17 Apr2010

A Lato Gatherer…

by Marketman

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He had an air of confidence about him. Honest work for a meager return, I thought silently as I observed him from the dock at the Coron town market. Since dawn he had been gathering fresh lato or seaweed, and slowly filling his small banca until it had nearly a hundred kilos worth. He then paddled who knows how far to get his produce to market. He was speaking Cuyonin, a native dialect, and natives who were with me guessed he might even be a member of the Tagbanuan tribe from the island of Coron, but we didn’t confirm that hypothesis. His hair was bleached a strange orange brown from extended exposure to the sun, but oddly it looked more real than some of the bizarre dye jobs I have come across in Manila’s malls…

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After draining off excess seawater by hand, he filled about three large baskets lined with plastic with the lato.

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The baskets were lifted up onto the dock and weighed as the local “wholesaler” who was really a “retailer” bargained and paid for the seaweed.

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Assuming he managed to get some 80-100 kilos of lato, and earned say PHP5 a kilo, he might have cleared PHP400-500 per day, which he then used to go to market to buy supplies he needed… It sounded like he came to market 2 to 3 times per week. It’s possible he was paid a bit more, but we couldn’t converse in Cuyonin…

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The lato was then picked over by 3-4 workers right there on the dock/market and only the finest greenest pearls of juiciness were left on for retail customers.

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These were then divided into less than one kilo portions (they didn’t weight them) that retailed for PHP20. I noticed locals managed to buy theirs for some PHP15 or so, but tourists got nailed for the PHP20, and having just seen the guy who brought them in, I wasn’t even bargaining…

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The longer I have maintained this blog, now with roughly 2,500 posts in the archives, and the more I have seen folks bring their produce to market, the more I truly appreciate the ingredients that we consume from day to day. There is just something so amazing about being out in provincial settings and getting that much closer to the source of our food. It’s guys like this lato gatherer that bring you back to the basics of food in its most natural state.

 

COMMENTS:

  1. Edwin D. says:

    Love those seaweed with bagoong and kamatis, a true salad at our house.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 7:25 am

     
  2. rowena ganut lyle says:

    MM,

    When I was young, we often visit Cuyo on our way to Brooke’s Point, Palawan (back in the 70’s) – this was one of the island stop overs by the shipping industry long time ago. Just wanted to say that people like this man makes we proud to be a pinoy. I am amazed of how resilient, hardworking, and confident he is of the task he has to do regardless of how hard the job is and how much he’s paid for it. Brought back great memories of my childhood, thanks for sharing the pictures with us.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 7:55 am

     
  3. Joey S says:

    My hair looked like his when I used to swim in the ocean everyday one summer. My mom was not amused :-)

    Apr 17, 2010 | 8:07 am

     
  4. mbw says:

    I love lato!!! However, no lato hereabouts to be seen :-(. I find places where they are usually available, blest!

    Apr 17, 2010 | 8:10 am

     
  5. thelma says:

    LATO, VINE RIPED TOMATOES, DICED RED ONION, BAGOONG…MY FAVORITE!

    Apr 17, 2010 | 8:11 am

     
  6. marilen says:

    Thank you for sharing this story/pictorial. It connects us to our common humanity. MM, I always appreciate your keen eye and generous spirit and pagka-maki-tao mo. It is a short distance from there to make the connection that you were raised by parents who nurtured you in the best possible manner – it just shows! Plus Sister and all in your family.

    Lato dipped in vinegar goes so well with anything grilled – kamayan style.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 8:13 am

     
  7. Marketman says:

    marilen, I need to douse a bit of cold water on that train of thought… you should see me when I rant in person, it’s not a pretty thing. :) But overall, I do appreciate how millions of folks live their lives in this country, and frankly am surprised that there isn’t more discontent that boils over into mass action… Perhaps it’s best to say I see the extremes and lots of in-betweens… And THAT is what makes things interesting.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 8:17 am

     
  8. Fards says:

    I just love, love lato.They looked soo fresh. Even with just good vinegar and salt. Hmm, I can just taste it now. I do appreciate how local folks work hard for their produce and when I am home I try not to haggle with their prices. Luoy man.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 8:40 am

     
  9. chinky says:

    I love this post, MM, not for the lato but for the lato-gatherer. When we go to the provinces, we see how people live on much less. We try to do our part to make things better. Lu-oy is something i feel as they deserve a better life in terms of the basics (food, clothing, shelter, decent-paying jobs) but i also am proud that the lato-gatherer does his honest-to-goodness work instead of just begging!

    Apr 17, 2010 | 9:13 am

     
  10. Bel says:

    If we could eat and promote lato a considerable fraction of how the Japanese do so with their seaweed, we’d all be better off. This pairs perfectly with grilled or steamed seafood, and even sizzling sisig.

