By Nichole dela Cruz*
Almost all the bibingkas or bingka here in Iloilo shares a common place of origin_Villa, but one is distinct for it comes from a different place. RCJ Bingkahan of Balasan, Iloilo (a three and a half hour ride north of Iloilo City) was established in 1982 by Mr. and Mrs. Reginald and Florinda Jaro, Sr.
RCJ bibingka is a mixture of rice flour, butong (young coconut – the one used in making buko salad), refined sugar, eggs and milk. It is placed in the pugon (an improvised oven made of thin galvanized iron sheets) for ten minutes if coconut husks are used for cooking and fifteen minutes when it is firewood. The way RCJ makes the bibingka is different. They set fire on top and bottom of the bibingka (for the usual, it is only on top). The raw bibingka mixture is placed on a round metal cups (evaporated milk tin cans) lined with a round cut banana leaf.
They now place the bibingka in the pugon. When the bibingka is halfway done, they pull it out and brush margarine on the bibingka and sprinkle a pinch of refined sugar on top. They pack the bibingka by 4’s and can be bought for ten pesos. They also sell a plate of bibingka that is around 18 cm for eighty pesos.
Before the RCJ Bingkahan came to be, Florinda went through so many trials and hardships. Florinda inherited her skill in making bibingka from her mother, Clara. Clara has five children and Florinda is the only girl. Back in 1960’s, Clara was the only one operating a bibingka business in Balasan. It didn’t even have a name. In making bibingka, Clara and Florinda used rice flour, coconut, refined sugar, eggs and milk but had different measurements of it. Florinda wanted to improve Clara’s bibingka mixture. It was in 1970’s when she came up with her own mixture which people found more delicious.
When Clara died, Rodrigo as the eldest was the one who managed the small bibingka business that their mother had already started. Eventually, Florinda became the business partner of Rodrigo. They made turns in managing the small bibingka business. In the morning, it was Rodrigo who managed the business, selling their mothers’ bibingka. In the afternoon, it was Florinda that took over the place of Rodrigo, selling her own recipe of bibingka. Rodrigo and Florinda oftentimes argued on whose bibingka to sell. For Rodrigo, they must honor the recipe that their mother left them as a sign of respect and to appreciate their mothers’ work. But Florinda insisted and stuck with her recipe for her bibingka was patronized by many. The business went on. Rodrigo sold in the morning and Florinda in the afternoon. Jealousy took place when Rodrigo noticed that it was Florinda’s bibingka that sold the most. With this situation, Florinda put up her own small bibingka business. As years passed by, their business was a hit and people demanded for it. On the other hand, Rodrigo closed his business because he had a hard time coping with losses. With a good heart, Florinda couldn’t afford to see her brothers experience difficulties. So, every time her brothers ask for financial assistance, Florinda couldn’t turn her back and would still help.
In 1980’s, the old SM Delgado management attempted to buy Florinda’s recipe, but Florinda valued her original recipe a lot, that despite the large amount of money, she turned down the offer. Since the buying of the recipe and the name “RCJ Bingkahan” didn’t push through, there were alternatives raised by the supposed buyer. The arrangement was that Reginald will supervise the business in Iloilo City (the place where Shakey’s was located in the old SM Delgado) and Florinda remains in Balasan. Both parties (between Florinda and SM) agreed that Florinda will send her workers together with Reginald and will work for SM. This business partnership didn’t work and lasted only for three years.
Back in 1990, Florinda saw a child shaking in cold and has a high fever outside the Balasan Church on her way home. She brought the child to her home and took care of him. When Bertido, the child, got well, Florinda supported him all through out, even sending him to school. Bertido is one of the many deserving people whom Florinda helped send to school. Aside from her children she was able to send about ten kids to school. These are Florinda’s simple joys. Although, Florinda has financial difficulties at times, she doesn’t hesitate to help other people.
In the midst of our conversation, I questioned Florinda why in spite of the popularity of RCJ, she doesn’t appear to be financially well-off. She agreed with my observation. She said that she is fond of helping other people especially her scholars. Florinda finished up to 1st year high school only and she doesn’t want people to experience what she had experienced. In every graduation ceremony that she attended, she pictures out herself in the position of her scholar. And that she pretends to see herself also graduating, experiencing self-fulfillment and end up teary-eyed. At present, Florinda is sending some of her grandchildren to school.
Recently, typhoon Frank, damaged their area of business and almost all her cooking materials were ruined. She had a hard time looking for coconuts, an essential bibingka ingredient. She said that their capital was also wiped out by that said disaster. In spite of that, Florinda manages to cope.
My journey to Balasan was worth it. I went there for the purpose of conducting an art research and went home forgetting my real intention, inspired by the struggles of Mrs. Florinda Jaro. With my experience in Balasan, I didn’t only gain knowledge on bibingkas but also gained lessons that will help me with my journey through life.
About the author:
I love to eat bibingka, that’s it.