Bangus as a saving grace to these three women

A family in crisis recovers by dint of hard work, prayers, and a new food business

Selina’s Inihaw na Bangus was born, as most success stories evolve, out of the family’s need to earn a little extra income on the side. Months into the pandemic, Ginger Hilario’s business of distributing dermaceutical skincare products to dermatologists suffered. Her eldest daughter Celery, a law associate at a Makati firm, experienced a major setback when she failed to pass the bar exams. Youngest daughter Parsley had just completed her internship at a major food corporation when Covid-19 and the lockdown happened. With tensions rising and the future uncertain for all, the three women put their heads together and considered their options. More important, they prayed for divine guidance and providence.

Ginger, Celery and Parsley Hilario had perfected the Pinoy grilled stuffed bangus

Sometime in October of 2020, Ginger came home with an order of Inihaw na Bangus for lunch as she was too busy to cook. The trio ate their meal but were not truly satisfied. The bangus flesh wasn’t meaty, the stuffing was scant, and the overall flavor was mediocre. We can do better than this, they decided. Ginger also realized that this particular dish was a favorite among Filipinos, but not many have the patience to season and stuff the fish, and then grill it over live charcoal. It was just too tedious a task!

What if they could fill the gap in the market for a Filipino fish favorite as a quick and heart-healthy alternative for home cooks to serve their families or bring to pot-luck parties? It could be the antithesis for all the unhealthy fried chicken, pizza, and burgers on food ordering apps, couldn’t it?

Buoyed by their idea, the three Hilario women immediately buckled down to work. For four straight weeks, they literally ate inihaw na bangus for lunch and dinner, tweaking and refining their recipe until they could no longer take another bite. Thankfully, their patience and determination paid off. 100 percent satisfied with their product, they proudly called it Selina’s.

Special Sinugba comes with salted egg slices and ripe mango strips

The bestseller, Selina’s Special Sinugba, is not your ordinary stuffed grilled milkfish though. This one surprises with salted egg slices and sweet ripe mango slivers tucked inside, like a hidden treasure buried in the juicy mélange of onions and tomatoes, packing with an extra flavor dimension of salty and sweet. Inihaw na Bangus may be a simple Filipino dish, but Selina’s ups the ante by selecting milkfish that’s completely deboned, its tender meaty flesh surrounding thick, fatty, translucent bangus belly. Grilled on-site upon order only, the bangus arrives on your table steaming hot and ready to be devoured.

Ginger chose the brand name Selina (Celery’s baptismal name) because it sounds like a loving tita or doting lola, who fusses over you and makes sure you’re eating well. Fired up by excitement, they intensified the search for store spaces to rent and immediately hired employees for back-of-the-house kitchen prep work and front-of-the-house store managers. By December, they had two stores up and running in Quezon City and one in Makati.

Selina’s is a story about three strong women who did not allow obstacles and adversities to get in their way. It is about women who held fast to their faith in God and believed that He would provide and sustain them. It is about the comforting knowledge that if one worked hard and forged on, they would be rewarded.

More than one year and a half into the business with many lessons learned along the way, Selina’s now has four branches, which operate seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Parsley credits their team of five female employees namely Thess, Ethel, Ana, Lilia, and Mona for the business’ steady growth. As a nod to Women’s Month, the Hilario women talk about how their employees are all mothers who are naturally caring, “masipag at may malasakit.” They are now experts in the proper techniques of seasoning and stuffing, as well as grilling. They are also now quite adept at managing orders on online delivery apps.

Store manager Ana poses in front of Selina's Katipunan

How do they keep their employees motivated? Parsley and Celery say they are treated like family. As the business grew, so did their relationships with each one of their staff members. They sometimes treat them to lunch, dinner, or merienda, and make sure they have food to take home to their families on special occasions.

Through Selina’s hotline, Parsley is able to monitor customer feedback, which she takes very seriously. It warms her heart when loyal customers tell her about picky eater kids who ate so much of Selina’s bangus. Once, a young man was recovering from surgery requested to have Selina’s bangus as his first meal. Parsley has also gained many “suki” who treat her like a daughter or granddaughter. They know that Parsley (also known as Patricia) takes care of their orders and makes sure that the quality of the bangus dish is consistent as they day the perfected their recipe.

Selina's Fried Garlic Bangus is garlicky with a topping of pineapple tidbits

Aside from the all-time favorite Sinugbang Bangus and Special Sinugba (sinugba is the Visayan word for “grilled”), Selina’s also offers Fried Bangus in two flavors: Garlic and Salted Egg. Selina’s adds another twist to the uber-garlicky fried bangus with a topping of pineapple tidbits, giving an extra layer of flavor and texture. The Salted Egg variant is mildly sweet and salty, appealing to those looking for a non-traditional flavor in fried milkfish.

Selina’s is a story about three strong women who did not allow obstacles and adversities to get in their way. It is about women who held fast to their faith in God and believed that He would provide and sustain them. It is about the comforting knowledge that if one worked hard and forged on, they would be rewarded.

Selina's Sinugbang Bangus has a supersized stuffing of tomatoes, onions and lemongrass

Today, Ginger is now finally able to restart her business. Celery just took the bar exam, hoping to pass this time around. Parsley plans to revive her sideline of baking cream puffs and decorated cakes for The Good Carrot, which was put on pause. As for their pandemic baby Selina’s, they hope to open more branches by the end of the year.

The Hilario women’s story is still unfolding but their future is looking bright.

To order Selina's, text Patricia 0977 027 5929 or visit Selina’s on Facebook and IG. Also available on Grabfood and Foodpanda.