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Sta. Maria, a small town in Bulacan, is not the first thing that you will remember when you hear Bulacan. But I will tell you what you have to look forward to when you visit this town: CHICHARON! Yes. Sta. Maria is the Chicharon Capital, and when you come here and taste this treat, you will know why.
Sta.Maria is a municipality in the province of Bulacan. It is bounded by Angat and Pandi on the North, San Jose del Monte City on the South, Norzagaray on the East, and the municipalities of Marilao and Bocaue on the West. It is 35 kilometers North of Metro Manila. On a good day, it is 1-2 hours from the country’s capital.
The Chicharon Capital
Chicharon is most popularly made from deep-fried pork belly or pork rinds. But today, there are now different types – made from from not just pork parts, but even fried mutton, beef and chicken. There are even vegetarian variants available.
Sta. Maria is 1 hour from Manila. The travel time and the traffic, however, does not stop resellers, addicts and enthusiasts from making the trip. “Once you have tasted the Chicharon in Sta. Maria, you’ll never go to another”. It has been featured in several TV programs and articles in various local and international publications. That is quite an accomplishment, especially since this crunchy treat is not just a local Philippine dish. In fact, it originally came from Spain, and is popular in various countries with a strong Spanish influence.
Sta. Maria is now lined with different Chicharon stores, each boasting of their unique specialties and recipes.
I was fortunate enough to be able to interview one of the top owners of the shops here, and below highlights some of our conversations.
Obet’s Chicharon started in the ’70s, having only 2-3 people working on the orders. In 1986, Mr. Obet Halili continued his father’s business. Orders from resellers increased from 10 kilos of pork to approximately 3-4 tons in a weeks or month, depending on the reseller. Mr. Halili even jokingly said, “We produce so much oil from the cooking process that we can fill a whole swimming pool!”
This is how they make this famous crunchy goodness. Obet’s claim to be one of the pioneers in the business and prides itself on maintaining the same process from more than three decades ago — from picking the pork (local to international – bulk coming from Germany), choosing the type (for pork – backfat, back skin, belly) to boiling, “sankutsa”, cooking, draining the oil to packing. No machines. No “bilad” in the sun. The very traditional way of cooking has been kept even after two generations.
Obet’s is just an example of the many family-owned businesses and establishments that make Sta. Maria the town that it is today. It has been labeled as an economic powerhouse in Region 3, and claimed to be the richest municipality in Bulacan (COA report 2015).
Home of Famous Personalities
Sta. Maria was the hometown of Jose Corazon de Jesus, the Filipino poet popularly known as “Huseng Batute”. Another native is Francisco Santiago, the notable composer who wrote “Nasaan Ka Irog” and other kundiman songs. Other notable TV and movie personalities like Maine Mendoza, Angel Locsin, Michelle Aldana, Krystal Reyes, and Alfred Vargas are from Sta. Maria.
I encourage all to visit the lovely town of Sta. Maria. Drop by the La Purisima Concepcion Parish Church, the markets, the food establishments, and of course, taste and take home their chicharon.
Credits – Thank you to Mrs. Leonora Halili for the interview and the rest of her staff.
OBET’S SPECIAL PORK CHICHARON
CONTACT NUMBER +63 (44) 641-3379; +63 (919) 702-3904
LOCATION: 11 Ricardo Nicolas Street, Santa Maria, Bulacan 3022
CONTACT PERSON: Mr. Roberto “Obet” P. Halili