Popsie’s Food Truck: ‘Kakanin’ comfort food revisited

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Marisse Panlilio’s latest enterprise: It’s back to her first love.

Marisse Panlilio’s latest enterprise: It’s back to her first love: food.

By Cristina DC Pastor

In her quiet Jersey City home, Marisse ‘Popsie’ Panlilio cooks Binatog while her freezer is packed with quarts of mango and ube ice cream waiting to firm up. Elsewhere in the kitchen, her partner, sous chef Cosette Malig, cuts vegetables.

There are slow and busy days in Popsie’s food chamber. But on March 21, as the city awaited the latest snowstorm, many FilAms in Jersey City stayed home, watched Netflix and had a craving for comfort food. Popsie’s phone rang off the hook with orders for Binatog (boiled corn kernels), Kutsinta, Hot Purple Soup (Guinataan) and Rice Cakes. Popsie’s Explorer braved the snow to deliver orders with a $15 minimum.

Only three years, Popsie’s Food Truck is a pop-up food and beverage outlet. It’s a low-key operation but an equally important advocate of what is now known as the Filipino Food Movement where Filipino food is being bannered as “the next big thing.”

Popsie’s goodies are the classic comfort food, the bites Filipinos snacked on as children. They bring back memories of growing up in barrios or cities where ambulant vendors sold these delicacies in push carts.

“I sell what I eat or shall I say, I eat what I sell” said Popsie when interviewed by The FilAm. “I want my food to taste exactly how I want it.”

An unabashed dog lover, Popsie has an assortment of drinks named after her fur babies: Mr. Taro is named after her dog Dimi, so are beverages Ms. Mango, Lola and Mr. Matcha Tea.

For the ‘midnight snackers,’ a wide array of bites, from Gourmet Binatog to Purple Soup or Guinataan.

For the ‘midnight snackers,’ a wide array of bites, from Gourmet Binatog to Purple Soup or Guinataan.

She remembered sharing with her mother a hankering for Filipino ‘kakanin’ (native delicacies), and how she wished there was a store that sold them at midnight. That, in essence, is what Popsie’s Food Truck is about: Snacks when you want them, even at midnight. People order food to-go or for pickup. Pretty soon, ordering by app will be available. While the service is limited to Jersey City for now, Popsie said she has made deliveries to Manhattan and Queens for large orders.

Food, said Popsie, is something her family holds dear and sacred. Her grandmother, who comes from the Dayrit families of Pampanga and Cavite, taught her mother how to cook. It was her mother, Juliet “Mama Yette” Oberlin, a retired nurse, who in turn passed on to Popsie the Panlilio art of cooking and all its intricate secrets.

In 1983 when she was just two years in the United States, Popsie opened a food bar and catering business in Roselle Park in New Jersey. It closed when it ran into issues with her business partner. She focused on her work as an IT sales & marketing consultant, the itch to become an entrepreneur set aside in the meantime.

By herself or with Cosette, her partner of 27 years, the entrepreneurship bug would continue to bite. There would be a stream of businesses that Popsie started: specialty/novelty chocolates, health care, printing and graphics, apparel, and entertainment. In 2001, she has made some wise investments in real estate through rentals in her apartment building. It’s been a steady source of income but Popsie is never happy when she is not doing anything new. At 64, she quipped that age is “just a number. Senior yes, but still willing and able.”

“Sa entertainment masakit ang loob ko,” she shared. “Ang daming intriga, siraan dito, siraan doon.” She has placed her sound equipment on hiatus for now, in the confines of her garage, although her mother has been bugging her to sell it.

Three years ago, she went back to where she started when, as a 12-year-old, she sold Halo Halo in front of their house in the Philippines: Food. Popsie’s Food Truck is the encore business, a call for a different food philosophy.

“I want to revert back to where I started, which has always been my love: food,” she said.

Her salute to her customers: “FAFTAF, From a Foodie to a Foodie.” “Just Say Yummay” is her trademarked slogan.

© The FilAm 2018

A young customer enjoying her Mr. Matcha Tea

A regular customer enjoying her Cantaloupe Tea

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