Thursday, December 8, 2005

Fusing innovation and tradition

Business Times p.B3
Thursday, December 8, 2005

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
Fusing innovation and tradition

WHEN we think of innovation, tradition we tend to use the word “or.” The two words seem to be opposites, albeit extreme opposites.

Forty-six-year happily married couple and business partners Mercy and Robert Cordova is proving that up-to-the-minute innovation AND time-honored tradition could be fused and made profitable. Just like their strong union as husband and wife.

Think Vigan, Ilocos Sur. Think Vigan town plaza, beside the historic Vigan Church. What comes to mind is the yummy, crunchy and nutritious empanada and okoy made from a recipe that has been passed on from generation to generation to generation. They say that to this day, the recipe has remained the same —rice flour, jumping shrimp, shallot and green onions for the okoy and veggies, Vigan longanisa, egg yolk for empanada filler—and prepared exactly the same way. Tradition.

Now, true-blue Ilocana Mercy and Ilonggo Bobby have longed for her native delicacies and would bring them home by tens, stocked in the freezer, warmed and eaten whenever the mouth starts watering for them. Then Tiendesitas happened—they got a stall, hired three original cooks from the sidewalks of Vigan and, voila!, she gets to eat freshly prepared and cooked okoy and empanada every day. And shares them with many others, like Tanya Garcia and Rommel Singson. Rommel says they taste exactly like the ones cooked in Vigan and the empanada is malaman (has more filling). He says that he doesn’t have to ask his father, Chavit, to bring him tons of his favorite Vigan’s specialty. Tradition.

My sons and I enjoy a lunch of okoy and empanada every Sunday at MaC’s Deli. Mercy says MaC means Me and Christ and also stands for her parents, Mariano and Consuelo. They even have beautiful Vigan-made tables, chairs, jars and other decors and not succumbed to the monoblocs used by all other stall owners. Tradition.

I observed Jerry Pajar, the one who prepares the dough for the empanada, and I noticed that he didn’t use any measuring tool at all, yet the finished product seems to have uniform qualities and quantities. Jerry said, like everybody in his family, he does it by oido and tantiyahan (educated guess). He said it is his family livelihood for generations back in Vigan. The okoy takes 10 minutes to cook (they can only cook one okoy at a time) and the empanada (five to six pieces at a time), 7 minutes. They wouldn’t do it any other way. Tradition.

There lies the opportunity for innovation. Instead of the usual system of hungry (and somewhat angry) customers forming a long line during the first week of their operations, they now have the order system. You place your order, you are told how much time you could come back (You are now in Balintawak, or Bulacan, Angeles, Tarlac, etc.—and it will take x hours to reach Vigan. The humor appeases some grumbling stomachs.) and, meanwhile, you do your shopping at the many interesting shops selling Philippine-made products. They are trying to improve this system.

Another innovation would be in the recipe itself. For health-conscious customers, they will also use crab meat, instead of longanisa, for the empanada. They will soon offer authentic Ilocano favorites bagnet, sinanglaw, dinardaraan, adobong sili and longaniza.

So far, they have refused to locate in big malls because they might lose their authenticity and become just another fast-food place. They enjoy serving a small but growing clientele even as they think of better and faster ways of serving them. The okoy and empanada are complete meals by themselves at a very cheap price (P35 each).

Mercy says that opening this okoy-cum-empanada business is a dream come true. She has always been proud of and wanted to share her comfort foods to the world. She was born and raised in Vigan. Likewise, Mercy and Bobby attend to their business of importing salmon from Norway and two movie houses in Vigan.

CONGRATULATIONS to the Rotary Club of Diliman on its 29th Charter Anniversary. RCD has a strong tradition of fellowship and service above self with its strong membership roster and various civic projects. Into the first five months of his term, service president Edilberto Tato and his team have embarked on significant projects on vocational, community and international service and service to the new generation. They count many major donors (PDG Mel Salazar, PP Steve Robles) to The Rotary Foundation. They also have many Paul Harris Family (PDG Mel Salazar, PP Steve Robles, PP Lyndon Wong, Bjorn Wahlstedt, Alex Cureg and SP Bert, not to mention seven Multiple Paul Harris Fellows, 24 Paul Harris Fellows and 21 Paul Harris Sustaining Members.

They are also staunch supporters of the RCQCNorth Literacy Program.

Moje is president of Paradigms & Paradoxes Corp. and RCQCNorth. Please send your feedback at

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