First-time visitors to General Santos City, wanting to be treated to its famed tuna, will surely be ushered off to a restaurant called Jam’s Resto Bar, a few kilometers away from the barangay wet market area along Nunez Street in Barangay Lagao.
There, they will be served various tuna dishes they probably have not tasted before. There is the tuna kare-kare (stewed tuna with peanut sauce & veggies), the adobong bihod (tuna roe), adobong bagaybay (tuna male eggs), the uniquely spicy palikpik (fins), the crispy deep-friend tuna tail, the sizzling tuna kusog sisig (tuna tendon) or most likely, the famed inihaw na panga (grilled tuna jaw), and fresh tuna kinilaw (unmixed), among others.
Spicy Sauteed Tuna Innards
Jam’s Resto Bar is owned by Soledad “Sol” Manangquil, a tuna processor in General Santos City. “I put this up to entertain my friends and visitors,” she said.
Of course, that is quite an understatement considering that she has done more than that. Everyone in the fishing industry knows that Sol is Gensan’s “Queen of Tuna Cuisine”.
Soledad was an enterprising teenager from the fishing village of Bula in General Santos, peddling “maruya” (fried bananas coated in batter) to fishermen who land their catch early at dawn at the nearby Fishlanding area along Lion’s Beach during the early 80s.
Extroverted, sociable and with a natural talent for business, her maruya which she prepared and cooked herself was usually sold out in time for her to rush to her first subject in college. Even then, her easy-going and friendly nature earned her a lot of friends among the fisherfolks who were taken by her generosity.
“I usually give out extra pieces of maruya to my loyal clients or give discounts when the catch is not that good,” she recalls.
Fresh Tuna Kinilaw with Cucumber
It was not long after when the Congson and Damalerio families that were jointly involved in fishing ventures noticed her industriousness and took her under their wings. They assigned her to various tasks at the fishlanding whenever their vessels arrive from their expeditions. All these, she admirably handled with ease.
Her working hours eventually caught up with her studies and so she decided to drop out of college with only a year left before graduation.
Gradually, her employers started entrusting her with bigger responsibilities. Eventually, she became in-charge with their exports business, involving large tuna, to Japan and the U.S.
Tuna Bagaybay (fish roe), photo by Lyle Santos
“The Gensan airport at that time was at the old Buayan area and the solitary PAL plane then flying in and out of GenSan daily could not handle large cargoes,” Sol explains.
Because of this, she had to bring the tuna to Davao airport and have it flown from there. This became a regular and tiring chore for her.
Finally in 1987, with her employers’ blessings, she ventured in the world of business by herself and partnered with high school friends, Tito and Joel Santos. They put up SSB Traders, a small tuna-processing and exporting company.
Sol, being the more experienced and outgoing among them was in-charge of buying raw materials. Her partners handled the processing and marketing aspects of the business.
With only a limited capital, whatever profits they made were immediately plowed back into the business. Thus, Sol had to augment her earnings by doing what she did best, peddling wares and everything.
She sold everything she can: fishing accessories, designer-labeled clothings, make-up kits, perfumes, shoes and foods and many more.
Sizzling Tuna Tendons, photo by Lyle Santos
It was during one of her selling and buying sorties that she met one of Joel Santos’ high school classmates, 1st Lieutenant Jess Manangquil. A PMA graduate who was just recently assigned at the 601st Brigade, the army lieutenant liked what he saw in the pretty businesswoman and immediately wooed her.
On May 28, 1988, the wedding bells were heard and people saw Sol and Jess before the matrimonial altar.
Tuna tendons Kilawin
In less than a year, first son John Ray was born and was followed immediately by Jefferson.
Things started changing for Soledad. Now as a junior officer’s wife, she had to learn to juggle her time between dealing with her suppliers at the fish landing and entertaining Jess’ military superiors and colleagues who are the frequent visitors in their home. Luckily, their processing plant was just within their yard and it was easy for her to whip up a tuna dish or two at short notices.
Later on, with a lot of fresh tuna within reach to work with, she also started experimenting with the tuna by utilizing it, with the usual Pinoy fare.
Crispy deep-fried Tuna Tail, photo by Lyle Santos
She says: “I substituted the usual pork and chicken with tuna in a variety of Filipino dishes. Some actually worked and some simply didn’t taste right. I also used the entrails and the innards plus some other usually “unwanted” parts. I felt that it would be a senseless to throw these parts away. Finally, I had compiled more than a couple of recipes to fill up my own menu.”
Word eventually got out that the new Mrs. Manangquil prepares exotic tuna dishes in town. Soon, lunches and dinners at their home at Rosario Subdivision were like mini-parties since friends keep dropping by to taste her inventions using different parts of the tuna.
In 1992, she decided to establish her very own Sol Fish Traders. Then, upon the coaxing of friends who were fans of her recipes, she also put up a native nook along the Lagao National Highway called Jam’s Ihaw-ihaw.
There was no looking back for the “maruya” seller from then on.
Jam’s Resto Bar at night, in a photo by Lyle Santos
Now, 17 years after that small ihaw-ihaw venture, on a daily basis, Sol still shuttles back and forth between Market 1 of the Gensan Fishport and her Jam’s Restaurant at its current location at Nunez Street, in the suburbs of Lagao.
In this fine-dining restaurant situated in a 1,000 square meter lot, things usually perk up during the weekends when groups rent it for functions such as parties and other gatherings.
Now blessed with three kids, the youngest being Jim Claude, Sol feels she still has a lot going on for her, especially with regard to her restaurant business.
“With this new restaurant here, I am highlighting my tuna dishes at a far more pleasing ambience. I am bringing tuna cuisine to the next level.”
With her track record, there is no doubt in mind that Sol will continue to fascinate GenSan’s palate and soon of the world with her delectable and sumptuous recipes that have put the tuna in a whole new, different light.
UPDATE: January 15, 2016. Jam’s Resto Bar is now open for private functions only. Sol has moved on to sharing her famous tuna delicacies at her sprawling Mt. Sabrina Panoramic View and Resort in Barangay Tambler, General Santos City.