    MM what other seaweed do we use? I’ve never tasted the green gummies you featured recently. Why don’t they serve that in restaurants? We’re luckier with lato, in comparison.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 9:24 am

     
  11. Ging says:

    i hate the compradors and middle men. they always purchase wholesale at too low a price and retail the product to the public at a very high price. they never seem to appreciate the amount of work it took to till the land and grow those vegetables or the hours spent out at sea by fishermen. whenever i buy from fishermen, i never haggle or ask for an extra piece of fish.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 9:39 am

     
  12. millet says:

    i hope he gets more than P5/kilo, because if the retailer sells it for P20, that’s a P15 mark-up right there!

    Apr 17, 2010 | 9:51 am

     
  13. Marketman says:

    millet, yup, but actually I think the retailer mostly gets PHP15 a kilo, then there is the stuff that they pick out and throw away, the loss of moisture throughout the day and therefor lighter seaweed, then the spoilage if not everything is sold… so there are risks involved… the retailer isn’t completely evil… :) But I agree the guy should get more than PHP5 per kilo regardless…

    Apr 17, 2010 | 10:06 am

     
  14. Marketman says:

    Seaweeds are quite perishable, that’s why you don’t often find them in mall groceries. But if they were transported on ice and consumers purchased them say at an SM mall for PHP70 a kilo, a very reasonable sum for a nutritious ingredient, then there is no reason the gatherer can’t get PHP10-15 a kilo for his hard work.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 10:08 am

     
  15. thelma says:

    JUST CURIOUS…MM, WHERE DOES HE GET THE LATO? DOES HE
    HAVE TO DIVE FOR THEM? THE MAN HAS WEATHER BEATEN
    SKIN. HE MUST HAVE BEEN GATHERING LATO FOR YEARS.
    I AGREE WITH YOU. HE MUST BE PAID MORE FOR WHAT
    HE GATHERS…

    Apr 17, 2010 | 10:17 am

     
  16. Ehba says:

    On my visit to the Philippines last year, I stayed at a friends house in Sampaloc, and nearby is a talipapa. Gosh, this market is sure a mini-one in size, but their seafood and veggies are great compared to the bigger established market. In one of the stall a vendor was selling this lato which I was not familiar with, still I bought 2 kilos. I doused it with Mirin and sesame oil, together with tomatoes and sweet onions,wow! what a salad that paired wonderful with fried danggit.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 11:20 am

     
  17. jdawgg says:

    Hey Marketman,

    Once again MM with this post, you had made my mouth TL. We call this ararusip in Pangasinan or even in the Ilocano region. MM is LATO sometime called Seaweedgrapes or just plain Seagrapes? Perhaps any of MM fans might be able to shed some lights for yours truly. Anyways, With dice up tomato, bagoong monamon, sibuyas tagalog tossed up with the Lato and a side of something fried either meat or fish. Aaaah drooooool. A cool breeze on top of a papag or a duyan under SM (Silong ng Manga). Ay naku, sabi ng ITALIANO (Itang Ilocano) La Dolce Far Niente :>)

    Apr 17, 2010 | 12:08 pm

     
  18. Nanna says:

    Wow! I am a regular lurker and a fan of your blog, MM. And these are the sort of posts love most! Using food as a turnkey into a more meaningful and humane essay! Great piece! And yup I so love going to places outside the city (in my case Davao and Ilocos) because it is in these places that we get to see lives being lived differently and we get to feel that empathy, that unwavering connection with people of different sorts, which we don’t often feel (perhaps because the city itself has a way of anesthesizing this?) in the metropolis. Thanks for a wonderful, wonderful post!

    Apr 17, 2010 | 12:21 pm

     
  19. Jewel says:

    When I visited Coron and Cuyo two years ago, one of the foods they served was lato. It brought back happy childhood memories of this with calamansi or toyo. I love finding out more about how this makes it to market. Is this one of your favorite vacation places? I spent three weeks in the Palawan area and I was ready to just island hop the rest of my life :-).

    Apr 17, 2010 | 12:30 pm

     
  20. joyce says:

    the last pic of the lato is gorgeous, they literally look like jewels from the sea

    Apr 17, 2010 | 1:42 pm

     
  21. roland says:

    aces again bro! Thank you!

