What I learned from opening my own Sari-Sari store

A sari-sari store is a variety shop in the Philippines that's located in front of a family’s home. Unlike a bodega, a customer can’t go inside a sari-sari. To purchase something, you simply point at what you want over the metal grates or screen and someone in the house will give you what you want.

People who hangout with me on Instagram know this: I have a pretend sari-sari store inside my home. It's where I display my Filipino snacks and candy. I have: champorado, stork candy, Lily's peanut butter, pandesal, coco jam, hansel, sunflower crackers, and occasionally chips like Snaku or Piatos. I am a child of Manila and recreating places that feel like home to me is what makes my days cozy.

For my pandemic birthday I decided to move my pretend sari-sari store to the front house. I wanted to make it "real" for a day.

For my opening day, I made and served: bibingka, biko, mango sago, kalamay, Filipino spaghetti, and leche flan. My husband, Hiro, made his top-notch cheesecake and oden, a Japanese winter stew. For drinks, we offered Coca-Cola with ice and San Miguel Light, my favorite Filipino beer.

Hiro and I went so hardcore into the sari-sari store preparation that we cracked open a coconut ourselves so we can scrape off the meat inside. If you have no idea what I am talking about, simply understand that opening a coconut and getting the shreds out is one of the hardest domestic tasks you can put your body through. I give Hiro all the credit. We pursued it so we can top the biko (Filipino sticky rice) and cheesecake with fresh coconut shreds.

In Tagalog: kinayod ni Hiro yung buko para may niyog kami para sa biko at cheesecake niya.

My sari-sari store was a delightful success. At the end of it, my “customers,” aka family and friends, bought out everything. One by one they came and chose something from the menu. For a number of them, the foods we offered were new tastes and textures. I was immensely proud when my friend Natalie banged coins on the window, and yelled "Tao PO!" to get my attention. She hasn't been to the Philippines yet but because she visited my sari-sari, she will know what to do when she sees one in the Philippines.

This is perhaps one of my favorite things about Kwento by Nica. It's a place for a Filipino story and yet people who are not Filipino want to take part in it too. It makes my heart sing.

What I learned from opening my own sari-sari store is this:
1) It is hard work to make bibingka, biko, mango sago, kalamay, Filipino spaghetti, and leche flan. 
2) It is immensely fun to create food with Hiro.
3) People who have never tasted Filipino food before will love it if you serve it to them in true Filipino hospitality. The kind of hospitality that makes eating time the most fun part of the day.

and fourth -

I, Nica, can make bibingka, biko, mango sago, kalamay, Filipino spaghetti, and leche flan. Whew.

If you don't know already - I am writing a cookbook about food from home. Filipino food is the protagonist and my voice the narrator. 

If you want to visit my pretend sari-sari store when I open for another day, please tell me by commenting below! Tell me so I can remember to invite you. We will make it covid a safe time :)
Thank you for reading!

Peek at more sari-sari store photos on my Ko-fi page. For now, let me write this book so I can tell you more about Filipino food and make you more kwento.

Nica C.T.



  • Amanda

    I would be sooo honored if I could come next time! I just love this so much!

  • Mica

    Nica’s Sari-Sari store — a taste of home with a little something extra. With the TLC Nica & Hiro put into the one-day pop-up, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t always there. I tried everything on the menu and in true Filipino fashion even “made baon” — a taglish term meaning “to take home.” It was all just too good to pass up. Nica’s Leche Flan and Hiro’s Cheesecake were just a couple of my favorites, washed down with a bottle of San Miguel Lite. Thank you both for being so hospitable and curating such a wonderful experience. I’m in full support of this becoming a monthly thing. Can’t wait for the next one!

  • Bea

    So glad I got to witness this!! It’s so refreshing to have a taste of home right here in the bay and you made that possible. :)

    Would love to go when you open again!

  • Natalie

    My fiance and I visited the Sari-Sari store and had a lovely time. The decorations were inspiring, and the amount of work and attention to detail that went into creating all of the traditional Filipino dishes was truly moving. I, personally, felt transported, which is a new feeling for me during the pandemic. Nica created a tropical escape for so many of us that have not been able to travel anywhere since early 2020. This type of creativity is not common, and something to be treasured.

    Nica, thank you for sharing your heritage, culture, warmth, and good vibes with the people you love. We are so honored to be included in your adventurous and creative life. I can’t wait for another Sari-Sari store experience.

  • Georgia O

    Wishing you a Happy belated birthday.

    I loved your sari-sari. I cannot wait to for your Filipino cookbook. I have friends who have shared their food with me. I would learn 5o cook “authentic Filipino food.

    Best of luck Nica.

    Georgia O

  • Melissa

    I really enjoyed visiting your sari-sari store and I loved reading this behind-the-scenes entry on it! Please let me know when you do it again — I’m always in the mood for your Filipino spaghetti! Props to Hiro for working on that coconut!

  • erina

    belated maligayang bati, Nica! I always love following your work. the sari-sari store is very nostalgic and reminds me of the resilient ways various communities continue to activate intimate domestic spaces for connectedness, especially during this time. if you ever do this again, i would love to come by and purchase a bag of soda to sip on with a plastic straw :> xoxo

  • Joy Kwon

    I would love to come next time!! ❤️❤️❤️

  • Nick Hui

    I visited the sari-sari with my wife and we ordered one of everything on the menu! All items were so delicious and half of them were new to me. The unique textures and flavors that we don’t get in American cuisine really makes me miss my Asian travels. Thank you, Nica and Hiro, for bringing back happy memories and my first sari-sari experience. Please let me know when you do it again, thank you!

  • Maria Victoria

    Nica, I love your creative spirit and how you use it to share who you are, where you come from, and our Filipino customs with your friends and family! Hiro, you are one supportive husband! I see why Nica is head over heals for you- she did not have to crack open and grate a coconut by herself! Craving more Sari-sari stories!

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