After a Grab rider’s row with a barangay official in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan last March, it’s been made official: lugaw is essential. The soft, soupy rice dish is food and is therefore IATF-approved.
And apparently, lugaw, or goto for that matter, is essential not only for the people consuming it, but more so for the ones making a living from it. One such goto purveyor is a Bulakeño seafarer, whose job got derailed because of the pandemic. He has since found a way to support his family—by selling goto online.
We took notice of Louiegee Santos’ specialty because celebs and online influencers have been posting about it. Journalist and ANCX’s former executive editor, Ces Drilon, who has received samples of his goto and breaded tofu, raved about his food on Instagram and Facebook, saying it’s “kakaiba, napakasarap at nakakabusog.” Aiko Melendez, Alessandra de Rossi, Julius Babao, Chino Trinidad, James Deakin, and the dabarkads from Eat Bulaga are also satisfied recipients of EatsGoTo offerings.
What’s so special anyway about Louiegee’s goto?
“The goto itself is made from pure glutinous rice (malagkit), hindi ko siya hinahaluan ng ibang klase ng rice,” Louiegee himself tells ANCX. “Yung preparation ko sa pagluluto ng lugaw is different sa ibang lugawan.” The guy refused to elaborate on the ingredients or the cooking method. He says it’s a family secret. His goto is a recipe shared to him by an aunt. But one thing’s pretty obvious in the photographs, which Ces also mentioned in her post: “Ang sabaw ay galing sa bulalo kaya naman malasa!”
Aside from goto, Louigee also offers fried breaded tofu on his menu, as well as lumpiang togue, steamed pompano, beef tendon, bulalo with bone marrow, chicken feet, and clam soup.
Louiegee got his knack for cooking from his late father, Luisito. “Sa tuwing magluluto sya noong teenager ako, andun ako sa likod nya palagi. Ako ang taga-abot ng ingredients, so I would watch him cook. Dun na nag-start ang passion ko sa pagluluto,” Louiegee shares. His father was a very meticulous home cook. “Gusto nya palagi kumpleto ang rekado. Pag may kulang na isa, magagalit na siya kasi hindi na masarap yun para sa kanya.”
Luisito Santos died of cancer in February 2018, and from then on, his son would take over the kitchen whenever he’s home. “When my father passed away, dun na lumabas ang hidden talent ko sa pagluluto,” says Louiegee.
The older Santos had big dreams for his son. After finishing his Hotel and Restaurant Management degree, Louiegee was encouraged by his father to work in a cruise ship. The dutiful son, of course, followed his dad’s wish. The now 34-year-old seafarer has enjoyed a good maritime career since the age of 22—and then Covid came.
Louiegee admits putting up a lugawan has always been at the back of his mind. When he decided he wanted to settle down in 2016, he thought of putting up a small tapsilugan and lugawan with his cousin but the timing didn’t seem favorable. He encountered a major financial hurdle: Louiegee joined a networking company and got scammed. His savings [P500,000] got wiped out. “Yun sana ang perang inipon ko para sa pagpapakasal namin,” he shares. “Napakasakit nun dahil syempre hard-earned money ko yun. So naging back to zero ako, as in nawala lahat.”
In order to recover from the losses, he pulled out his insurance and stock investments to start the tapsilugan and lugawan business in 2016. But his father got sick in 2017, and suddenly his attention was divided between the business and taking care of his dad. To avoid further losses, Louiegee and his cousin decided to close shop in 2018. The business lasted two years.
Luisito Santos passed away in February of 2018. Louiegee and his future wife were able to get his father’s blessing to push through with their wedding scheduled for August of that year. “Baliktad nga, kasi parang [yung pamilya ng wife ko] ang namanhikan kasi nakaratay si Papa dito sa bahay. Sila ang nagpunta dito,” he recalls.
Lugaw saves the day
To support his family, Louiegee decided to put up a small lugawan in their home—wifey was then pregnant with their firstborn. When the opportunity came to work in a cruise ship again in October 2019, he once more took the chance, although he wasn’t able to finish the six-month contract due to the pandemic. He had to return home in March of 2020.
“Hindi ko inakalang magtatagal ang pandemic,” he says. “Akala ko makakasampa ulit ako ng July.” But different things happened, the lockdowns for one. Since finances were already dwindling, he decided to start a face shield business around August of last year. Unfortunately, he got infected by the Covid virus, and was symptomatic. He had fever, cough, colds, and lost his sense of taste. He tested positive in the swab test twice. “Almost two months akong nakakulong sa kwarto, kasi kailangan mag-quarantine,” he recalls.
Thankfully, Louiegee’s condition did not require hospitalization. He recovered well and did luckily not infect other members of his family. This January, he decided to resurrect his lugawan, but this time around he shifted to online—via Facebook and Instagram. The response has been great, he shares. And because the business is doing well, he knows he has to make a tough decision again soon—whether to work again as an OFW or continue the food biz and stay with his family.
“Pag may opportunity to work again abroad, I think I’ll grab that, para makaipon uli, especially lumalaki na yung anak namin (her daughter is turning 2),” Louiegee says. If everything goes well, he’d be back in a cruise ship in July, when the Covid restrictions in the United States ease up. When that time comes, he’d have to park his lugawan business again.
“Ang goal ko ngayon ay makaipon para sa pamilya ko,” Louiegee says, sounding optimistic. “At itong ibinigay na blessing, itong lugawan business na ito, pagyayamanin ko.”
Photos courtesy of Louiegee Santos