MANILA -- Foreigners who agreed to an online challenge of trying out Filipino snacks immediately coughed when they slurped powdered milk Mik-Mik through a straw.
Filipinos would agree that it's practically impossible not to do the same. But they would probably insist that this is a necessary to enjoy the full experience.
"May nagtanong sa ’kin, ba’t naglagay pa ng straw? Pero naisip ko maganda gawin na straw. Gusto pala nila sa straw kahit na pulbos ang hihigupin mo. Doon nag-click," said Robert Sy, owner of Jocker's Food Industry, which manufactures this oldtime favorite.
(Someone asked me, why include a straw? But I thought it was nice. They apparently wanted a straw even if they would sip powder through it. That's where it cliked.)
"Kung powder lang, unang isip, ilagay sa tubig eh. Eh sa akin talaga ilagay mo straw, sipsipin mo. Dahan-dahan, para sa bata. So very fond sila. Ang ginagawa pa nila sa straw, nilalaro nila," he said.
(If it's powder, the first thought is to add it to water. But for me, add straw and you will sip it. Slowly, for the kids. So they're very fond of it. They even play with the straw.)
It's no wonder then that these little packets of powdered milk are part of almost every Filipino's childhood. It has been used as make-believe infant's formula, cigar, and all other sorts of things during playtime.
HOW IT CAME TO BE
Sy first tasted what he would later develop as Mik-Mik in the busy streets of Divisoria in the heart of Manila, being sold by a street vendor outside the Anglo-Chinese School he attended.
In 1987, he established Jocker's Food Industry, producing packed peanuts called Sugo. But the company is best known today for making Mik-Mik.
"Bakit Mik-Mik? Kasi galing sa gatas iyan, it's milk. May letter L. Ngayon ginawa ko, wala nang letter L, kasi para sa kabataan iyan. Kasi kung may L, ‘pag sinabi mong 'milk,' mahirap bigkasin," said Sy.
(Why Mik-Mik? Because it came from milk, it's milk. It has the letter L. What I did was remove the L because it's for kids. If there's an L, you say 'milk,' it's hard to pronounce.)
From its inception in the 1990s until now, Mik-Mik's packaging has remained the same. The original flavor still bears the red and white style Sy had conceptualized from the old design of canned milk.
"Maski na lahat ng gatas, ‘pag sa gatas, red and white. Dati matagal na ha, nanood ako sa TV, iyan, ‘yong mga Alaska, ‘yong mga ganito, Carnation. Puro pula, puti, so ‘yun ang nilagay ko, kasi lahat ng gatas, sa powder, lahat puti," he said.
(All brands of milk, it's red and white. Long ago, while I was watching TV, I saw Alaska and Carnation. They used red and white, so that's what I used because all brands of milk, even the powder is white.)
Sy started with just 10 employees who packed the product manually. Now, their factory produces up to 3,000 bundles of Mik-Mik daily, with deliveries as far as Visayas and Mindanao.
HOW IT STAYED RELEVANT
Mik-Mik is almost never absent in any list of well-loved Filipino snacks floated on the internet. These online challenges are a hit, not only among Filipinos but also among foreigners who capture their experience of eating Mik-Mik in videos that have gone viral.
Sy has seen some of these videos and he is delighted that it is still popular decades after it was launched.
"Hindi ko akalaing maski na lumalaki na sila, gusto pa nila Mik-Mik. I don’t expect that," he said.
(I did not expect that even after they have grown older, they would still like Mik-Mik. I don't expect that.)
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