Next to the high I get from getting cheap buys in Divisoria, my favorite part after shopping is when I parade my wares in front of my husband and kids, asking, “Guess how much?” They know I get a thrill from seeing their wide-eyed, incredulous look when I tell them the actual price. When they’re feeling naughty, they purposely give a low amount just to tease me.
I love going to the wet market, or any market for that matter. From years of experience in cooking, I know that preparing good food begins with the proper selection of ingredients. That’s why when I got invited to take a tour of the mother of all markets, Divisoria, I readily said yes.
We all met at the famous Aristocrat along Roxas Boulevard for a sumptuous Filipino breakfast buffet and a press briefing on the story of Mama Sita, the woman behind the world-famous brand.
The Story of Mama Sita
Teresita Reyes was the third child in a brood of 13 children in the family of Alex and Engracia Reyes. Sita inherited her mother’s intense passion for good food, and grew up under Aling Asiang’s tutelage, teaching her how to buy ingredients, how to build a relationship with the vendors and suppliers, and of course, how to cook.
We took a 20-minute ride through the back streets of Ermita, passing through St. Theresa’s College, along the Marques de Comilla in San Marcelino, where Sita went to school. As a young bride, she began selling fruits and kakanin to the students at St. Theresa’s and then later, delivering banana turon and chips to the canteens of Ateneo de Padre Faura and De La Salle on Taft Avenue.
After her mother Aling Asiang put up Aristocrat, Sita became the restaurant’s purchasing manager, buying the fresh produce from Divisoria and Quinta markets everyday.
Our mission was to get a feel of Mama Sita’s shopping experiences of walking through the crowded streets, surveying all the merchandise for sale and haggling with the vendors for the best possible price. It was both a feast and an assault to the senses, for while you could get the freshest vegetables and fruits on display, there was also wet, smelly garbage strewn all over the streets. You just have to learn how to sift through the sights and smells, and keep your eyes and ears open. Watch out, you could get run over by a delivery cart!
Mama Sita provided all of us participants from the media with a cute buri hat and t-shirt for easy identification, plus a bodyguard to be our porter cum guide.
Juanito, the guy assigned to me was tall and muscular, but he was no match for my insatiable shopping powers. I got a kilo of almost everything I saw and before I knew it, the poor guy must have been carrying at least 8+ kilos in each hand!
When I said I wanted to buy 5 kilos of dalandan (at 20 pesos a kilo, how could you resist?), he said, “Sige Ma’am” but his thought bubble probably said, “Eh kung iwan nalang kaya kita dito?!” I promised him that I would carry the bag of dalandan myself and that we would take a pedicab back to the meeting place. That seemed to appease him somehow. Whew!
Divisoria is known as the “bagsakan” of fruits and vegetables coming from the provinces and international suppliers, but I was still surprised at how cheap the produce was, compared to the inner city markets and supermarkets. We walked to the other end of Sto. Cristo street, across the riles along Claro M. Recto Avenue, and found the vegetable wholesalers and retailers.
Thinking that we were going to be quizzed by our hosts, I took note of all the prices of the goods that I bought and then went to Farmer’s Market in Cubao the following day to compare prices. Of course, prices will vary depending on the season and availability of the produce, but here’s a comparative table just to give you an idea of the disparity in prices.
DIVISORIA, DECEMBER 1 FARMER’S MARKET, DECEMBER 2
Lemon – 10 @ Lemon – 15 @
Kiwi – 15 @ Kiwi – 25 @
Fuji Apples – 4 for P 50 Fuji Apples – 20@
Garlic – 38/kilo Garlic – 80/kilo
Onions white – 35/k Onions white – 80/k
Tomatoes – 40/k Tomatoes – 90/k
Ginger – 30/k Ginger – 80/k
Eggplant – 70/k Eggplant – 80/k
Ampalaya – 50/k Ampalaya – 70/k
Sigarillas – 40/k Sigarillas – 100/k
Carrots – 65/k Carrots – 120/k
Sayote – 12/k Sayote – 40/k
French beans – 150/k French beans – 250/k
Potatoes – 55/k Potatoes – 80/k
I often tell my children how grapes and chestnuts could only be enjoyed during Christmas time when we were growing up decades ago, but now it’s ridiculous how apples and oranges are sometimes cheaper than papayas and bananas! Mama Sita would not have approved of the way imported fruits and vegetables are now dominating our local markets, bringing the market prices too low for our farmers, sometimes forcing them to sell at a loss.
What I find most admirable is how the Mama Sita Foundation is now focused on helping local farmers get back on track by encouraging them to plant more crops and assuring them of buyers. Think of all the garlic, onions, sampalok, calamansi, sili and other vegetables they need to produce their mixes and sauces. This way, they are assured of a steady supply for their business, and at the same time, they are able to help the Filipino farmers make a decent profit as well.
From a consumer standpoint, I appreciate how import liberalization has given us more choices in food and ingredients to use in our cooking, but I sympathize with the plight of our local farmers too.
Juanito and I finally took a pedicab back to 168 mall, as promised. With two passengers and 3 bags full of fruits and vegetables on board, our poor pedicab driver was huffing and puffing as he pedaled through the busy streets crammed with Christmas shoppers. As I unloaded all my shopping bags later that day, I marveled at how successful my shopping spree was, and imagined Mama Sita looking at me with an approving smile.