BIñAN, Laguna--A product of an almost century-old food-making tradition, the rice cake or puto Biñan has become this town's trademark and thriving industry.
"The puto here is soft and thin, and has cheese toppings. It also melts in the mouth," says Lisa Endriga, who, together with her husband, Owen, manages Nila's Puto.
Theirs is said to be the most popular among the puto produced by five rice cake factories here.
Unlike other rice cakes that are mixed with flour, puto Biñan is 100-percent made of rice, and differs in taste, texture and appearance, she adds.
The five stores deliver around 1,000 bilao (native round trays) every week. They receive bulk orders from business establishments in Manila, tourists and balikbayans.
Lisa and Owen are proud to be at the helm of a business that dates back to 1925, when Owen's grandmother, Petronila "Nila" Samaniego, made a business out of her hobby of making rice cakes for family occasions.
Armed with just a small capital and her considerable baking skills, Nila put up the business with the help of siblings.
Nila's Puto catered to local consumers and eventually reached nearby towns and Metro Manila.
Based on the stories of family members, Nila produced rice cakes in her old two-story house. She used only a small oval tin can called the "partola" in baking.
Nila was unmarried and had no children, so it was her niece Florencia Endriga, who helped grow the business.
When Nila became old and weak, Florencia, who started helping her aunt when she was 12 years old, inherited the business and was able to expand production in the 1970s.
It was Florencia's family, especially her five children, who made the business even bigger, Lisa says.
Because of the high demand, Florencia's workers numbered almost 60. She bought a 200-square-meter lot for a workplace.
Even though she knew she largely contributed to the business' success, Florencia retained the name Nila's Puto.
"My mother-in-law wanted to preserve the name in memory of her aunt. She was telling us she merely continued what her aunt started," Lisa says.
Florencia always reminded her children to manage the business well and help in production.
"When all of her kids graduated from college, she allowed them to manage, one by one. After some months, the responsibility was passed on to the other siblings," Lisa adds.
Profit was also equally divided among family members.
Because the other siblings are abroad or have stable work in other private companies, Owen and Lisa took the responsibility of managing the business.
To maintain the taste and texture of the products, they still employ the traditional way of baking rice cake using rice husks.
They resist using new baking technologies because Florencia herself learned from bad experiences.
"The product did not come out so fine. So she thought it was just a waste of money," Lisa says.
But, she admits, she and Owen still want to adopt modern technology to reduce manpower and production time.
Capital to acquire equipment is a major concern, she adds.
It is not easy to produce puto, she stresses.
Production normally starts at 2 a.m. and ends at 9 a.m., Lisa says.
The couple must be awake during production to monitor the quality of the food.
Lisa shares how rice cake in Biñan is made.
After the rice is milled, it is covered by a cheese cloth and let out to dry for one whole day.
The dough is then kneaded twice and left to stand for another day.
Sugar is then mixed with the dough, and the mixture is placed in a big cooker called the "lansungan."
After three minutes, milk, cheese and eggs are added, and then after five to seven minutes, the puto Biñan is done.
Lisa admits, however, that production has declined over the years and the number of workers has dropped to only 30.
"We have to adjust the working schedule and the number of workers. We start the production by 11 p.m. and add extra workers during this period," she says.
Production peaks from September to January because of the holidays, although Lisa says the puto has to compete with other food choices, such as those sold in fast-food chains.
Despite these, Lisa says she and her husband still manage to survive.
"If the market would still permit, we want our children to manage Nila's Puto," Lisa says.