MANILA -- For 37 years, Helen Castillo fills one side street in the country's financial district with the smell of hot caramel, waiting for customers clad in power suits and construction hats to line up for their daily fix of the country's unofficial snack.
The turon or banana fritter is the "superstar" of Filipino desserts, an enduring presence in hawker stands, office cafeterias and groceries. The country's largest mall operator, SM, said that in 2016 alone it sold 42 million pieces of turon over 2 years
Priced at P15 each and with vendors apprehensive about raising prices, turon has also challenged faster than expected inflation.
"Para siyang si Nora Aunor. Hindi mawawala ang superstar ng mga merienda," said Samantha Rivera, who tends to a "Jollijeep" rolling store in Makati.
(It's like Nora Aunor. The superstar of merienda will never fade.)
Castillo, 60, said turon is a staple in her menu because it is exactly what busy workers are looking for in the middle of the afternoon -- quick, cheap and satisfying.
"Hindi sila nagsasawa kasi dito sa Makati iyan ang pinakamurang merienda. Kinse pesos tska softdrinks ok na," Castillo told ABS-CBN News.
(They don't grow tired of it here in Makati where it's the cheapest snack around. For P15 and softdrinks, youre good to go.)
The 24 million turon pieces sold in 2016 was 33 percent higher than 18 million in the previous year, SM Investments said on its website.
The company has set a turon standard at 8 inches long, 2 inches in diameter and aims for a uniform taste across stores, SM said.
"The success of turon is proof that Filipinos tend to look for familiar taste at a price that's 'sulit' (value for money)," said SM Markets vice chairman Herbert Sy.
Marjorie Montalban, a staffer at an apparel store in one of SM Malls joined the queue for turon at the grocery during a break from work.
"Ito lang ang turon dito eh pag lumabas kami baka umulan pa. Sana sa susunod banana cue naman," Montalban told ABS-CBN News.
(This is the only turon available here, if I go out, it might rain. I hope in the future they offer banana cue.)
Inflation has held at its highest levels in 5 years in recent months as elevated fuel prices in the world market pushed food prices higher.
Food inflation alone in June was at 6.1 percent, faster than the headline number 5.2 percent.
Turon vendor Emerlita Gallos undercuts the competition by selling her desserts at P10 a piece and she said she would not raise pricess soon.
"Pag tinaasan ko, hindi naman lahat ng tao may pera," she told ABS-CBN News. She ha been selling turon for 28 years.
(If I raise prices, not everyone might have enough money to buy.)
Gallos said she sells 200 pieces of turon daily, double the competition.
Unlike Gallos, Rivera said she might raise prices due to higher prices of sugar and cooking oil.
With or without a price hike, IT supervisor Kim Crisostomo said he would continue having turon for snack everyday. Crisosotomo spends P50 every week on banana fritters.
"Parang softdrinks lang 'yan eh, tumaas pero binibili pa rin," Crisostomo told ABS-CBN News.
(It's like softdrinks. Prices go up, but people still buy it.)
"Feeling ko hindi siya mawawala sa eksena kahit magtaas ng presyo kasi turon is turon talaga," Rivera said.
(I feel it won't fade from the scene even is prices go up. Turon is turon.)