A Sabalu Market legend that specializes in charakilis, corn soup, and ahu has relocated to Kada Dia and renamed itself Magbers Snack Bar.
Whether it be MII-Enterprises or Magbers, the newly-opened snack bar in the middle of Chalan Kanoa still serves the best local comfort food on island, something it’s been known for since 1995.
Founded by Manuel and Angie Borja more than two decades ago, MII-Enterprises was responsible for the early morning long lines of people at the Sabalu Market. But then the COVID-19 pandemic came to Saipan, which essentially forced all vendors at the Civic Center location to shut down.
Fortunately, MII-Enterprises was able to secure a location at the newly-built Kada Dia everyday market, which is just a stone’s throw away from the U.S. Post Office in Saipan’s former main village of Chalan Kanoa.
“They [public] have been looking for us for a while now. When we moved here, some people asked if this is the Borja at the Sabalu Market, and when we said yes, they’d say, ‘Oh my gosh we’ve been looking for you guys for a long time…,” said Geraldine Borja, the eldest daughter of Manuel and Angie.
She explained that James Matsumoto, owner of BPJ Ventures, LLC that owns the Kada Dia Market, actually approached Geraldine Borja’s parents and asked “if they want to open at Kada Dia?” They said “yes” and the rest, as they say, is history.
She added that since moving to Kada Dia in November, Magbers has received nothing but good reviews from old and new customers alike. “Reception has been very good, especially in the morning that even before we open there’s already a long line in the parking lot, which is reminiscent of our Sabalu Market days.”
Geraldine Borja said Magbers actually is an amalgamation of the family members’ first names: M is for Manuel, A for Angie, G for Geraldine, B for Bernadine, E for Ester, R for Rose, and S for Stephanie.
“We’re better known as MII-Enterprises but when we opened at Kada Dia we needed something catchy. That’s why a lot of people didn’t know it’s the same owner. But we’re the same snack bar everyone has always loved.”
The tried-and-tested charakilis remains Magber’s No. 1 seller. Charakilis is similar to the Filipinos’ arroz caldo but, instead of just boiling the rice, ingenious local cooks toasted and, in lieu of ginger, they use garlic, which explains the aroma always emanating from stalls serving the local favorite.
Borja said she has no idea how many bowls of charakilis they make in a day, but she remembers that her parents would use 16 5-gallon water bottles to make the charakilis at their old Sabalu Market food tent. It’s safe to say that they make more than that at the brick-and-mortar location of Magbers.
Aside from its signature charakilis, Magbers is also known for its ahu, a local version of the Filipino bilo-bilo; corn soup; all types of empanada; finadeni denanche; titiyas; bonelos aga; and lantiyas. Borja said they also serve local lunches in bento boxes.
Magbers is also a good neighbor at Kada Dia as it long decided not to offer the same food items that other stalls in the location also sell. “We sold barbecue sticks and cheeseburgers before at the Sabalu Market, but I talked to my parents and said, ‘Let’s give other vendors a chance to do well and will do our own, which is local food. …Let’s not do duplicates and not sell what others are already selling,’” said Borja.
As far as future plans are concerned, Magbers is at the moment looking to expand and is scouting for a second location. “Actually right now, we’re just trying this out but, as soon as we find a certain location, we might open another Magbers. We have big plans on the way,” she said.
Magbers is located at the Kada Dia Eveyday Market in Chalan Kanoa. It is open Monday-Saturday from 6:30am to 5pm and is closed on Sunday. For more information or to order food in advance, call 783-8433 or 483-6938 or reach them via their Facebook page: MII-Enterprise dba Magbers Snack Bar.