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North by northeast of Manila lay the heart of it all. As far back as memory permits, where celebrated kusineros touched silver and tongue with savory magic, there lived once an historian, an innovator, a selfless mother, and, most memorable of all, an unsurpassed cook. She was called Mama Sita. There is no mystery to be revealed, though Mama Sita could have been a magician. Her dishes, arriving from a distinguished lineage of cooks, had to be the best, for their fame spread like only legends do.

Mama Sita chose to cook from the heart making her dishes most delectable. She chose only the finest ingredients, like unang tulo ng patis or the tastier native peanuts, and proceeded with the most refined of recipes. In her hands came to life dishes steeped in two centuries of tradition. In the Filipino palate, her adobo, her palabok, her tocino, was closer to heaven.

Some might differ, but Mama Sita never had a halo above her head. She was in fact considered all-too-fun-loving – while on trips, she would always stash cruets of sawsawan with her in case she happens upon a snack. Indeed she had plenty of laughter, as only hearty dinners would have, and a giving knack for invention. Her creativity had tried all sorts for the stovetop as with the home – after all she was “Mama Sita” to 400 relatives and 11 of her own. Her relatives know her very words – some penned in her most imaginative journal – as a tribute to the timeless diversity of Filipino cuisine. Often, her words belie her hope that her art never lose its romance with the Filipino home – a hope she had passed on to all that she came upon.

The heart of it all has come to pass: Mama Sita is no longer with us, leaving on our lips a hundred secrets and a thousand savory sensations. Clay pots brimming with kare-kare, there is sinigang and lumpia… can you remember her without seeing her smile and springing to ask “is that chicken barbecue in the air?”