Saturday, September 15, 2007

Provincial landmarks of Davao del Sur

A taste of kakanin at Mers
(something for everyone)

Where else in this part of the country can one sample delectable and tempting delicacies, mouth-watering bibingka (puddings made of ground rice, sugar and coconut milk, baked in a clay oven), and a variety of other kakanins if not in Mers?

Conveniently located at the corner of Rizal and Lapu-lapu Streets and just a few meters away from the city hall of Digos City, Mers is the perfect stop-over for leg-stretching and relaxing cramped feet on long-distance trips from Davao City to Cotabato, General Santos or from anywhere else in the South.

Famed for its "bibingka" (rice cakes) whose secret recipe has been handed down for three generations, Mers has already become a byword not only in Mindanao and the country but even abroad.

Dining at Mers can be a welcome treat that promises a different taste that you just can't help but go back for more.

Aside from bibingka, one can relish other diversified kakanins like puto, puto maya (glutinous rice), torta, suman malagkit, palitao, sapin-sapin, bitso-bitso, bico, maja blanca, special casava cake, tupig and others.

Flush these down with gulps of your choice of coffee, tea, milk or milo, softdrinks, and even hot sikwate or hot chocolate.

My favorites are the tupig (ground sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf and broiled) and the bico which practically swims in sweet syrup.

"We opted to go for diversified kakanins to suit the taste of all our clients because there are those who don't like bibingka but likes other kakanin," Zeny, one of Mers' children who took over the business said.

The latest addition to the Mers menu is their puto cheese.
"What makes our puto cheese unique is that you get the real taste of what is advertised. Meaning, if you choose ube, its real ube you will taste," she added.

Mers also offers a selection of turo-turo or "inato" meals to cater to its growing clientele.

To maintain its distinctive taste, Zeny personally conducts a taste-test in the kitchen every day. Mers bibingka as large as a child's grinning face piping hot from the oven are available as early as 5 a.m. By midmorning, Mers display stalls are almost empty.

Mers bibingka easily gained reputation and won the patronage of the residents. Word quickly spread by word of mouth and very soon, Mers opened its doors to customers from all walks of life and from all over the country.

"Mers' bibingka has a taste that is only ours. This is a secret family recipe my mother got from her mother in the early 50's, and this makes our bibingka famous," Zeny said.

Lowly beginnings

Mers is owned by the family of Gumercinda "Mers" Sagolili Cago. The family business started in Carcar, Cebu in the early 1950's.

Mers was the fourth child in the family. Her parents started the bibingka business in Carcar in the early 1950's but Mers moved to Digos in 1973 and started her own bingka business.

Mers has six children, all professiionals but it is Zeny, the chemical engineer who took over the reins after her Mers died in November 2004.

"All of us siblings take turns in managing the family business but its mainly I who is in charge, this is my full time career," Zeny said.

Starting with a P200 capital producing bibingka from 10 kilos of rice daily in 1973, Mers has come a long way and is now using at least two sacks of rice to make bibingka everyday.

Export opportunities

Zeny said they have visions of expanding their market internationally. They have already tied up with Department of Science and Technology (Dost) for market opportunities.

"Our vision is to export to Asia Pacific because there are many Filipinos there," Zeny said, adding that it is not impossible because the shelf life of Mers bibingka can last up to one year if kept frozen.
She added that Mers plans to open a branch in Davao City.

For anyone who wants to eat genuine bibingka that will leave you craving for more, Mers is the answer.


Davao Oriental

On gently rolling hills overlooking the municipality of Mati, Davao Oriental is a huge plantation producing the province's sweetest mangoes, pomelo, ponkan and others.

Menzi Farmers Cooperative (Mefco), formerly Menzi Agricultural Corporation fell under the CARP law in August 1, 1991 under Republic Act 6567.

Of the sprawling 413.86 hectares, 63 hectares are planted to 2,086 mango trees; 110 hectares are planted to 27,000 pomelo trees, 20 hectares are planted to valencia oranges, 18 hectares are planted to King mandarin, 19 hectares planted to poncan, and 110 hectares are planted to coconuts.
To date, 35 hectares remain undeveloped but this is considered for mango plantation under Mefco management. Four hectares of the area is used for the housing units of the employees.

Miguelito D. Angana, Mefco chairman said that aside from the original mango and coconut trees in the area, all the other trees are under the Mefco management.

"When the company became Mefco, all the 138 former employees were absorbed as cooperative members," Angana said.

Angana said they have turned over the 63 hectares of mango plantation to the management of DOLE, Phils. Inc. under a 10-year contract.

"Our annual mango production before was ony 500 metric tons a year. We saw that DOLE could do better, whie we get 30 percent share of the gross income," Angana said.
They expected a profit of P7-8 million from the mango plantation for the whole contract.

"Dole Phils can double the profits we used to get from our exportable Philippine mango (also known as mangga kalabaw)
because they have the latest technology," Angana said.

From the mangoes come delicious by products that are slowly gaining popularity among the local folks and visitors as well.

"We are producing mango puree and mango chips. Although we are only supplying the local needs, we have tied up with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Science and Technology (Dost) to expand our market, improve the packaging and labeling of our products for us to be able to compete in the market," Angana said.

DOST provided technology and processing equipment that could process 200 liters of mango puree daily or roughly 4,000 liters a month and a mango chips dehydtrator (solar dryer) with a capacity of 500 kilograms of ripe mangoes that nets 70 kilogramss after 30 hours of processing.

Angana said the company is not yet earning from the mandarin and poncan as it is still in its pre-operational stage.
Pomelo production, he added, produces 10 tons per hectare per year under normal conditions while the coconut plantation earns an average of 120 tons of copra a year.

Angaya admitted that Mefco is going through financial difficulties following price increase of farm requirements and production cost.

"More inputs mean a higher production cost. This will produce a cascading effect where everything is affected," Angaya said.

Mefco operates solely on its income, derived from proceeds of its products.

In 2003, Mefco poured about P23 million in investments on yet non-bearing trees like the pomelo and mandarin.
The Return of Investments for these products is very slow and will only start coming in after 11-15 years, Angaya said.

Mefco is also suffering from the sting of the El Ni¤o or drought which plagued the province since July last year, reducing the production by 20-30 percent.
ing to issues but the international business community.

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