Aling Remy's Culinary Legacy Lives On
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In a world that is changing fast, sometimes too fast for some people to catch up, everything has to evolve. Get a makeover to suit the people’s changing lifestyles, tastes and habits or forever be relegated to the limbo of the forgotten. Food is no exception; including the tasty putong polo.
Putong polo -- the bite-sized steamed rice cake that traced its origin to the town of Polo (which used to be part of Bulacan and is now under Valenzuela) and was successfully brought by Aling Remy Dalmacio to Marikina City in the 1950s – has transformed over the years and is now available in various flavors: strawberry, ube and pandan.
The rice cake, which got its name from the town of Polo where it came from, may have gotten a make over but it tastes just as divine when it first came out of Aling Remy's kitchen.
But first a few lessons in history. That is, according to one of Aling Remy’s four children, Ramoncito “Monchie” Dalmacio, who continued his parents’ business of making and selling putong polo in Marikina.
A Bulacan Delicacy
Aling Remy, whose name has become the famous brand of her rice cakes, was originally from Bulacan. She and her husband decided to move to Marikina in the 1950’s in search of a better life and a better future for their children. They settled in Brgy. Sto. Nino, where Aling Remy continued her parents’ only means of livelihood – making and selling putong polo.
“Matagal ng gumagawa ang pamilya namin ng putong polo. Sa pagkaka-alam ko, ang mga lola ko sa Bulacan ay gumagawa na nito. Bata pa noon ang nanay ko. Mga 1900s ay gumagawa na sila ng putong polo,” said Monchie in an interview inside his store along J.P. Rizal Street in Brgy. San Roque, popularly known as Puto Avenue because it is here where various stalls selling different varieties of puto are located.
“Ang nanay ko ang nagpasimula ng paggawa at pagbebenta ng putong polo dito sa Marikina noong 1950s. Dito kasi tumira ang parents ko nang lumipat sila mula sa Bulacan,” said Monchie, the fourth and youngest child in the family who was born in Marikina 60 years ago. “Nag-umpisa siya ng pakonti-konti at nilalako niya sa palengke.”
Along with putong polo, his mother also made and sold bite-sized “kutsinta” – another variety of the steamed rice cake with grated mature coconut on top. The putong polo that Aling Remy used to make and sell at that time was pure white with no cheese on top, said Monchie.
Asked why the rice cakes are made in small sizes, Monchie explained:
“Ang natatandaan ko, sabi ng mother ko, na sinabi rin sa kaniya ng aming mga ninuno, huwag lakihan ang puto. Dahil kapag mas maliit, habang kinakain, lalong nasasabik. Kasi kapag malaki, nakakasawa agad. Kapag malaki, kagat ka lang ng kagat. Hindi tulad nitong maliliit, subo ka lang ng subo. Parang mani,” said Monchie.
Unlike putong polo, in some places in the Philippines, the puto and kutsinta – for some reason they are always sold together -- are bigger and do not have a thin slice of cheese on top.
Brownish Puto with Cheese
In the 1970’s, someone suggested putting cheese on top of the rice cake. Another one suggested adding some color. So Aling Remy, with the help of her husband, added achuete into the ground white rice (called “galapong” in Filipino) so that it would have its brownish color. Melted cheese was added on top.
Customers loved this new variety of putong polo, Monchie said.
The delicacy clicked with the Marikeños and even those from nearby areas like Pasig, Antipolo, and Quezon City. Soon, visitors began trooping to Marikina to get a taste of Aling Remy’s now famous putong polo. Because of its success in Marikina, putong polo has become part of the city’s culinary landscape along with its local delicacies -- everlasting and waknatoy.
When Monchie inherited the business from his parents, he decided to put up a store in its present location in 2002, which is right beside J.P. Rizal St. to make it easier and more convenient for customers to look for it. He also retained his mother’s name.
Because Aling Remy’s was doing brisk business, others followed suit and opened stalls beside the store on J.P. Rizal St. These other vendors also sold their versions of putong polo and other native delicacies such as suman, pichi-pichi, among others.
To differentiate itself from the other sellers of putong polo in Marikina (there are several now), Aling Remy’s bills itself as the “the original” and claims that she has been making the rice cakes since 1930. These words are prominently displayed on its signboard on top of its stall with a photo of Aling Remy, who passed away in 2003.
During its heyday, Aling Remy’s used to make and sell up to 10,000 pieces of puto and kutsinta a day because there was not much competition at that time. The number rose up to 30,000 during Christmas and New Year as these delicacies have become part of the Filipino feast on Noche Buena and Media Noche. The rice cakes were (and are still) ideal for gift giving, especially when attending parties and other celebrations during the holidays.
When Aling Remy’s faced a lot of competition not only from other makers of putong polo and kutsinta but also from other types of Filipino native delicacies, demand for Aling Remy’s puto and kutsinta continued to decline and is down to around 5,000 a day at present, said Monchie.
More Flavors and Colors
To entice more customers, Monchie and his wife added more varieties to the putong polo. The rice cake is now available in three flavors and colors – pandan (green), ube (purple) and strawberry (pink)
Monchie also sold other food varieties in his store on Puto Avenue such as pili nuts (from Bicol), peanuts, sardines packed in jars, chicharon or crispy pork rinds or pork crackling (from Bulacan), everlasting (Marikina’s version of meat loaf cooked or steamed using a llanera or aluminum mold), cheese balls, guyabano juice in bottles, leche flan, and many more.
“Kailangan kasi magdagdag ng paninda dahil maraming naghahanap. Para hindi kami iwanan ng aming mga suki,” said Monchie.
Monchie, who was not interested at first in his parents' business, said he is optimistic that his three children or at least one of them will continue the tradition that his grandparents have started decades ago. After all, it is in this line of business that his family, especially his mother, became famous for in Marikina and in other parts of the country.
It would be a waste if none of his children would continue Aling Remy's culinary legacy.
For more about Aling Remy’s puto and kutsinta and other products, please check out its Facebook page -- https://www.facebook.com/alingremysputo/ -- or call (02) 369 – 5105 and (+63) 916 319-1811. Or better yet, drop by its store at 229 J.P. Rizal St., San Roque, Marikina City, just a few steps from Marikina’s other famous heritage sites -- the Marikina Shoe Museum, Kapitan Moy and Our Lady of the Abandoned Church.
(Photo credits: Marikina City Tourism Office)
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