MANILA -- Just as homemaker Miriam Capacia-Catajay thought she was already enjoying the fruits of her labor, with two of her grown-up children working abroad and only her youngest still in school, the COVID-19 pandemic ensued and everything took a different turn in the Catajay household.
Eldest son Karl, who used to work for the Royal Caribbean International cruise line, was sent home last March and ended up jobless. Only daughter, Katrina, who was a flight attendant with Oman Air, got laid off from work and was also compelled to return to Manila. She arrived only last August, after getting locked down in the Middle East.
Catajay, whose better-half, Kennedy, works with DHL Cargo and Freight, was prompted to do what she does best -- cooking. Immediately after the lockdown began last March, Catajay made use of her cooking skills and started her cloud kitchen from the family’s house in Paranaque.
Initially, she cooked daily meals and snacks that were easily sold to her neighbors along their street for her Ma Mirs Kitchen. However, not before long, a number of her neighbors also ventured into selling home-cooked meals.
“Ang dami nang nagtinda din,” Catajay told ABS-CBN News. “So, ginawa ko, every Wednesday and Sunday na lang ako nagtitinda ng lutong ulam. Hindi rin ganoon kahirap para sa akin, pero talagang malaking tulong.”
Catajay’s neighbors along their street were not the only ones who became her regular customers. When she started to post on Facebook her menu for the day, she got orders even from her former high school classmates, teachers and relatives who live nearby.
“Madaming naging suki ng mag-post ako sa Facebook,” Catajay said. “Madalas, ina-abangan na nila kung ano ang ulam for the week.”
Easily, six kilos of dinuguan or kare-kare with oxtail, tripe and tender meat, get wiped out in only a few hours. “Ang ginagawa ko, days before, ina-announce ko na ang ulam for that particular day,” she said. “Most of them, nag-o-order na agad. Palagi namang ubos.”
Catajay attested her income from selling home-cooked food is a big help for her family. “Always, sagot na ang ulam namin for the day at may kita pa ako kahit maliit lang,” she said.
“Ma Mirs” is a familiar term of endearment that Catajay’s young nephews and nieces coined for her. “Hindi nila masabi ang Mama Miriam, kaya Ma Mirs na lang,” she explained. “Kapag gusto nila ng ice cream or anything from McDonald’s, Ma Mirs agad ang sasabihin nila.”
Last year, Catajay started with selling Ma Mirs bottles of bagoong with pork plus chicharon, that gave her a good income. Up until last Christmas season, there were boxes of bagoong bottles that she prepared for orders and delivery everywhere in Manila.
Cooking is nothing new to Catajay. Before her Ma Mirs Kitchen, she occasionally welcomed food orders from senior citizens in their community for church meetings, as well as from friends celebrating their birthdays or important events at home.
When she was still a student, Catajay remembers visiting her dad's Carding’s eatery along Coastal Road. “Ang laki ng mga kaldero nila doon,” Catajay recalled. “Ang dami din kumakain. Marunong din ang Papa kong magluto.”
Her late paternal grandmother, whom she fondly called Inang Vicky, was also an excellent cook. Catajay was only in her fourth grade at JASMS in Manila, when she learned how to whip up her first dish, tinolang manok. At that time, her mom, Eva Capacia, was still around.
“Required kami noon na gumawa ng isang putahe na niluto mo,” Catajay recalled. “Nagpaturo ako kay Mama how to cook tinola. Hindi ko na nakalimutan. Every time she cooked, pinapanood ko siya sa kitchen.”
Every holiday season, Catajay also bakes yummy chocolate candies that she sells as Christmas gifts, giveaways or prizes. Her creamy chocolate candies come in cute, different shapes – from circles and triangles, to bears, hearts, lollipops and roses – that are always a hit, especially with the students.
Filipino dishes are bestsellers in Catajay’s cloud kitchen. Aside from dinuguan and kare-kare, Catajay cooks lumpiang toge, sweet and sour meatballs, buttered shrimps, pork sisig, breaded pork chops, pork or beef steak, inihaw na bangus, grilled liempo, crispy tuna, pork barbecue and fresh lumpiang ubod.
Lauya is a dish similar to pochero, but with a sweet broth. Catajay learned that from her Inang Vicky and the dish is often a staple in their family gatherings or even everyday meal.
Catajay’s Spanish offerings range from callos and beef caldereta to pork afritada, beef mechado and chicken pastel. Regularly, she prepares chicken embutido that is readily available from her refrigerator.
Upon orders of her regular customers, Catajay can deliver Italian specialties like baked macaroni, spaghetti Bolognese, lasagna or chicken pesto cooked with fresh basil.
“May customer ako gusto ng pesto, pero fresh basil daw dapat,” she said. “Ang hirap humanap ng basil, pero may nakita ako. Then, I Googled how to make pesto. Sa awa ng Diyos, naka-deliver naman ako. At may tanim na akong basil ngayon. So pwede na ulit gumawa ng pesto from fresh basil.”
This pandemic, the Catajays had to go through an even tougher battle when the father of the family had coronavirus and was hospitalized last June. He was away from work for a month, had to be quarantined and had to abide by the no-work, no-pay company rule.
The rest of the family had to go through swab tests and thankfully, no one showed symptoms. They turned out to be COVID-free.
Catajay’s eldest son, Karl, was required by his company to submit a medical certificate on the recent sickness of their father and received a $1,000 cash benefit. Karl is now being recalled by his Royal Caribbean employer and recently received an e-mail to submit requirements so he can go back to work.
“Ang laking tulong sa amin ng nakuhang ayuda ni Karl,” Catajay said.
When Catajay’s daughter returned from her five-month lockdown in Muscat, Oman, the girl was crying after being laid off from work. Yet, Catajay remained positive as she assured her daughter, “Anak, kakain tayo, kahit wala ka ng trabaho.”
True enough, Catajay’s cooking has allowed her family to cope with the pandemic, as it evidently helped augment her husband’s income. She keeps the faith that through her family’s positive attitude, coupled with hard work and persistence, they are bound to see better days ahead. Soon.