    Apr 17, 2010 | 2:22 pm

     
  22. gracebayan says:

    grapes from the sea! ate this a lot the last time I was back in the Philippines. I miss it.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 2:22 pm

     
  23. Angela says:

    You can also try dipping fresh lato in just plain calamansi with water. That’s my family’s favorite side dish for any fried viand.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 3:19 pm

     
  24. Ana (AdoboRice.com) says:

    I’ve had this when the husband and I were in Puerto Princesa. They only had little vinegar and I love them. We have family in Cuyo. Would love to go back again. But I would want to fly this time (pero wala na raw SeaAir flights going there, anybody knows?). Ok na yung twice, na I had to share my bed with little ipis onboard the Milagrosa ha ha.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 4:49 pm

     
  25. iya says:

    i salute our brothers who work so dang hard to give us the chance to have our bounty! i hope they also eat well. :`)

    yaaaay to mr. mangla-lato! :)

    Apr 17, 2010 | 4:54 pm

     
  26. junb says:

    I’ll pay P1000 per kilo to eat that fresh seaweed. It’s called something like ararosep sa Ilocanos. My dad regularly eat it but I shun it coz I am more like a meat eater when I was a kid. The last time I have it was in japan and it cost me $20. I salute the guy in the pic who keep feeding the foodie like us :)

    Apr 17, 2010 | 5:07 pm

     
  27. Mom-Friday says:

    This is a great post, and really makes us appreciate the food we are blessed with every day.
    It’s been so long since I last ate Lato, achara/pickle-style…I think it was in Pinausukan Restaurant from way way back!

    Apr 17, 2010 | 5:57 pm

     
  28. Zita says:

    I was craving for lato the other day. Nearly went to the Filipino store to get them. They sell them dehydrated & you have to soak them when you want to eat them. Not
    at appealing and tasty as buying them fresh from palengke.
    This would be one of my must eat food when I get back. Thanks for the lovely post Mm.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 6:09 pm

     
  29. Fred says:

    Awesome mustache on that guy, very manly :D. I wonder how many kids he has. I think it’s still common for rural folk to have more than 5 kids. I hardly see lato at the Las Pinas Market, probably need to wake very early to get them.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 6:20 pm

     
  30. Topster says:

    Thanks MM for featuring the gentleman lato gatherer. It’s really a nice head’s up for us to see how tedious and how meager these folks get paid for the food that’s put on our table. I’ll always look at lato and other produce with respect in honor of the people who raise/grow and gather them.

    Come May 2010, the next president and the change they’ll bring, I hope people like this gentleman would benefit from it.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 7:16 pm

     
  31. Divine G. says:

    I know this as ar-arosep. We just put a little toyo and eat it.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 9:02 pm

     
  32. aly says:

    ilokanos call it ar-arosep and eat it salad style with tomatoes and bagoong.very nutritious indeed.

    Apr 17, 2010 | 11:45 pm

     
  33. chreylle says:

    elo mr MM! , i agree wid u that LATO was perishable, very perishable,.just wana share my experience, my friend in japan ask me to send at least 3 kinds of seaweeds, a week before, i fix all the documents for the shipment in the airport, i had a certificate from Bfar and Airport Quarantine,.and d 3 kinds of Lato wer from Bicol (too large. almost small grape size) , Batangas and Palawan,and it all arrive a day before i’l shipped it, much too my dismay, the incharge in the airport for the baggage REFUSE to accept it, only for the reason its too perishable , so i ended up trashing those 6kilos of Lato,. hence, they only want me to shipped that Lato from a shipping firm they recommended me also (after the arrangemnt and buying Lato again,in just a click,the Lato shipped to japan right away w/o any question and docu) ,. hai,pilipino nga nman :(

    Apr 18, 2010 | 12:29 am

     
  34. atbnorge says:

    @topster, I’ll gladly call the lato gatherer a “Gentleman”, too.

    Oh, ar-arosep! I miss eating this seaweed; with sukang Iloko, chopped tomatoes and sibuyas Tagalog. Such delight!

    Apr 18, 2010 | 4:17 am

     
  35. quiapo says:

    You are documenting a way of life that will vanish as progress comes. It may be worthwhile tohave a separate chapter in your coming cookbook on food gathering and distribution. I notice that the gentleman did not keep any lato for his family.

    Apr 18, 2010 | 4:53 am

     
  36. quiapo says:

    Is lato available in Manila?

    Apr 18, 2010 | 4:54 am

     
  37. Roberto Vicencio says:

    To Quiapo: In the EDSA Market and the Mandaluyong Marketplace they are. Almost on a daily basis.

    Apr 18, 2010 | 6:47 am

     
  38. natie says:

    at first glance, a very QUICK glance, i thought it was Morgan Freeman with a very bad wig…..hehe

    Apr 18, 2010 | 8:04 am

     
  39. Marketman says:

    quiapo, yes, there is lato in Manila markets. Try Seaside in Baclaran or Farmer’s Market in Cubao…

    Apr 18, 2010 | 8:14 am

     
  40. edel says:

    i love pairing lato with fried hito

    we buy lato from Farmer’s Market

    Apr 18, 2010 | 8:48 am

     
  41. millet says:

    MM, yes, i forgot about how easily the “grapes” shrink when they’re exposed to air for sometime. zita, am not sure if that’s really lato you’re referrring to…i’m sure lato can never be reconstituted to its near-original state. chreylle, i love the big lato that pop like grapes. the ones we have in davao are the small variety.

