by Purple Romero | Informal City Dialogues
For Marlene Asilo, it’s a family heirloom of sorts – a gray, aluminum food cart, one of the many “jolly jeeps” that line the busy streets of the business and financial hub that is Makati City.
“I inherited it,” says the 40-year-old Asilo as she fries banana fritters for her customers, many of them employees from the neighborhood’s banking firms, the men in well-pressed polos, the women in heels.
It was her father who got Asilo’s family into the food cart business back in 1971, when Metro Manila’s population was less than half of what it is today. Asilo remembers her dad’s first food cart was just that — a wheeled wooden cart from which he served breakfast, lunch and dinner on a street corner from dawn till dusk. Back then, most of his customers were laborers and blue-collar workers. But as the mobile units grew in popularity in the 1990s, office workers, starved for dining options in the city’s food desert of a business district, started lining up for the street food in droves. As the number of jolly jeeps exploded, they evolved from wooden carts into motorized food trucks, or jeepneys, as they’re called in the Philippines. (The name “jolly jeep” is an amalgam of jeepney and Jollibee, a popular Filipino fast-food chain).