The sari-sari store as a piece of home-A A +A
Straight from Carolinas
Friday, September 27, 2013
A SARI-SARI store or variety store connects Filipinos in every country in the world. It gives them a small slice of home, a gentle reminder of what they still are even if they're living in a foreign land.
To be sure, a sari-sari store is an integral part of Filipino life and culture and I was reminded of this in a visit to Elsa sari-sari store in Pineville area. I went in to buy “ginamos” or salted fish and I was surprised to see Filipinos who looked to me like they weren't just customers but close family members.
It was like a fiesta there, as they engage in animated conversation while eating “halo-halo,” a Filipino equivalent of the French sorbet.
The store not only sells popular Filipino canned goods like Ligo and 555 sardines, but also ingredients associated with every typical Filipino household like Ajinomoto (monosodium glutamate), soy sauce, vinegar, rice, panyato and “sotanghon (Chinese rice noodles).”
These goodies are also available in US stores like Harris Teeter, Food Lion and Wal-Mart and even at Target or at an Asian market, but it is still best to buy this stuff from a sari-sari store. All the Filipino products sold in her store come from the Philippines, Elsa Lafette said.
“My gg or galonggong is from the Philippines,” said Elsa, who hails from Leyte. Elsa's sari-sari store doesn't only sell food but household items like native brooms. “Nothing can beat our own silhig,” I overheard a customer said.
But the best for me are the beauty products like whitening soap made from papaya. Filipinas still believe in the folk stories back home that papaya can whiten a person's face. Even if they transfer to the US, they still believe and dream about fair skin which is a source of wonder among Caucasian Americans who spend thousands of dollars to tan themselves either at the beach or in tanning salons. It's funny I know, but true.
While papaya soaps remain popular, beauty products produced by Dr. Vicky Belo, the dermatologist of the Filipino stars, have also become a hit.
With its products and services, Elsa sari-sari store is more than just a place to buy all things Filipino; it is a meeting place for Filipinos to talk and eat “tabirak” or “biko,” – the sweetened sticky rice.
It mirrors the sari-sari store found in every Filipino community, a hangout where young, old and in-between gather to eat, drink and share stories until late in the night. It is an important economic and social location in a Filipino community. It can be found in nearly all neighborhoods and streets. A grilled window appears on its front, to protect owners from being hit by robbers.
Candies in recycled jars, canned goods and cigarettes are often displayed in front, while cooking oil, salt and sugar are often stored at the back.
A small opening in the grilled window allows store keepers to give the commodities bought by the customers while a lighter hangs nearby for smokers. Benches and sometimes tables are also provided out front for people who want to relax, eat and drink the night away with friends. I recall fondly my favorite sari-sari store I grew up with that's owned by Iya Puring Nabong Pacheco and another store by Iya Pami Sabio-Valdehuesa.
The sari-sari store can also grant credit to customers, who allow store keepers to list their orders so they can settle it by payday. To me, the two stores of my childhood would always evoke good memories for me. I could only thank Gloria Grifenhagen for directing me to Elsa's sari-sari store in Charlotte so I can buy every Filipino made product I need.
I may need to draw up my own list the next time I drop by lest I forget to buy “lubi” or coconut food item.
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on September 28, 2013.