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In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the town square in Barangay Poblacion, there quietly exists a humble lugawan (porridge food stall) that has stood the test of time. Now considered an institution by the Biñanenses, the present-day Mang Tony’s Original Pospas, a continuation of an inherited entrepreneurial pursuit in the 1940s, stays faithful to how Antonio “Tonyo” Rada Benjamin originally envisioned his lugawan—one that allows common folks to experience the pleasure of savoring a mother’s homecooked pospas the recipe of which had been handed down and safeguarded through generations.

Pospas was originally the Visayan take on lugaw (rice porridge)—one of the heartiest meals in the Filipino culinary menu for it is complete with soup, rice, and protein in a bowl. How and when exactly the Biñanenses adopted the term remains unclear, but the industry of cooking pospas could have started way back during the Japanese occupation. The simple but tedious recipe started with Merta Silva, who is believed to be its pioneer in Biñan.

Among the direct heirs of Aling Merta’s recipe, it was Tonyo who had assisted her in the business since his teenage years. Tonyo would thoroughly clean the pork innards and the as native chicken, of which they had ample supply back then as they raised chickens in their backyard. One thing that distinguished Aling Merta’s pospas from the others’ was the absence of ginger because the meats were cleaned so well that masking their unpleasant natural taste and odor was unnecessary.

The meats would be precooked until tender, then sliced into bite-size pieces. By dawn, Aling Merta and Tonyo would settle in front of the San Isidro Labrador Catholic Church to cook the rest of the pospas using three rocks as a makeshift stove housed in a kariton (pushcart)—a fragment of nomadic life that has now become synonymous with indigence. Minced garlic and onion, and the sliced pork innards and chicken would be sautéed specifically with the now obsolete Maglaan Patis Especial. In a separate pot, glutinous rice would be cooked together with the sautéed meats to infuse the flavor. Kasubha (safflower) would then be added, turning the porridge into a characteristic yellow. Rock salt would also be added for taste. Upon serving, the pospas would be topped with toasted garlic, minced spring onion, and crushed pork crackling. Hard-boiled egg could be ordered additionally. It could be laced with fish sauce or calamansi juice. To cut down on expenses, Tonyo created a “secret” ratio of vinegar and calamansi juice, instead of pure calamansi juice. The secret sauce (which he actually shared with his fellow pospas entrepreneurs) was less sour, which turned out to be what was preferred by the customers.

Tonyo continued Aling Merta’s legacy even when he started his own family with Juliana Vibar Guico. By this time, he would station inside the public market in the morning and by the entrance of the now-demolished Ligaya Theatre starting around three in the afternoon in time for the end of the first show. His patrons back then were students—some were the naughty ones who would run off without paying. Tonyo, being gleeful and warm, would shrug it off and jokingly say that he had raised many children apart from his own. To his delight, these children later turned out to become professionals.

Tonyo had a sharp memory and natural skills in arithmetic as well. He had been offered opportunities to work elsewhere, such as in Baguio and in Manila, all of which he turned down. He had a huge grateful heart for the family who taught him the pospas that he made a name in, so he chose to stay. He had also consistently been advised to move to a better place, but he was contented with the lugawan that he had grown accustomed to with Aling Merta. He was concerned that his pospas would not be affordable anymore to his young naughty patrons if he would rent in an established space. His other patrons, like the employees, market goers, and those visiting Biñan seemed to be perfectly enjoying the warmth of the pospas even as they ate it standing. After all, it is all part of the charm of Mang Tony’s Original Pospas, which the present heirs who now run the place cherish and maintain as the force that keeps it going.

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