Who was Mama Sita?June 12, 2019
If the Americans have Betty Crocker, we Filipinos have Mama Sita. With their eponymous instant kare-kare /sinigang powder or pancake mix (in Betty Crocker’s case), both women were (and still are) the undeniable saviors of housewives/housebands/homesick and cash-strapped yuppies with close to zero culinary skill (and close to zero kitchen space) in their respective countries. But while these stalwarts of home-cooking are neck and neck when it comes to their hold over the hearts (and wallets) of their countrymen, our Mama Sita has one distinct advantage over Betty Crocker: she actually existed.
The Making of A Legend
Born to Doña Engracia Reyes (known as the “Mother of Filipino Cooking”), Teresita Reyes seemed destined for culinary greatness from day one. Her family founded and ran the well-loved Aristocrat restaurant (which to this day, is famed for its succulent chicken barbecue and java rice combo) and the constant exposure to food and commerce would shape the young girl’s foremost passion in life. Young Sita was known to travel far distances just to sample local delicacies and to purchase special ingredients that she would use in her various cooking experiments. She was also very enterprising, and would regularly scrounge around in the Divisoria and Nepa-Q markets for quality edibles that she would buy in bulk to avail of further discounts. Yet it was her talent and inclination for painstakingly documenting the results of her efforts in the kitchen and in the marketplace that would elevate what started out as mere hobbies into something that would eventually revolutionize the Filipino lifestyle.
From Backyard Project to Household Name
As her moniker suggests, Mama Sita’s passion for providing her expat friends and relatives with the Filipino delicacies that they sorely missed bordered on maternal. At first, she would simply cook for them whenever she visited but as crucial ingredients were hard to find abroad (and with the children growing ever more accustomed to hotdogs and burgers rather than kare-kare and sinigang), Mama Sita was asked to work on a long-term solution. Drawing from her cooking diaries and expertise on local produce, she formulated a sinigang paste made with mashed gabi and tamarind extracts, and lugged bottles of the stuff on her trips so her loved ones would have no trouble replicating their beloved dishes. Buoyed by the success of her little project, Mama Sita turned her attentions to developing ready-to-use sauces and mixes for other native dishes, churning out bottles and packets of barbecue sauce, oyster sauce, and kare-kare mix among other things. This also became a hit in the Philippines as they were consistent in flavor, and spared many a time-pressed homemaker from the trouble of whipping up the condiments from scratch.
More Than Just A Local Celebrity: Mama Sita’s Role in An Increasingly Small World
After Mama Sita retired, her descendants picked up where she left off, with her son-in-law Bartolome Lapus using his skills as a scientist to perfect the sinigang mix. Mama Sita’s daughter Clara and her husband then incorporated the Mama Sita brand into the Marigold Communities Corporation back in 1980. They initially began their foray into the export market by sending their sauces and mixes to the United States, targeting the OFW’s who craved a taste of home.
Fast forward to 2014, and what began as a cottage industry in the 1980’s now produces 60,000 cases every month for both the Philippines and about five other continents, where they’re consumed not just by Filipino expatriates but by foreigners as well (the sinigang mix alone has a solid following in the Middle East, as Mama Sita’s sauces and mixes are all halal-certified). But despite having an entire research and development team behind the creation of the current Mama Sita line of sauces, the legendary matriarch’s descendants are still tasked with tasting and approving each one in order to stay true to the founder’s vision of ensuring that future generations will continue to be properly acquainted with the tastes of their motherland.