If you happen to find yourself trapped in the streets of Calle Tigre and Calle Paloma, you will definitely not miss this prominent figure sitting on her throne wearing a big warm smile on her face while calling out passersby to stop and check out her panindas of Pinoy merienda.
“Kabayan! Bili na!”
Or even if you are still a few yards away from these streets, you can already hear her crispy and motherly laugh that endears her to her sukis.
“ Shanghai, gulay kayo diyan!”
It was last year when I found myself lost somewhere in Calle Joaquin Costa looking for the Spanish bakery that sells their own version of the pan de coco. After having walked several blocks, I did not find the bakery. Instead, I came across a friendly looking lady sitting on a chair outside a Pinoy owned butcher shop. Beside her were two plastic baskets full of Filipino delicacies that instantly spelled Y-U-M: siopao, Lumpiang Shanghai, turon, lumpiang gulay and bicho bicho. Charmed by her happy disposition and her hoarse and contagious laugh, not to mention the panindas, I became an avid suki right away. Since then, every afternoon, except Mondays, I would go to her spot and buy a stick of bicho-bicho or a lumpiang Shanghai before going to class.
Lanela Marquez or Tita Lanela started her food business two years ago when she could no longer bear the pain of her arthritis. She quit her job as a cook at a restaurant and decided to put up a small food business in the heart of the Pinoy community in Barcelona.
Being the only girl in the brood of six, Tita Lanela learned how to satisfy her five brothers with her delicious cooking when she was only six years old. She learned the basics from her grandmother who also shared to her a handful of tips and secrets. Now in her not so young years, it is her turn to pass on these tricks and secrets to her daughter who helps her in her business.
Though the bulk of her clients are our kababayans, Tita Lanela is proud to have several non-Pinoys as her loyal customers.
“Espanyoles, Dominicanos, Ecuatorianos, mga Pakistanis. Yung mga Pakistanis hindi kumakain ng siopao kasi baboy.”
Born in Tarlac, Tarlac but was raised in Pangasinan, Tita Lanela came to Spain 25 years ago. With four of her five daughters having finished their degree already, she is happy that her small food business is doing very well.
“ Meron akong mga loyal na suki. Bumabalik. Kahit araw-araw. Isa sa mga rason ay pakikisama rin. Okey naman ako sa kanila kaya okey sila sa akin. Walang problema. Masaya lahat.”
She starts her business at five o’clock where most Pinoys are already coming home from work, hungry and are craving for an authentic Pinoy merienda. She never goes home with unsold goods. Everything goes. She usually closes her “shop” at around eight in the evening. But what happens if there are still unsold siopao or Shanghai even if it is already eight o’clock?
“Pinapautang ko na!Para ubos na lahat.”
You won’t see her on a Monday. This is her day-off. This is the day when she goes to the market and prepares all her ingredients for the week. This is also her chance to enjoy her free time and clean the house.
“Lunes ako bumibili ng kakailanganin ko sa aking paninda. Tapos relax relax ng konti. Linis ng bahay. Ganun.”
Our conversation was abruptly put to a halt after a couple of Pinoy buyers came forward to ogle at the neatly piled siopaos each sealed inside a transparent plastic wrapper.
“Siopao na lang! Wala ng Shanghai!”
As I waited for the clients to decide whether to buy or not, I noticed a number of tourists giving curious stares at the red and blue plastic baskets swarmed by hungry sukis.
“Tanghali na kasi kayong pumunta, wala ng bicho-bicho tuloy!”
The bicho bicho is always the bestseller. The first one to be sold out. She can sell 60 bicho bichos a day. Next is the lumpiang Shanghai. I asked Tita Lanela her cooking secret to which she retorted with her patented laugh.
“Secret nga eh!”
Though there are several kababayans who are also into this small food business, Tita Lanela doesn’t feel threatened. To her, there exists no competition. She is comfortable in her spot. Her clients come to her and her “competitors” also have their own.
She doesn’t dream of having a big food business someday. She is already enjoying what she has right now. She can pay the rent, send her daughter to school and enjoy her afternoons with her sukis. What more can she ask for? All she is looking forward at the moment is her homecoming in 2012.
“Pinag-iipunan pa yan.” She said with a smile.
Who would not get herself endeared to her clients and non-clients, without a doubt, this lady just knows how to enjoy life as it is. She, her chair, her plastic baskets and most of all, her laugh. More than the food that you buy, you also meet a cheerful person. Always like everybody’s jolly aunt who in some way or the other makes you feel good while just spending a minute or two with her deciding whether a stick of bicho-bicho will make your afternoon merienda worthwhile; or is it going to be a vegetable-filled roll?
It was now time to take a few photos of Tita Lanela . She hesitated at first. Insisting that she didn’t look beautiful that afternoon for not wearing her favourite brown dress. After several prodding, she shyly obliged and smiled sweetly. But not after covering her tummy.
“Oy, huwag whole body ha, kita ang kabilbilan natin!”
Saying this, she released yet another whip of hearty giggles that immediately turned into a refreshingly loud laugh. All this captured as the camera clicked away.
Interview and Article by Nathaniel Sisma Villaluna