Street foods were undeniably one of the oldest and fastest growing industries in our country. It penetrated our culture that it became part of our everyday lives especially those people in a hurry, in the middle of heavy workloads and never-ending deadlines. For them street foods are not bad at all, in fact, it  help them save time and money as well.

One of the most famous Pinoy street foods

Fish ball is one of those that we enjoyed a lot. It is flat in shape and most often made from the meat of cuttlefish or pollock, usually served with sweet and spicy sauce or thick, black sweet and sour sauce.

The popularity of this food has been intense. It became mushroom-liked business that sprouted in almost all busy corners of the streets, along side of the offices, churches, schools, public parks, malls and movie houses.   Pinaka, one of  QTV 11 (now GMA News TV) shows cited fish ball as the third most popular street food in the land despite the uncertain sanitation of the vendors. According to some customers, it tastes good, easy to find and very affordable.

Yummy fish balls plunged in sweet and sour sauce

However, as we enjoy the crispiness and affordability of this street food, most of the vendors who try to sell it to public are struggling in almost all aspects of their lives.

Mang Tony a 45-year old fish ball vendor is one of those people who make use of this small business for a living. He started the business almost ten years ago after he got dismissed as a factory worker for some unknown reason that he didn’t wanted to mention anymore.

Mang Tony, the fish ball vendor!

From mid-morning till noon, he stands by near Sta. Clara Parish High School and St. Marys Academy in Pasay, where he has a crowd of customers, from schoolchildren to mothers waiting for their children to tricycle drivers and passersby. After class dismissal he goes around the area of Libertad with his push-cart for some chance buyers. With that routine, he earns some P300 a day or if it’s a lucky day P400.

“It’s tiring, most of the time, after a long distance walk in this whole area of Pasay, my legs and my feet are aching. I usually put some ointment or drink a capsule of pain reliever to somehow ease the pain because I can’t afford to get sick, I have my family who depends on me,” Mang Tony said in Tagalog.

— Mang Tony is only one of those who continue to struggle

on one of the oldest problem of this country—poverty.–

Having four children is a tough challenge to Mang Tony. He admitted that they usually fall short when it comes to their daily budget. But Mnag Tony tries to make use of his earnings for his family to have a filling meal everyday and for his children to go to school. His wife raised a small sari-sari store in their small house to somehow lessen their financial problem.

Poverty in the Philippines lingers

Definitely, Mang Tony’s family is struggling. On the national level, a family of six – the average Filipino family – now needs a total of P598.60 to survive daily, based on July data from the government’s National Wages and Productivity Commission. But an independent estimate by IBON Foundation reveals that the daily cost of living in Metro Manila has risen to P637.24 as of August (of 2011), a nine percent increase from the same period last year (2010).

Two of Mang Tony’s children are in Grade School while the other two are in High School. He mentioned that it’s hard to raise a family with the kind of work that he has right now. However, he still has a dream of letting all of them finish their studies for them to have a better future and not to be like him who didn’t even finished high school.

Selling fish balls became Mang Tony's livelihood

“My oldest is graduating this year; I really want her to go to college because she wants to be a flight stewardess. That’s the only treasure that I could give them. Maybe I’ll be staying in streets for longer hours or have an extra business just to answer that college education need,” Mang Tony said while he plunged some fish balls to the pan of hot cooking oil.

He also narrated that after his job in the factory, he never had a chance to be accepted again in other companies. He cited his lack of education as one of the aspects that hindered him to get a job. He came from a poor family in Pampanga. He wasn’t able to attain good education because his family, same as what he has right now, struggled to have food in their table every day.  After finishing his second year high school he started looking for a job to help his family but eventually, after two years here in Manila, he met Adela, his wife.

“It’s difficult to live in poverty. You will be tired of thinking about the food for lunch, for dinner and if there something left for tomorrow and for the children’s baon to school. If I will not do fish balls selling in just one day my family will get hungry.”

The Philippines’ poor, including Mang Tony’s family, are expanding by around 1.3 million every year. Rising food prices and sluggish wage growth means that more families cannot afford to feed themselves, government data showed.

There should always hope to each one of us just like Mang Tony

Mang Tony is only one of those who continue to struggle on one of the oldest problem of this country—poverty. However his perception of life was all positive hopes compared to some, who continue to whine without doing anything to have a productive life. He continues to be persistent and do his best to have a better life through selling fish balls. He has a dream that his small business today will be a big boom in the future, he just need to be patient and strive harder.

“There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, that’s the only thing I can do for free nowadays, my fish balls will help me reach that dream.”

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