A Vancouver store mural eternalizes an early morning scene in many towns and cities in the Philippines.
It’s marked by the arrival of a man with a long bamboo pole perched on his shoulder and two elongated aluminum cans on both ends of the shaft.
He announces his presence in a deep and long call that goes "tah-ho-oooo", leaving "oooo" echoing on the street as he passes by without missing a step.
He’s known by everyone as the magtataho, which means vendor of taho, a popular snack made with warm soft tofu, sweet syrup, and tapioca pearls.
In one aluminum can is freshly made taho. In the other are often three compartments: one for arnibal (dark brown sugar syrup), another with sago (tapioca pearls), and a third for disposable cups.
By the time he puts down his wares, kids and adults would have come out of their houses, with mugs, glasses, and bowls in hand.
With a scooper, the magtataho ladles warm taho onto a container, and then tops it with arnibal and sago.
The arrival of the magtataho is memorialized in a mural at the Vancouver store that serves the dessert in tubs to-go.
For more than a decade, the 4223 Fraser Street shop called O! Taho has been providing Filipino Canadians and other visitors their taho fix.
O! Taho is owned by Lory Riego, a mother of two.
Riego prepares the dessert from scratch at her location.
At O! Taho, the snack is called soya milk pudding.
"The mural reminds us of some of the nice memories we Filipino Canadians brought to Canada from our native land,” Riego told the Straight in a phone interview.
The mural was a collaborative work of four people, including Riego.
As a young girl growing up in the Philippines, Riego was into visual arts. Her interest in arts took a backseat when she went to post-secondary school to train as an accountant.
Her interest in art was rekindled when her daughter started attending workshops with a Vancouver-based Filipino Canadian community art collective.
The group is called Philippine Artists Network for Community Integrative Transformation or PANCIT.
The group’s acronym PANCIT is a reference to pancit, a noodle dish that is a must-have in Filipino gatherings across the world.
Pancit represents long life and it comes in many forms. The most popular list includes pancit bihon and pancit canton.
PANCIT is under the tutelage of Vancouver muralist and cultural worker Bert Monterona.
Riego and her daughter now attend PANCIT workshops together.
“I was joking with Ka Bert [ka stands for companion or friend] that we can brighten up O! Taho by putting some art on the wall,” Riego related.
What happened next was a mural project involving Riego; Monterona; Monterona’s artist-spouse Mylene Maranoc; and PANCIT member Alda de Aza.
In a separate interview, Monterona said that the mural was done in acrylic and it pays homage to cubism.
Monterona related that the sight of a taho vendor making his way in springy steps with his bamboo pole bobbing up and down from the weight of the two cans is one of the most recognizable and iconic images in the Philippines.
“Who could forget the magtataho?” Monterona asked in a phone interview with the Straight. “I’m sure his calls still ring loud and clear in everyone’s ears.”
O! Taho at 4223 Fraser Street is open from 12 noon until 6:30 p.m. Mondays to Saturdays, and 12 noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays.