She began with a small table of pater, a Maranao staple of rice and minced adobo, wrapped in banana leaves. Today, Noron Sharief Macatanong, 57, leases a two-story building for her restaurant, June-Nairah (“good luck” in Manarao), in Muslim Town, Quiapo.
In 1976, when Noron was 15, her family took a boat to Manila to escape poverty in Lanao del Sur. Her parents tried to make ends meet by selling pater or rice cubes.
“They made a lot of sacrifices for us,” she says.
In 1993, the enterprising Noron would make two dozen pieces of pater and sell them for P5 each on Quiapo’s Globo Street near the Golden Mosque. Every day, she would deposit P20 in her kitty. It took her a decade to raise money for a new location while supporting her children.
With a capital of P3,500 in 2003, she found a small space with four tables. Noron opened a simple eatery and continued selling pater on the side. After three years, she found a new place that was double the size of the old one.
In 2012, Noron found a site on Elisondo Street, where the restaurant is to this day— painted in yellow and green, its walls lined with Muslim blessings.
Noron makes the most of June-Nairah’s selling area. Outside is a stall that offers plastic boxes of Maranao sweets—tamokonsi, chewy dough twisted into a pretzel, and broas, spongy cupcakes made of flour, milk and egg, and its donut version. A box costs P100 for 20 pieces.
The sweets are complemented with plastic containers of durian jam and palapa, a staple condiment made of caramelized shallot, ginger and chili.
Beside the restaurant is Noron’s takeout counter for pater. Now priced at P10, the pater comes with a free cup of broth.
In typical carinderia style, the food is displayed on glass-covered shelves. The tilapia comes in two versions—fried or grilled, topped with shredded turmeric and chili.
There are bowls of Maranao comfort food—chicken garnished with palapa, balbakwa or beef oxtail stew, bakas piaparan or seafood, and fowl simmered in coconut milk and turmeric.
The shrimps are also stewed in coconut milk and flavored with onion leaves. The adobo is not chicken but carabao liver.
Noron’s version of rendang is chicken liver, instead of beef, with coconut milk, curry flavors and turmeric flakes.
The Maranao omelette is a triangular layer of eggs with tomatoes and onions.
The shelves are lined with tuna, black squid and shrimp, all topped with grated turmeric.
Items cost an average of P100. The pricey ones are the heads of the tuna and mudfish which can cost P550. No one is complaining because the portions are generous.
June-Nairah has a seating capacity of 60. Instead of monobloc chairs, the place has orange and metal chairs—castaways from a demolished Jollibee—and black glass tables.
Customers believe that the food is tastier when eaten with bare hands.
Noron recalled seeing former President Ferdinand Marcos eating with his bare hands when he had lunch with then Lanao Gov. Ali Dimaporo.
Noron took Abdul Jelan Palawan, then 16, under her wing and he now cooks the food at June-Nairah, including Noron’s personal dishes.
The second floor is the dormitory for Noron’s staff of 15.
To this day, she has kept the habit of putting P500 to P1,000 daily in her kitty. Noron is supporting five grandchildren.
Noron owes her success to her staff. “God saw my sacrifices and He has shown mercy,” she says.—CONTRIBUTED