Mang Tomas: Getting to Know the Man Behind the SauceApril 30, 2014
There are some kids who put ketchup on everything, and then there are those who reach for a bottle of Mang Tomas. Made with crushed pork liver, water, sugar, vinegar, breadcrumbs, and a secret blend of spices, this sweet, thick, and tangy sauce is arguably the most versatile condiment in the country. And even though it was originally developed as an accompaniment to lechon, spoonfuls of it flooding drizzled over mounds of rice (or in between bread halves) can easily drive you into carbo overload, whether you happen to have an accompanying protein on hand or not.
“Sarsa” is the proper name for the roast pork dressing and plenty of lechon houses and restaurants have their own in-house recipe, but customers refer to it as “Mang Tomas” all the same. But who exactly was the barong-clad, salakot-wearing man smiling broadly on the label of every sarsa bottle? Was he just a figment of a marketing maven’s imagination, or did he actually exist?
The Man Behind The Sauce
There really was a Mang Tomas and his first venture was selling pre-roasted pork.
Born Tomas de los Reyes, the enterprising meat vendor from the province was the catalyst for the booming lechon industry back in the 1950s. He began his business by selling pork meat outside his house, which at the time was conveniently located in front of the La Loma Cockpit Arena in Quezon City. At the end of each day, the owners of the winning cocks would converge at Mang Tomas’s stall to buy slabs of pork meat to be roasted for their celebratory pulutan. (The losers simply had to make do with the carcasses of their fallen birds.) Seizing the opportunity to make a little extra money, Mang Tomas ventured into selling pre-roasted pork. His gamble paid off as plenty of customers appreciated the convenience and flocked around his meat stall every afternoon, the revenue from the roasted pork sales eventually funding the first ever lechon shop in La Loma in 1954.
The meat vendor eventually started his own piggery and served lechon to Malacañang Palace’s most esteemed guests. It is still open up to this day.
The demand for Mang Tomas’ succulent roasted pork grew to the point that the erstwhile meat vendor ended up purchasing parcels of land to serve as his backyard roastery, as well as starting his own piggery so he could personally raise the pigs for his enterprise. The lechon was initially sold as a whole or by the kilogram, but the family came to put up the Mang Tomas restaurant to service patrons who were in need of a quick roasted pork fix. President Magsaysay was one of the eatery’s most distinguished guests, and the restaurant’s famed roasted pig even made an appearance at several Malacañang Palace banquets, gracing the plates of visiting kings, queens, and other foreign celebrities.
In the decades that followed, other entrepreneurs took their cues from Mang Tomas’ successful business model and set up their own roasted pork brand. Some of them even endure to this day, with names like Aling Lydia’s Lechon or Mila’s Lechon coming to mind whenever an upcoming special occasion requires a glorious, whole-roasted pig as a centerpiece. Exactly who has the better-tasting lechon is a matter of subjective taste, but the invention of the ever-present, accompanying liver sauce or sarsa remains widely credited to Tomas De Los Reyes.
Mang Tomas in the Present Day
Ironically, despite the Mang Tomas brand being more famous for its signature sauce than for its roasted pork, the “all around sarsa” is currently owned and manufactured by a different company altogether. Back in 1991, Southeast Asia Food, Inc. acquired the ownership and production rights of the Mang Tomas lechon sauce brand, along with those of other industry heavyweights like Datu Puti Vinegar and Papa Banana Catsup.
The Mang Tomas Lechon Restaurant is still very much alive and kicking, though, and is currently owned and managed by Mrs. Cora De Los Reyes, Mang Tomas’ daughter-in-law.
Mang Tomas passed away in 1985, but his name continues to live on as a vital part of the overall lechon experience that his lifetime of hard work, devotion, and ingenuity irrefutably elevated to new heights altogether.