05 Nov2010

Tita Cely Kalaw, that wonderful, ebullient, opinionated, passionate, down-to-earth, amazing cook/restaurateur/entrepreneur and friend passed away the other evening. I have been out of town and was only updated by readers and those close to her family by email. It is with great sadness that I write this post, and I ask all of you who knew her, and even those of you who didn’t know her but who love Filipino food, to say a prayer for her rapid rise to that wonderful kitchen in the sky… She was perhaps most famous or infamous for her Bicol Express, her reign in the kitchens of the Grove Restaurant many decades ago, and more recently her sinigang stall at Market!Market! and tables at the Saturday Salcedo Market and Sunday Legaspi Market. A passionate and innovative cook, Tita Cely was not only mindful of what was basic and authentic about a dish, but she wasn’t afraid to experiment and innovate. A lovely person to know, generous to the core. There are few people (other than those who are good friends) from whom I have ever accepted a food “freebie” (a serious no-no in my book), but from Tita Cely, I could never refuse a taste of her latest soup, or a freshly fried wonder, or some food find of hers. We often “bartered” food items, and even discussed sitting down and finally writing a book together to preserve her brilliant knowledge of local cuisine. But that just wasn’t meant to be. I wish her well. I hope her family of siblings and nephews and nieces come to terms with their loss. She lies in state at the Loyola Chapel in Paranaque, her cremation scheduled for Saturday, November 6, 2010. In lieu of flowers, Marketman & Family will donate a few hundred meals to undernourished public school children in her name. I think she would have liked that. She will be missed by many.



  1. jay p says:

    a friend of the family.

    thanks for the post Marketman.

    will say a prayer for her.

    Nov 5, 2010 | 5:43 pm


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  3. socky says:

    I’d always look Tita Cely up in Salcedo Market and worried that she looked weak and not too well each time. So I dreaded this day coming.

    What sad, sad November day for me, with news about losing two people I admired most: Tita Cely and poet Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta.

    Nov 5, 2010 | 6:15 pm

  4. Pilar says:

    I am a suki in her Market!Market! stall.

    Condolences to the family Tita Cely left behind.

    Nov 5, 2010 | 6:55 pm

  5. Gus Hansen says:

    noticed that her stall was non-existent in salcedo market for several months now. she will be missed. :(

    Nov 5, 2010 | 7:35 pm

  6. Marketman says:

    Gus and Pilar, she closed shop several months ago. Her Market!Market! stall closed early in the year or late last year.

    Nov 5, 2010 | 7:51 pm

  7. joey says:

    I loved her Bicol Express…Condolences and prayers to her family…

    Nov 5, 2010 | 7:58 pm

  8. rg says:

    sad. i often pass by her stalls at rj at pasong tamo ext, at legazpi and at market market, and would sometimes exchange pleasantries with her. yes she told me last year that she has not been feeling well but i still mised her the past months.

    Nov 5, 2010 | 8:00 pm

  9. anna says:

    i don’t know her personally but my daughter and i always, without fail, eat at her market!market! stall whenever we are in the area. even if we are at serendra, we would cross the street to eat at tita cely’s sinigang and always take home her so delicious laing. going to market market will never be the same again.

    condolences to the family.

    Nov 5, 2010 | 8:15 pm

  10. Carlitos and Ronah says:

    We felt sad at the passing of Tita Cely. We’ve always known her to be very strong, feisty, cheerful and witty person. Some months ago, she would pass by our stall in either Salcedo Saturday Market or at the Legazpi Sunday Market to chat a little, sometimes to bring food and would always ask for us to pray for her. We would pray with her a short prayer speaking life, strength and peace to her. She would do this every time she’d pass. We never had thought that she would soon depart. We realized that when friends would request us to pray with them, we should really take time and stop what we’re doing or perhaps free up our schedule for them. Because we will never know until when we’ll ever see them again. We will miss you Tita Cely. We pray and speak peace to the family.

