In the past decade or so, dining out in Metro Manila has become all about trying out the newest, the latest, and the hottest restaurant or food trend. Social media has never been this noisy or busy, with thousands of posts daily about must-try, Instagram-worthy dishes prepared by celebrity chefs, so much so that for some people, eating out has become a national pastime.
Even home cooks have become spoiled with the variety of convenience products available in supermarkets these days. With the influx of chilled, frozen and packaged ingredients from the US, Europe, Australia and Asia brought about by import liberalization, supermarket shopping today has become a boon or a bane, depending on one’s point of view and budget. It’s true, consumers are enjoying a more exciting and more extensive variety of food, but the million-dollar question is, have we ever stopped to think about where our food comes from? Is our food clean, safe and nutritious? Does the food we eat contribute to our overall health and well-being?
EAT GOOD, FEEL GOOD
Sometime in 2015, four like-minded women were convinced that they could do something to provide their community with a source of good food. Over several months, Nicole Olbes Fandino, Bea Lucero Lhuillier, Honey Hagedorn Almendral and Kat Sandejas Mañosa, put their heads and hearts together to plan a concept store that would combine a farmer’s market and a grocery, where people could buy honest, healthy, sustainably-grown food for their families. As mothers who only wanted the best quality food for their children, they made sure they sourced vegetables that are organically grown in local farms, beef and pork that are farm-raised and anti-biotic free, chickens that are free-range and raised without hormones, milk from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows (in cute glass milk bottles, too!), and heirloom rice harvested in small quantities.
Nicole Olbes Fandino laughingly recalls how it all started. “I was motivated by selfish reasons. The logistics of picking up organic eggs from one supplier, veggies from another, milk from a third, and waiting until the weekend market to get our chicken, was growing more complex with every additional healthy food find I’d make.”
In April 2016, Real Food at the Molito Lifestyle Center in Alabang opened its doors to an appreciative community. Today, it has become a charming little store filled with carefully curated products from various suppliers all over the Philippines—cashew nuts and honey from Palawan, tablea and chocolate bars from Davao and Cotabato, adlai and coffee from Bukidnon, lemons from Surigao, chilies and vinegar from Quezon, ginger products from Zambales, and artisanal cheeses from Bacolod, to name a few. What’s remarkable is that most of Real Food’s suppliers are small to medium scale farmers, cooperatives and producers, who also happen to be social entrepreneurs and/or environmental advocates.
Nicole pointed to a row of colorful coffee canisters and explained, “Each coffee is for a different project—P50 of every can goes to a different benefit. This one is for building a well for a coffee growing community, this one is for scholarships, this other one is for giving farmers access to micro-loans.” Indeed, almost every product in the store is made by a person who is passionate about something—whether it be preventing illness, preserving the environment, promoting education, protecting women’s and children’s rights, or simply giving livelihood to the community.
Every visit to Real Food is a different experience because there’s always a new product to discover. One day, it may be oven-baked, vegetable-based pasta noodles or coconut flour lumpia wrappers. The next day, it may be frozen yogurt and goat’s milk ice cream. Organic eggs come in a charming, bamboo packaging that holds three extra large eggs; but what’s even more special is that the orange egg yolk tastes so rich and flavorful.
Upon entering the store, the customer is greeted by a display of freshly harvested fruits and vegetables, delivered almost daily. One morning, we chanced upon Malipayon Farms’ gentleman farmer Gejo Jimenez, who was dropping off a bunch of fresh green herbs, baby carrots and chili peppers. He proudly showed off a basket of segmented baby eggplants (from seeds given to him by Chef Gene Gonzalez), which were plucked from their stems that same morning. Gejo delivers to many outlets around the Metro and he noticed an upward trend in the Philippine food industry today. He describes it as, “an explosion of Filipino food products.”
Indeed, there is, and Real Food knows where to find the good stuff. Those looking for healthy snacks will be amazed at the wide variety of choices in Kale Chips with gourmet flavors like Rosemary Peppercorn and Margherita Pizza; Mixed Root Chips made with taro, cassava, ube, and sweet potato; Skinny Veggie Chips made with squash, cassava, carrots, spinach and kamote tops; and the most addicting Toasted Coconut Chips.
Of course, healthy food should be complemented by healthy drinks, as well. Basic Juicery puts a variety of beneficial ingredients like turmeric, lemongrass, almond and moringga in each bottle, while Planteology drinks are packed with protein. Regular customers stock up on superfoods like Kefir Life and Starr’s Brew Kombucha Elixir, which explains as, “What it does is it lines your stomach with good bacteria. I think in the future, it’s going to be about gut health.”
Nicole recounts that many of their clients make their own juices at home so they purchase powders like spirulina and chlorella, together with flax seeds and chia seeds. She used to wonder, “Why are all those powders imported? So now, we carry sambong and lagundi powders. We’re also going to start selling ginger and turmeric powders soon so people can use more local powders.”
CHOICES FOR THE HOME COOK
Freezers are stocked for the vegan, the vegetarian, the pescetarian and yes, the carnivore. Real Food carries falafel, mushroom callos, and vegan chorizo, as well as tempeh, a meat substitute using fermented soy. Pamora Farms provides a steady supply of real free-range chicken (using an herbal concoction to boost the chickens’ immune system) products like chicken lollipops, chicken breast fillets, chicken nuggets, and even chicken adobo flakes.
When asked if they (the partners) buy from their own store, Nicole exclaims, “We all do! Generally, our first grocery stop is here—we get rice, eggs, meats, milk, sugar, fruits and vegetables. If we don’t have it, then we buy elsewhere.”
Partner Katrina Manosa chimes in, “Eating healthy doesn’t mean you’re starving yourself. It doesn’t mean your food doesn’t have any taste or is not delicious. You can eat healthy and yummy food, and enjoy what you’re eating. That’s what we have here at Real Food.”