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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

From cloud kitchens to pop-up stalls

One stall sells pure taba ng talangka. Another offers guava cake in a delicate light green palette. There’s lechon, salmon, ham and sisig as well as freshly baked bread. And for the more adventurous taste buds, one chef has created durian-turon halo-halo, while another whipped up a taho donut complete with sago and arnibal (treacle) syrup.

While some of the sellers, like The Plaza, known for its premium ham, and Trellis, already an icon in Quezon City since the 1980s, are brick-and-mortar stores, majority began with cloud kitchens during the pandemic.

Along with other like-minded foodies and food purveyors, they have formed the social media community Sarap Pilipinas as lockdowns ended and the transition to a new normal began.

Monique Tancongco’s Guava Cake and (inset) Salmon HQ’s sushi box are among the products featured during the Sarap Pilipinas food fair at the Shangri-La Plaza Mall in Mandaluyong City. 

And perhaps part of their own pivot to having physical stores for their businesses, at least 23 brave brands from the Sarap Pilipinas group have put up stalls at the Grand Atrium of Shangri-La Plaza Mall for a four-day food bazaar that ends today, September 17.

“This community serves as the newest social media hub for individuals and similar groups to connect, explore, and appreciate the diverse aspects of our beloved Philippines and all things sarap by celebrating the flavors of Pinoy gastronomy, positive Filipino values and traditions, cultural education, historical trivia, our colorful roots and global impact, unique relationships and even our own brand of Pinoy humor,” said Sarap Pilipinas founding member Rochelle Farrales.

For Chef Kaira Ancheta, the flavors of Frozen Fiesta halo-halo pay homage to pastillas, her grandmother’s favorite pasalubong.

“We use 100 percent carabao milk to achieve that flavor and texture reminiscent of childhood dessert, pastillas de leche. We also use a bingsu machine that is traditionally used for milk-based Korean shaved ice desserts so it is really creamy,” Ancheta said.

Assorted flavors of Parisian-styled macarons

Aside from her Divine Durian halo-halo creation that mixes durian flown in from Davao and turon, Frozen Fiesta offers the Ultimate Ube, Pastillas Parade, and Mango Dream versions of the traditional dessert.

Salmon HQ’s journey, on the other hand, is a testament to the saying that necessity is the mother of all innovation.

Queenie Uy’s family, during the start of the pandemic with all its lockdowns and physical distancing requirements, were looking for a place to order good Japanese food.

“We were craving for salmon, so we thought if we could not order this, then we might as well supply it,” she said.

It turned out their dilemma was shared by a lot of foodies who found it difficult to have fresh sashimi and sushi delivered in a safe and hygienic manner, and by sheer word of mouth on social media, her business that started in May 2020 took off.

Mang Ceasar’s lechon trio

“We became known for delivering what I would call affordable luxury. We made sashimi and sushi accessible to people who could not go out to source these themselves,” said Uy, whose Salmon HQ now has a physical store at the Podium Mall.

Senator JV Ejercito, a self-confessed foodie, attests to the quality of Salmon HQ. He was, in fact, among those who first posted about the product.

“When I posted their product on social media, everyone at that time was struggling. I thought then that in my own little way – you just posted a photo or video – you are able to help small businesses to survive and thrive during the pandemic and now post-pandemic,” said the lawmaker who attended the opening day of the food bazaar.

One of Ejercito’s other delicious finds during the pandemic was the guava cake of Monique Cakes.

“I am not a baker. I just started baking cakes in the middle of 2020, during the height of the pandemic, to cheer people up,” said Monique Tancongco.

Frozen Fiesta’s halo-halo made from 100 percent carabao milk

Tangcongco, who admits that until now she finds it difficult to navigate social media, relied on friends and loyal customers who would heap praises on her cakes online.

“I do my own jam at home, and one day my mom said, ‘Why don’t you make a guava cake?’ Guavas are available almost all year round, but we don’t really look at it and think this can be turned into a cake,” she said.

There’s also a chocolate cake inspired by tennis great Roger Federer and aptly named Grand Slam, Cherries Jubilee, and Strawberry Shortcake XO.

For Farrales, the Sarap Pilipinas community is poised to expand as it supports sellers along the way, especially those who are taking their baby steps toward a physical store now that people are able to go out to eat and explore.

“Our primary objective is to promote and share the richness of Filipino hospitality through our culture and food, after all, we are what we eat,” Farrales said.

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