Gil Carandang has some of the most interesting and earnest organically raised herbs, fruits and vegetables in the Saturday Salcedo Market. Lately, his stall has been marked by a pail of stunning wild flowers out front that have the purest and most vibrant color nature has to offer. Gil and the weekend markets go way back to the mid-90â€™s and the organic market that used to be near the old United Supermarket in Greenbelt. At that time, he was one of the few provedores that took risks on unusual plants such as Makrut (Kaffir) lime plants, Vietnamese herbs, along with more common (though not at the time) Italian basil, rosemary, etc. He was one of those tables I would almost always buy something from simply because I was thrilled that someone had attempted to grow it at all. While I have not visited his farm, I would guess from several conversations with him regarding farming methods and the fact that he now displays a banner that he is a member of the Organic Producers Trade Association, that he does in fact raise most of what he sells in a truly organic manner.
In 2000, I purchased a small Makrut (Kaffir) lime plant from him that I planted in our garden and it grew to impressive proportions despite my black thumb. I have since marcotted it several times and have shared my bounty with friends. This plant is simply essential to authentic Thai cooking. For several years Gil was absent from the markets and he re-surfaced at the Salcedo Saturday Market. When I touched base with him, he explained that he had moved to a new farm and it took a while to establish new crops, etc. We were talking about my successful Makrut plant and he mentioned that he was unable to transfer any Makrut to his new farm. So recently, as a farm warming present of sorts, I dropped off a small potted Makrut and I hope it will thrive at his new placeâ€¦just a simple tale from the marketsâ€¦
The last few weeks Gil has had a lot on offer. First, the widest selection of herbs (half of which I could not identify without help), and for which I had no recent culinary need. He had all the basics such as curly and flat leaf parsley, basic, oregano, chives, dill, sage, etc. But he also has highly unusual Asian (Ngo gai, dongalang, curry leaf, laksa) and western herbs (french sorrel, etc.). If you get there early enough, he carries a few containers of edible flowers that I love to use for garnishing. I personally donâ€™t eat all the flowers because they include edible marigolds and that is a flower I used to plant around tomatoes to ward off insectsâ€¦ He has also been harvesting the most spectacular carrots that are displayed complete with all the tops that ensure they were harvested just hours before. I thought this was a great way to buy carrots so that I could give the tops to our pet bunny but it turns out the bunny prefers the carrots themselvesâ€¦
Gil also has terrific greens on offer including mizuna, spinach, lettuces (including about as authentic a mix of mesclun as you can get here in Makati), etc. Volume and consistency are a bit hard to predict but that is part of the charm of shopping at this stallâ€¦you never know what you will end up with. He also brings organically grown tomatoes, kalabasa, eggplants, bananas and other fruit, etc. If you look carefully, you may even find some new things like the three jalapeno peppers I spied amongst some miniature green bell peppers he had at the back of the stall. This provedore is a real gem and someone all market goers should try to support by purchasing an unusual thing or twoâ€¦and in the process, you might learn something new as well. Visit his website at herbanafarms.