    Apr 18, 2010 | 11:05 am

     
  42. Jack Hammer says:

    First time I had that Lato was last Jan’2010 at my in-laws place in QC.

    Not so fresh as those you picture, and we were just eating it with Vinegar.
    But now I know next time, I can use salad veggies to lower the salinity, I think even hard boiled eggs dissing the yolks, could be used. Hope to find Lato when I visit this June/July.

    Great post…MM..I know I will learn a lot, being non-native, by visiting your blog, that is why its almost a daily visit.

    Keep up the good work…and God Bless.

    Apr 18, 2010 | 7:18 pm

     
  43. weng says:

    Great article! We sometimes forget how much hard work people like this Lato gatherer put in so we can enjoy cooking and eating our daily meals. Thank you, MM!

    Apr 19, 2010 | 2:55 am

     
  44. elit says:

    Sarap nito with just vinegar, tomatoes and onions, you already get the salty taste from the lato. Perfect match for grilled or fried fish/meat. They sell it here in Marikina market for 60/kilo. My 7yo son likes to eat this because it pops in his mouth :)

    Apr 19, 2010 | 9:05 am

     
  45. Ley says:

    He is such a healthy looking guy MM. I remember a time when due to skin problem, I was not allowed to put anything on my face. I was concerned because we were going to a beach outing and I asked the dermatologist if it was okay to put on sunblock. The dermatologist lamented why we were so afraid of sun exposure when fishermen are exposed to it everyday sans sunblock and they have far healthier skin than we do.

    Very nice post!

    Apr 19, 2010 | 9:25 am

     
  46. Marketfan says:

    those are very photogenic lato (last pic)

    Apr 19, 2010 | 12:39 pm

     
  47. Fabian says:

    Great post. Actually anything Busuanga & Food / Markets related are great to read. :)

    The Lato gatherer does seem to be Tagbanua. As for the color of his hair, I had heard that this might be a result of Vitamin deficiency — it’s common among Tagbanua of different ages.

    Apr 19, 2010 | 1:10 pm

     
  48. Fabian says:

    Just to clarify, “it’s” in the last sentence of my previous post refers to the orange hair color

    Apr 19, 2010 | 1:13 pm

     
  49. Lava Bien says:

    I first had this kind of seaweed in Ilo-ilo when we visited Tatoy’s? I think. Man was it good or was it good!hehehehe. It was hella good!

    Apr 19, 2010 | 2:48 pm

     
  50. chamcham says:

    we call this AR AROSEP..^^ perfect with fried fish plus tomatoes and white onions.. and don’t forget the bagoong.. man! you made me crave..=)

    Apr 19, 2010 | 7:31 pm

     
  51. scramoodles says:

    I love how lato bursts into your mouth with refreshing, sea-sweet notes. You can also find them in dampa. Occasionally, I would find them in Ortigas/MC Home Depot. I think I bought them at around 60 – 70 a kilo. Knowing you would have to farm these fresh, it’s fair price for that travel. Sometimes, I would just find them in any wet market, even as far as Antipolo. You just have to get lucky.

    P.S. I envy your Coron vacation. I’m scheduled for October so I hope the weather would cooperate and bring me the same tide of fortune as you have had. All these trips to the market make me look forward to it even more.

    Apr 20, 2010 | 4:51 pm

     
  52. shiloh says:

    We always have lato every Sunday, market day (Pasig Market). The househelp always buys it since she knows I love it.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 1:15 pm

     
  53. Richard says:

    This seaweed gatherer has, first of all, to find the lato, and then dive to gather it. It’s usually not very deep, and probably what’s left over after gathering grows again. I don’t know how fast, but I suspect it doesn’t take very long. He probably has ‘known areas’ where he can find it.
    He could probably increase his harvest by simply throwing a few fragments of the stuff over the side of the boat. 99.99% will not take, but some will.
    I don’t know if anyone farms it, and I’ve never heard of drying it, but if that works, all well and good. But has anyone here tried turning a raisin back into a grape?

    Apr 27, 2010 | 6:20 pm

     
  54. andi says:

    thank you for this post (though i’m three months late commenting on it, haha). i go crazy over lato as a manila girl who rarely gets to eat it. always good to know how food gets onto my plate. :)

    Jul 28, 2010 | 1:06 pm

     
  55. Asia Girl says:

    Love these lato, we call them ar-arosep in Pangasinan. I’ve been living in California for 22 years now, and I’m dying to eat this again. I’d probably eat the entire basket. I can just imagine them popping in my mouth as I did when I was a little girl.

    Feb 3, 2011 | 4:12 am

     
 

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