Palapa, a taste of tomorrow

For these women in Marawi, this vegetable mix is more than just a side dish. It is a symbol of their culture and a beacon of hope for brighter futures.

Food is a way to nourish one’s self. A staple food offers a different meaning for the forcibly displaced women in a transitional shelter in Lanao del Sur.

The palapa is a common side dish in Maranao cuisine. This condiment is made out of ginger, coconut, onions, garlic, salt, and sakurab, a type of shallot that grows in cooler mountain regions. It is a staple that gives a spicy kick to viands and rice. It can be found in every household and eatery in Lanao del Sur. No meal is complete without it.

More than a side

For the women in Lanao del Sur who were displaced by the conflict in Marawi City, this staple food is a way to preserve culture and look at tomorrow with hope.

Founded in 2018, Palapalicious was one of UNHCR Philippines’ quick impact projects that aims to help women learn new skills, earn a living, and take a step in rebuilding their lives. For the most vulnerable women who had shared experiences of displacement, it was also an avenue to form a safe community.

Fostering sisterhood

The titas living in transitional shelter area 6 lost their homes and livelihood when armed men stormed through Marawi City back in 2017. While the effects of displacement can still be felt, the internally displaced women are able to find kindred spirits in one another. They have shared their experiences, cooked palapa recipes, and formed unbreakable bonds of friendship.

“The displaced people in this community come from all over Marawi City, from different shelters. When we were brought together here, we were happy. We developed good friendship. We had good company,” described Sanai Naga, an internally displaced person and member of Palapalicious.

The Palapalicious initiative is part of a series of low-cost, quick-impact projects implemented by UNHCR to help displaced persons in rebuilding their lives. In this transitional shelter, peaceful coexistence is forged between members as the women share recipes and experiences among one another.

Tracing history

The art of making palapa is a way of preserving culture among the people of Lanao del Sur. Each of the women in the shelter had their heirloom recipe that was passed down from generation to generation.

“We have recipes that have been handed down from our ancestors. I learned how to cook palapa because I’ve observed my grandmother cook it, then my mother, then my auntie,” said Sanai.

The women of Palapalicious share their secrets and techniques in making this staple dish. They learn from each other to continue improving this beloved condiment. Sanai said, “There are different techniques in cooking palapa. That’s why we learn from the ideas shared by others in our group.

Palapalicious continues to improve itself by incorporating the palapa business from end-to-end—from planting sakuraband other crops up to selling the item to different markets. They are now in the process of acquiring permits that will help them reach bigger markets.