Cooking with lolos and lolas taught us many things in life—and even keeps us alive today

The legacy of grandparents

COOL PLACE, COOLER DESSERT Little Quiapo halo-halo

Many things come to mind when we think of our grandparents. It can be a carefree summer spent in our lola’s place. A day full of laughter courtesy of our lolo’s corny jokes. Or a journey to the past through photo albums they lovingly built through the years. Whatever it is, time spent with our grandparents is always special, filled with lessons and stories shared, of course, through good food.

Food is among the best legacies we have from our grandparents. By now, many of us know that there is no connection like a bond forged by meals shared. No boo-boos are painful enough not to be erased by grandma’s cookies, and a party is not a party without their home cooking. Even during the pandemic, we still cling on to the dishes and values they have given us. Because if there is one thing we know, our grandparents’ recipes and lessons are tested by time and will definitely help us survive anything.

Keeping the legacy alive

It is not news to anyone that the pandemic has posed a great challenge to the food industry. While considered essential, many food businesses and restaurants have sadly closed their doors due to the lack of foot traffic in their establishments. Among those we had to bid bitter farewells to are the legacy restaurants, with many still family-run. But for many that are still standing their ground against the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more than just keeping the business afloat, but making sure that their founder’s legacy, their grandparent’s legacy, get through the current crisis.

Among the oldest restaurants in the country that strives to continue its operation is Little Quiapo. Named after the most bustling areas in the city of Manila, the restaurant was first a food stand on campus at UP Diliman in 1949. Through the years, it has gained fame for its halo-halo and palabok, and now has branches all over Metro Manila.

“As part of the third generation in our family operating the restaurant, we, as well as our  staff, believe in our founder’s (my grandfather Irineo G. Bartolome) motto, which is to ‘treat customers like kings.’ It is important to maintain excellent quality food, as well as exceptional service,” says Little Quiapo manager Miguel Caleon. “In our restaurant, our customers feel like they are at home, they eat good food, and are being cared for by our staff.”

Lessons learned

Wisdom is a gift we get from our elders, and this is passed on by spending time in the kitchen with them. For dressmaker Mario Santos, those days getting busy with his Lola Florita Añosa Ramirez have been the key for him to make a living this pandemic as he establishes his online bakeshop, Huntahan.

COOKING GRANDMA Lola Florita illustration

“Nanay is the one who taught us to appreciate cooking, baking, and enjoying the goodness of food over stories,” he says, “Nanay is also the person who taught us practical things in life. She’s responsible for some lessons in being daring and ambitious. Huntahan is from Nanay who cared enough to teach us the value of ingenuity at a young age (making a ‘Basta!’ dish from leftovers in the refrigerator), and now as adults, perfection (premium cakes only use premium ingredients).”

Born in 1938 in Eastern Samar, Lola Florita sure is a survivor. At age 83, the tough woman recovered from COVID-19. As Mario puts it, she is a constant reminder that little and simple things in life are the best, much like the humble cakes and treats they produce.

Cooking with passion

While adapting to new trends and shifting to online are some of the new ways to build an enterprise, Miguel and Mario believe what makes a food business a champion is not about the bells and whistles. It is about having dishes that are simply delicious, comforting, and something that reminds us of home, of our childhood days under the care of our grandparents.

SUMPTUOUS INHERITANCE Huntuhan spiced carrot cake

“Meals are where relations grow stronger, where lolas and lolos can reminisce and relive their lives through stories they tell to their grandchildren, where you can talk about everything and life lessons are passed down from one generation to another. Of course, as those chitchats have been an essential, so have the desserts.” Mario muses.

“In this day and age, when there are a lot of restaurants to choose from, as well as different cuisines to try out, consistency is key to staying relevant. Parents have brought their children here, and those children now grown up are bringing their children and even their grandchildren in turn,” Miguel says. “The cycle continues, as old memories are shared, new memories are made, and tradition is passed on.”

“We have been happily serving hearty, homecooked food for decades, and our customers have grown old with us,” he adds. “It is very common for us to hear an elderly customer comment about how our palabok or halo-halo has always tasted the same as when they first started enjoying it some decades back.”