    Nov 5, 2010 | 9:56 pm

  11. betty q. says:

    Condolences and prayers to the family.

    This is what si great about your blog, MM…though we are thousands of miles away, we have come to know people like her!

    Nov 5, 2010 | 10:02 pm

  12. Jimmy Villanueva says:

    Thank you very much for that wonderful write up. I am a nephew of Tita Cely (She and my dad are first cousins) and like you, the whole family felt such a great loss by her sudden departure. It would have been lovely if the book you both were talking about really happened, but like you said, it wasn’t meant to be and so most of her important recipes are now tucked away in heaven.

    Nov 5, 2010 | 10:02 pm

  13. tonceq says:

    though I may not know her personally and have only heard of her in stories and posts on this website or the other, I know that she has proven herself as one of the pillars of Filipino Cuisine. Sad it may be that she will no longer be with us, I know that we will remember not only her contributions to to our country’s culinary development but her passion in providing nourishment for both the empty stomach, heart and soul. May she have peace and happiness in the big kitchen above.

    My deepest condolences to her family.

    Nov 5, 2010 | 10:15 pm

  14. marilen says:

    I am sad to hear of Mrs. Kalaw’s death. Many many years ago, as a balikbayan, we enjoyed several meals at the Grove restaurant. Mrs. Kalaw and kindred spirit, Doreen Gamboa Hernandez, were energetic spirits in the Filipino food culture. One could not help but be appreciative of their passion to educate our tastebuds.

    Nov 5, 2010 | 10:59 pm

  15. direk freddie says:

    thanks for taking the time to write about tita cely, marketman. she was an aunt of mine by way of being first cousin of my uncle-in-law. that may seem a bit of a roundabout connection but not with tita cely.
    from the first time i was introduced to her as a teenager (i grew up in another city so i don’t remember meeting her till i returned to manila), she made me her nephew. tapos.
    i remember with a chuckle those sinful “smorgasbord” nights in grove, meriendas at her ill-fated restaurant at the tagaytay circle and those incredible lunches at her sinigang stall on pasong tamo extension at the ground floor of the american something something building…through it all, this lady was hospitality, pinoy style in every sense of the word. warmer than her own sinigang, she never failed to make sure…and enthusiastically so…that i wasn’t just fed, i was stuffed! and she did all this always with the big smile and opinion-laden vigor that only she could carry.
    it breaks my heart that i never even knew she was not well. this was her second attack, didn’t even realize she had had a first.
    tita cely, in more ways than one, you are hungrily missed!

    Nov 6, 2010 | 1:11 am

  16. NYCMama says:

    So sad to learn of this news. Tita Cely was a good friend of my mom and aunt. I used to hide from her when I visit Salcedo, because she would never make me pay for what I wanted from her table. I’d make a friend choose and pay for me so I can eat her food. I can’t make Bikol express without thinking of her, and now I always will!

    Nov 6, 2010 | 1:51 am

  17. Maddie says:

    Sad news. When the Legazpi market opened, I had a stall there. That’s where I met T. Cely. Generous she was indeed. Of her laughter, her jokes, her smiles, while we were cranky to have to be setting up at 5am on a Sunday. And her food, sharing leftovers (if there were any) to sweaty and hungry vendors (us) during closing time.

    Condolences to her family and loved ones.

    Nov 6, 2010 | 5:56 am

  18. greens_blossoms says:

    Will whisper one for her….I remember Grove many years ago…kuhol sa gata and the toothpick you use…

    Nov 6, 2010 | 8:06 am

  19. millet says:

    she was a Davao resident for a few years, where she managed a fine dining restaurant, and later, her first-ever sinigang bar in a mall’s food court. now her cuisine will be truly heavenly!

    Nov 6, 2010 | 10:38 am

  20. Madeline says:

    Kuya Danny Kalaw, the husband of my first cousin is a nephew of Tita Cely. They are now at Loyola and is waiting for the cremation. My Condolences to Kuya Danny and his family. I have heard alot about Tita Cely’s foods and The Grove in the newspapers and even in blogs.

