Why “Manila Oriental”? Sometime in 1983, our relatives opened Manila Oriental Food Store in Phoenix, Arizona to cater to a growing presence of Filipino and other Asian communities. The need for Asian groceries could no longer be ignored in the desert, so they became an oasis of community culture, life and food.
The grocery store sold everything from giant bags of rice to live crabs, our mom’s homemade hopia and kutsinta, to sinigang packets and botan rice candy (yes that one with the edible wrapper). They even had newspapers from home, a VHS rental system for Tagalog classics, a balikbayan box shipping service, and fresh pastries lovingly driven in from LA 2x weekly by our Tito Bobby. And of course, in the back was a turo-turo (point point) classic canteen style restaurant complete with halo-halo.
Everyone (older than us at the time) in our big family worked at the grocery store. Tito’s, Tita’s, cousins...so many cousins. We would watch them interact with customers as family and carefully place purchased goods into those now iconic red and white thank you bags.
I (Olivia) always wanted to work there, but the grocery store was sold before I could do math on the big, loud cash register buttons. While the OG Manila Oriental may be no longer, it taught us that family and roots, community and culture, are as important as rice is to Filipinos.
ManilaOriental.store is our modern heritage gift shop celebrating the (tough Asian) love and food that shaped us. It’s our homage to the family who have paved the way for us, who introduced us to the foods we now crave, and the values that make us proud to be Filipino.