Theirs was an unlikely union.
Aling Asiang was a grade school graduate, plain housewife, and doting mother who had the uncanny ability to cook great-tasting native dishes.
Alex, on the other hand, was a well educated University of the Philippines law graduate who finished fourth during the bar exams of 1914. He pursued a promising career in the judiciary and rose quickly from Assistant Clerk of Court at the Municipal Court of manila immediately after graduation. Although Alex became Undersecretary of Justice in less than 15 years, the Reyeses produced more children than a civil servant’s salary could support comfortably. At final count, there were all thirteen of them – Andy, Arturo, Teresita, Esperidion, Mario, Jose, Herminia, Ma. Lusia, Alex, Jr., Consuelo, Armando, Benjamin, and Victor. This turned out to be quite a problem since Alex was a man of impeccable integrity who would not augment the family income through nefarious means. Aling Asiang showed her love for her husband by valuing principles. This was the driving force behind her putting her culinary talents to entrepreneurial use.
Decades later, Alex would become Solicitor General, and climb all the way up to Associate Justice at the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Associate Justice. Even then, he would apologize to his wife, “Pasensiya ka na hindi kita ginawang mayaman.” But Aling Asiang would brush away this concern focusing instead on what they have – a good name and a loving, harmonious family.
Even if there was little money to go around the Reyes household, Aling Asiang always made sure that the needs of the children were met – clothing education, and, of course, great food. But Aling Asiang’s soft side was balanced by the disciplinarian in her. Aling Asiang inculcated into her children the dignity of work and the value of putting together for household chores.
The eldest polished their narra floor to a mirror-like gleam before going out to play. Another one scrubbed the bathrooms, and the girls helped in the kitchen. Every Reyes child was an expert in peeling onions and mashing garlic – the prerequisites to most delicious native dishes – before they grew tall enough to touch their chins on the dinner table. Paydays were special for the Reyes children because Alex would treat the family to a special meal in one of the panciterias in Chinatown. During these eat-outs, Aling Asiang, ever the cooking genius, would do a running commentary on which dishes she gave a passing grade and which ones failed to meet her exacting standards plus what ingredients should have been added.
Still, there was the problem of supporting the needs of a growing brood with an honest civil servant’s salary. Thus, on the matrimonial bed one night, Aling Asiang broached the idea of food for sale to generate additional income. Although the family kitty was much depleted from expenses for their new house, Alex obliged and coughed up the necessary capital. He would also serve as somewhat of a publicist for the restaurant by bringing in his friends from government and other social circles.
Thus, with neither visions of grandeur nor much fanfare, Aling Asiang opened a kiosk – the ‘Lapu-Lapu’, a name that honors the first Filipino hero with a culinary connotation. The Lapu-Lapu aimed to entice the hundreds of colegialas from St. Theresa’s College just across their newly built home at Marquez de Comillas (now Romuladez St.) which was then a rather fashionable residential district of the city.