Palapa is a Maranao condiment, made with sakurab (white scallions), ginger, and native chili.
This staple dish lies at the heart of many spicy Maranao dishes like chicken piaparan, a traditional stew that uses palapa as a main spice along with coconut milk and turmeric. It is served as a side dish along with rice and viands and serves as an all-around appetizer.
Palapa is hawked in humble eateries and restaurants in almost every corner of the provinces of Lanao. For locals, it is part of every meal.
But a community in the municipality of Lumba Bayabao, a town 30 minutes south of war-torn Marawi City, aims to bring the dish to a wider market while uplifting their lives.
Palapa sa Lumba is a livelihood project that harnesses mothers and out-of-school youth volunteers to build a business around palapa-making. From backyard farming for spices and ingredients, to the actual preparation, cooking and marketing of the product, everything is community-led.
Project head Jai Sapiin recalls how they were made fun of in the community when they started making and selling the product.
“Pinagtatawanan talaga kami dati. Ang tawag sa amin 'Palapa Girls.' I-post daw kami (sa Facebook) kasi di ba nauso at that time si Carrotman (People used to make fun of us and call us 'Palapa Girls.' Others said they'd post photos of us on Facebook so we'd go viral like Carrotman)," shared Jai as she and other community partners demonstrated how to prepare the product.
Along with a few companions, she used to go from restaurant to restaurant in Marawi City and nearby towns to sell the palapa.
With support from groups like the Ayala Foundation, Inc. and additional funding and technical support from #ForMindanao, a program of Naawan Helps, Inc. and the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, the group is now upgrading their equipment and scaling up operations and production.
“Nakabili kami ng machine. Dati puro manual, dikdik lang talaga. 'Yung mga gamit dati, puro personal na mga panluto (We were able to buy a machine. In the past, we had to grind all the ingredients with a mortar and pestle and use our personal pots and pans).”
One of the requirements during a bootcamp for product development was to create a Facebook page to get a wider reach. This eventually got them noticed and they were given a free booth to display their products during a Ramadhan Trade Fair in Cotabato City earlier this year.
Since then, they have started getting orders for their palapa. They’re now shipping bottled products of their ‘Super Lumba Palapa’ to areas in Cotabato, Cebu, Iloilo, and Manila.
While the weak internet situation in the area poses a challenge, the group is surprised to see their page getting noticed, which they see as a key to wider product marketing.
"Nakakagulat din. Kahit hindi namin masyadong ma-maintain, araw-araw meron kaming bagong like sa Facebook. Nung isang time ko pagbukas ko, ang dami na palang gustong mag-order (It’s surprising. Even though we can’t check everyday, we keep getting new likes on our Facebook page. One time when I was able to open and check it; there were so many people who wanted to order)," added Jai.
Transportation to deliver products is another major problem for their group. Before the main road was passable, they had to take a roundabout route through the second district around Lanao Lake which involved 4-5 hours travel time just to ship out orders.
They currently use public transportation to do deliveries, but given more support, they want to invest in better marketing and a personal vehicle to make things easier for their micro-enterprise.
"Gusto sana namin kumuha ng motor, na personalized na nakalagay namin 'yung palapa para 'yun na 'yung gagamitin.... Tapos mag-hire na lang kami ng OSY para siya na lang mag-drive at nagbebenta (We want to purchase a motorcycle we can use for deliveries… and hire an out-of- school youth volunteer to drive and take care of the deliveries)."
Their group envisions palapa as a catalyst for food tourism and cultural promotion in Lanao del Sur. Jai notes that after seeing how successful their initiative was, other communities have even been inspired to start their own palapa enterprises.
“Nakita namin na yung concept namin ginagaya na din, so nakikita na rin ng iba yung potential ng palapa (We’ve seen that our concept has caught on and other communities are starting their own palapa business. Others also see the potential in palapa).”
For a longer background on their group, visit the author’s blog. Palapa sa Lumba is based in Lumba-Bayabao, Lanao del Sur, Philippines. For orders, email at [email protected] or message them on Facebook: Super Lumba