    Nov 6, 2010 | 11:58 am

  21. moni says:

    My condolences to Tita Cely’s family. I used to buy food from her stall at Salcedo Market but I used to see her a lot around 1970-1972 when she had the very first “Grove” restaurant at the Grove, Los Banos near the UPLB gate. On those Salcedo Market occasions, I would always bring up some of our common friends who were her brods in Beta Sigma. That was always my opening, “Tita Cely, regards daw sabi ni Tony Frio, nasa East Timor siya…”.

    Nov 6, 2010 | 5:46 pm

  22. Norma says:

    Pinoy foodies like us, we ‘ll all miss Tita Cely. Our sincere condolences to her family.

    Nov 7, 2010 | 6:32 pm

  23. Norma says:

    Does any of her children or relatives plan to continue her food businesses?

    Nov 7, 2010 | 6:36 pm

  24. joanne kalaw-tepeng says:

    Thank you for this article about my Tita Cely,being the only niece of Tita Cely..in behalf of my whole family we would like to extend our warmest and sincerest thank you for your undying support to our family. We know Tita Cely is well loved by everyone and her memories will lived in our hearts forever. May her soul rest in peace. Thank you.

    Nov 8, 2010 | 9:22 am

  25. Guia says:

    We will surely miss T. Cely, eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord. We are family friends due to T. Cely, if I have the facts right, worked with my Dra. aunt before she opened The Grove; she being a good, good friend of another aunt and all of my mom’s family and the older pamangkins. There is a cookbook coming up compiled by her nephews and to be edited by Julie Yap Daza. Her only surviving brother is in the States. She was 73. Let’s support her with our prayers and buying her cookbook when it comes out.

    Nov 8, 2010 | 9:44 am

  26. Maricel C. says:

    This is sad news. I remember her from her sinigang bar at one of those buildings at P. Tamo Extension when I used to work around the area 10 years ago. She was such a mother figure, and would generously ask us office workers to sample her soup or vegetable dish of the day for free. May she rest in peace.

    Nov 8, 2010 | 4:41 pm

  27. Epi says:

    Thanks for this post MM, I was among the fortunate ones who met Tita Cely. On a flight to Davao, the person seated next to me exchanged seats with her. She asked me why I looked so down, I told her About my husband confined at the CCU due to heart attack. She gave me a Bisugo soup and an ampalaya salad recipe to cook for my husband, and he loved it. She gave me her cell number in case I need her help and invited me to visit her at the market market anytime I fly to mnl again. She was most interested to meet my mom and aunt who are great bulakenya cooks. I never got to introduce them, how I regret not making time. She will be missed

    Nov 8, 2010 | 8:14 pm

  28. jacq says:

    I am so sad that Tita Cely is gone, she was the original bicol express queen, discovered that recipe even if she wasn’t from the Bicol region. I love her sinigang and laing, lechon kawali etc. I always drop by her sinigang bar outlet at market, market whenever i have the opportunity. the last time i saw her was when i was still pregnant with my baby boy (2009)and i was craving for her sinigang and lechon kawali. she even made me try the biscocho from batangas, and told me that she was helping her niece earn a living, and i bought tons of it since i loved it and was needing some carbohydrates everytime i feel nauseated. cheryll and the rest of the fantasia group would always do our eyeball at tita cely’s stall in market market. i will miss her and her food, i will miss her hugs and kisses, because she never failed to shower me with her affection everytime she sees me. I often told her that we she go back to Davao and see Cheryll, but she was so busy with her business. I was shocked to know that her stall in market market was already closed, and my friend told me that tita cely was working as a consultant for tita glenda barretto.
    My prayers are with you Tita Cely….you will be missed, and I am glad that I had the chance of knowing you and was able to taste your famous sinigang,laing,bicols express etc.

    Nov 12, 2010 | 10:16 am


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