A photo gallery on the life and culinary beginnings of Teresita “Mama Sita” Reyes-Reyes opened two weeks ago in the historic Casa Real in Paseo del Congreso, Malolos, Bulacan.
Dubbed “Mama Sita: Kababayan, Ina, Kusinera,” the exhibit is presented by the Malolos Heritage Society and Bulakeños International in celebration of the Bulacan Foundation Day. It will run until December.
The photo exhibit pays tribute to Mama Sita, a culinary icon who dedicated her life to promoting Philippine cuisine here and abroad through her signature sauces and mixes. Her products are available in more than 40 countries now, or wherever there’s a Filipino craving for local flavor.
“This is the first time ever that my mom was given an exhibit like this,” said Ramon Reyes, the ninth child of Mama Sita. “My siblings and I are just so happy that her works and her love for cooking are well-documented in the exhibit.”
Malolos, Bulacan, was home to Mama Sita. It was her husband, Fidel, who actually hailed from Bulacan. The couple lived with their 11 children in Malolos.
The photo gallery begins with a short history of Mama Sita, her culinary adventures and her work to elevate Pinoy food.
Mama Sita was born in Manila on May 11, 1917 and grew up in the Divisoria-Navotas area, along Manila Bay.
When Mama Sita was 7, her family moved to a new home beside St. Theresa’s College, Manila, where she also studied.
The eldest in a brood of 12—which was expanded to include orphaned cousins—Mama Sita took to the cooking and marketing chores. She would tag along with her mother, Doña Engracia “Aling Asiang” Reyes who founded Aristocrat Restaurant, a Filipino dining institution that has survived through more than seven decades.
Several pictures of Mama Sita’s childhood days and family gatherings, some in faded sepia, are on display.
One portion of the gallery gives a glimpse of how the Reyeses lived and treasured family togetherness in Bulacan. They would hold picnics on a barge cruising the Pampanga river. They also frequented the local market to get the freshest produce for the family’s lunch or dinner.
Another part of the gallery bared Mama Sita’s passion for Filipino food—adobo, kare-kare, sinigang sa sampalok, caldereta, menudo, pancit canton, lumpiang shanghai, palabok, sisig, inasal, tinola, escabeche, tocino, pancit bihon and many more.
This was the same passion that gave birth to the popular brand of sauces, condiments and ready mixes that now bears her name.
Mama Sita the brand started to market its products overseas in 1981, a year after it was founded.
The exhibit records its founder’s journeys abroad, including the food that captured her fancy and the valuable lessons she gleaned from the experiences of others she met along the way.
A short program to open the exhibit was attended by the Reyes family and friends, government officials and members of the Malolos Heritage Society.
The Malolos Heritage Society, led by Lydia Yupangco, Marides Fernando and Charito Reyes, is the civic arm of the Malolos Elite Club. In the club are scions of prominent families in Malolos. Among its past presidents are Lydia Reyes-Yupangco, Lydia Balatbat-Echauz, Zeny Hipolito-Tengco and Dez Bautista.
Many of its female members are descendants of the “Women of Malolos” addressed in Dr. Jose Rizal’s famous letter.
“Mama Sita became an internationally famous mother,” said Dr. Pablo Trillana III, retired chairman and executive director of National Historical Commission of the Philippines, adviser of Malolos Heritage Society and Bulakeños International.
“Whenever she’d go to the US, she would find ways to cook Filipino food for relatives and even introduce the cuisine to foreigners.”
Undersecretary Mary Grace Tirona, executive director of the Commission on Filipino Overseas, added: “Mama Sita is an icon in many households abroad. We are here to acknowledge her efforts and dedication. We need Mama Sita to continue the tradition of lutong-bahay, especially to Filipino families living abroad who have forgotten their culture and roots.”
Leonarda Reyes-Tulao, eldest child of Mama Sita, spoke for the Reyes family: “While we enjoy looking at the photo gallery of Mama Sita, may the Filipinos abroad and their future generations keep their Philippine heritage and remain proud of it. Let them share the passion and vision of Mama Sita Reyes in bringing the flavors of the Philippine islands to the world. Food, which binds Philippine families, sustains life and allows humanity to live in harmony.”
A merienda sena followed the program. Mama Sita staff, led by chef Andro Faderanga, prepared pork barbecue, pancit palabok, bangus belly, lumpiang sariwa, lumpiang shanghai, sago’t gulaman and lime juice.
(Manila-style spring rolls stuffed with meat and vegetable)
Makes 60 sticks.
For the filling:
Combine the ingredients for the filling in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Scoop one tbsp of the mixture onto a medium-sized spring roll wrapper. Roll tightly. Moisten the edges with water. Roll and press down to seal. Cut each spring roll into three pieces and dip both ends of each piece in some flour. Fry in hot cooking oil until golden brown and drain. Serve with Mama Sita’s Sweet Chili Sauce or Mama Sita’s Sweet and Sour Sauce.
Makes 20 barbecue sticks
In a bowl, combine pieces of meat and Mama Sita’s Barbecue Marinade. Marinate for at least three hours. If using shrimps, scallops, calamari or fish fillet, marinate for just 10 minutes.
When ready to grill, skew meat with bamboo sticks. Grill over live charcoal about 2-3 minutes on each side or to desired doneness. Brush occasionally with the marinade mixed with cooking oil.
Casa Real is open Tuesday to Sunday, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
E-mail the author at vbaga@inquirer. com.ph