MANGALDAN, Pangasinan--This central Pangasinan town is starting to carve a culinary reputation for its delectable beef tapa.
One brand, however, has led the pack in the local meat industry due to the efforts of its owner to experiment and improve her product.
Marcela Barrozo, 64, is the woman behind Celas' Meat Products (Mangaldan's Best) and is considered one of the pioneers in the town's processed meat industry.
"I am one of the original tapa makers in the town. Most of my contemporaries have passed away," said Barrozo.
Aside from tapa, Barrozo's backyard factory here churns out tocino (processed meat), hotdog, embutido (steamed ground meat) and different flavors of longanisa (native sausage), using about 2,000 kilograms of beef and pork.
The factory was given AA rating by the National Meat Inspection Commission and uses only preservatives approved by the Bureau of Food and Drugs, Barrozo said.
Her tapa was cited the best product during the 2006 Bangus Festival in Dagupan City while her tocino was accorded the same citation during the 2007 version of the festival.
It was Barrozo's hands-on management style and "experiments in taste" that eventually spelled her success. It helped, too, that she lives in a town with a large slaughterhouse, thus, fresh meat is readily available.
The meat factory has all the signs of modernity--machine-operated mixers, stainless tables, sanitized preparation rooms and uniformed workers.
But the hardship that Barrozo had to endure before she succeeded in her venture was not a secret, especially among local meat vendors and processors in the town.
Barrozo said her father died when she was three years old. A year later, her mother remarried a widower with several children.
"They were older than I was, and I became the errand girl who was asked to do most of the house chores," she said.
Feeling that she was treated unfairly by her step siblings, she sought the companionship of a neighbor whose parents were meat vendors.
"When I was 10, I would help in their meat stall, slicing beef for tapa. My friend's parents scolded me, saying I could hurt myself. But I persisted in helping them and they gave me free meals and a few centavos," she said.
After finishing grade school, she was forced to stop studying for two years because of poverty. Her family transferred to a remote village and could not afford to give her fare money to go to school.
Few meat slices
She tried to earn a little by asking meat vendors to lend her a few slices of meat (meat then were sold by piece, she recalled).
She earned some money after selling the meat in the market.
"[I earned] just a few pesos," she said.
She returned to school but continued to work in the market every weekend.
In 1962, when she was 18, Barrozo married another market vendor who sold clothing materials. Whenever she gave birth, her husband would took care of the baby while she tended the market stall.
She was already involved in butchering animals, a job that called for her to be up and working from 1 a.m. to noon.
The unsold meat she turned into tapa and tocino.
One baby came after another until the couple had six children.
Her husband, who stayed home with the children, would come to the market to help her from 5 to 7 a.m. But unknown to Barrozo, he was taking money from the cash box and was indulging in gambling and womanizing.
"It was in 1972 that I found this out," she said. But it was only in 1985 that she mustered the courage to leave her husband.
"We lost all our money and little investments. Thus, the following years were really hard for me and my children," she said.
Barrozo did not give up. She borrowed money from lending shops and from Indian lenders.
"Even late at night, I was looking for pigs that I would buy on credit so these can be butchered the following day," she said.
Things looked better for Barrozo when Mt. Pinatubo erupted.
Animal raisers from the affected areas in Central Luzon sold their animals at low prices, thus she was able to buy them cheap. Soon animal raisers from Pangasinan also dropped their prices.
It was not long before Barrozo was able to reestablish herself in the local meat industry.
She attended seminars on food processing to increase her skills and knowledge of the business.
Barrozo employs several processors and packers. She also has two agents who sell the meat products in Pangasinan and neighboring provinces.
She is proud, too, that her children are achievers in their own fields--two are businessmen, one is a medical technologist in Canada, another is a doctor in New York, and another is a nurse who used to work in the United States but is now helping her manage the business.
How her fortunes have changed. Why? Because her product is different from the rest. How different?
"Definitely better tasting," Barrozo said.
Would-be entrepreneurs should learn to be hands-on and strict when it comes to the financial side of the business, she said.
"Be considerate with the customers so they will continue to patronize you. Keep improving your product," she said.