Being the eldest child in the family, Teresita ‘Mama Sita’ Reyes grew up and learned invaluable lessons in kitchens and marketplaces, in farms and wayside eateries. Her mother is none other than the prolific cook Doña Engracia “Asiang” Reyes who is today widely regarded as the “Grand Dame of Philippine Cuisine.”
Aling Asiang, as she was fondly called, established The Aristocrat Restaurant, which until now remains the most popular venue for authentic Filipino cuisine.
Mama Sita would accompany her ever-roving mother in many marketing and eating expeditions around the country. Through her candid interactions with vendors, farmers, cooks, and kitchen helpers, Mama Sita learned a wealth of information and wisdom in the art of marketing, cooking, and food preparation.
When she herself became a mother, Mama Sita culled from the lessons she learned from Aling Asiang to raise her brood and support her family. Not one to impose on others, she relied on her know-how and keen business sense to earn money. She made trips to the market early to secure the cheapest bargains and the best buys. She befriended vendors and got to know a wealth of knowledge on buying and food preparation from these common folk.
She would go to Padre Rada or Quinta Market for vegetables and bought fruits in Paco. For seafoods, she would make an early excursion to Divisoria to get her hand on the freshest catch—often for a bargain. But marketing in Malabon was the most exciting because it was where she got the chance to sit in her favorite carinderia to indulge in honest-to-goodness pansit Malabon, lumpiang gulay, and halo-halo.
Most afternoons, however, Mama Sita would detain herself in the kitchen to conduct her cooking experiments and practice her prodigious skill in baking. From her oven emerged steaming breads and delicacies such as banana cake and her own versions of hopia. This enterprising spirit prodded her to encourage everyone she met to put up a business—sometimes supplying the capital for people in dire need of a new start in life.
At the start of the 1970s, with the children all grown up, Mama Sita traveled to distant countries. In Chicago and Havana, she observed how Filipinos working in foreign lands longed for the favors of home, of food cooked and prepared the Filipino way.
This inspired her to collaborate with her son-in-law, Bart Lapus, who was an accomplished biologist. Mama Sita created a line of sauces and mixes that would bring the taste of the Philippines to countless Filipinos abroad who longed for real Filipino food.