliver to customers,’’ she says.
Friends have been urging her to sell their products. She maintains that she is sticking to her mission of helping the Filipino homes sell their specialties during this pandemic.
“I bought a freezer for this. The profits are small. The suppliers get something from me. I just want to assist them,’’ she says.
For food orders, contact 0998 866 7815.