By Llanesca T. Panti

One would think that quality ome-cooked food in the city need to always come from fancy restaurants either in malls or those along the main roads of the Metro, but never beside a wet and dry market.
Located along Sucat Road in Parañaque is the Original Dampa Fresh Food Market and Ihaw-Ihaw. The night market, which has seafood, cold meat, and vegetables, provides the goods for Dampa’s food stalls.
Dampa’s food stalls attract customers who want quality home-cooked food free from the stiff culture of conventional restaurants. Professionals, businessmen, celebrities, and students dine at the stalls that uniquely resemble home kitchens and dining areas.

Unintentional business venture
Dampa owner Mrs. Leonila Rivero was not into entrepreneurship at first, having finished Medical Technology at UST in 1963. But she says Dampa started during the construction of the then Ninoy Aquino Avenue, when fishermen were forced to rent their land.
Word of mouth about the “mini-talipapa” (small market) did good things for the fishermen’s small-time business. Soon, patrons of the talipapa dramatically increased, and fishermen’s mats were changed to nipa-hut stalls. In 1978, the Riveros constructed a huge roof over the growing talipapa to make it appear like a market.
But it is not because of the nipa hut stalls that the place was named Dampa. One stall owner, the San Pedro family, named their market stall Dampa. Their stall sign was the biggest in the market, and so people started to call the entire place Dampa.
It was Mike Reyes, another stall owner, who gave birth to Dampa’s mini-canteens and food stalls. The facade of Reyes’ place became the go-to place and hangout of husbands waiting for their wives during market trips. They would ask Reyes to grill food for them. Mrs. Rivero’s husband, Modesto, a Uruguayan national, saw the ihaw-ihaw as a lucrative business venture, and that gave rise to the present Dampa setup. Soon after, the nipa-huts were replaced by air-conditioned units, so that customers would be free from the smoke of the grills and smell of the market. The last renovation of Dampa was in 1996. The stalls now are Sharmila (three units), Aling Tonya’s, Trinity (the biggest of the stalls), and the nearest to the market, Seahorse.

The customer is always right
Compared to restaurants such as Gerry’s Grill, Dencio’s, and Barrio Fiesta, Dampa’s food stalls bring customers closer to what they eat, as they are given the choice of ingredients in the market, and have them cooked at the food stall of their preference. The customers simply choose a dish and the cooks do their job. But if one just wants to relax and have a good meal straight, one can ask the crew members to buy the food for them at the night market, but with extra cost.
For 400-500 pesos, three people can feast on Dampa’s two specialties, shrimps in lemon butter sauce and special crabs, with rice and drinks.
Other Dampa offerings include baked tahong, grilled or steamed lobsters and lapu-lapu, sinigang sa miso and enchilada.
There is tough competition between the stores in Dampa because all food stalls offer the same kind of services, including the staple videoke machine. Wider smiles, louder voices, and better cooks are the only things that can set the stalls apart.
More than the palatable menu, Dampa makes one feel as if he is eating at his own home, with the company of relatives or friends.
As for other Dampa stores rising in other places nowadays, (they are not really affiliated with the original Dampa), Mrs. Rivero has these words to say: “They can only copy the mood of the place but they could never know the secret to Dampa’s success. And that’s a secret I am not willing to share.”