A Philippine institution, the humble sari-sari store – sari-sari means “various” or “a variety” – is often no more than a barrio shack or a hole in the wall selling an eclectic but practical range of goods. If you’re short of shampoo, body lotion, cigarettes, rum, beer or you’ve got a headache and need a painkiller, the local sari-sari store is the answer, especially in areas without supermarkets. All items are sold in the smallest quantities possible: shampoo comes in packets half the size of a credit card, medicine can be bought by the pill and cigarettes are sold individually. Buy a soft drink or beer and you may be perplexed to see the store holder pour it into a plastic bag, from which you’re expected to drink it through a straw. This is so they can keep the bottle and return it for the deposit of a few centavos. Most sari-sari stores are fiercely familial, their names – the Three Sisters, the Four Brothers or Emily and Jon-Jon’s – reflecting their ownership.
The sari-sari store is also held dear by Filipinos as an unofficial community centre. Many sari-sari stores, especially in the provinces, have crude sitting areas outside, encouraging folk to linger in the shade and gossip or talk basketball and cockfighting.