I was at the Nasugbu Market over the weekend and as usual, hit the seafood section fairly early on Saturday morning. You never know what youâ€™re going to find at the market but last Friday was a full moon so I didnâ€™t have my hopes up too high since full moon = bright night sky = bad catch, at least according to my seafood “consultants,” or trusty crew who hail from â€œfishyâ€ provincial seashore locales. Sure enough, there didnâ€™t seem to be much on offer when we got to the markets but some of sukis told me to hang around for another half hour as deliveries were a little late, they said. This pause gave me a chance to just hang out and snap some photos of the typical market activity that always seems so invigorating to meâ€¦ When I first conceived this website, its primary raison dâ€™etre, or reason for being, was to document the food markets and food stores in the Metro Manila area. I even thought I might write a basic paperback guide to the markets/food stores and publish it for the benefit of locals interested in food and the expat community who might be a bit clueless as well. In addition to markets, I had intended to do features on local produce and ingredients. Much lower down the list of objectives was to feature recipes, which today seem to be the posts that receive the most attentionâ€¦
However, to be very blunt, I was actually rather disappointed with the quality of markets in and around Manila, and we simply cannot escape the hard facts that, economically, The Philippines as a nation have sunk to nearly the bottom of the barrel, particularly when compared to our neighbors who were often referred to as â€œbackwatersâ€ of sorts just 3-4 decades ago. I am able to find many outright gems or gems in the rough in my current market forays, and I do write about them, but they are the exceptions, not the rule. One summer before I started this website, I even hired a research associate who was tasked with visiting around 40+ Metro wet markets (my advance party of sorts) to give me an idea of how much material I would have for a book but the initial findings were pretty dismal, with perhaps just a dozen or less markets sort of â€œmaking the gradeâ€ of size, quality and variety of offerings, etc. It is my personal opinion that the vast majority of Filipinos are definitely eating to SURVIVE these days and worrying about one type of basil over the other or whether our coconuts are hours old or days old is simply not a luxury most of us can afford to think about at the moment. Worse, I think food in general may be slipping down the priority list, what with folks of a younger generation often worrying more about how much “load” they have on their cellphone rather than the contents of their lunch plate or its nutritional valueâ€¦ People are actually opting to eat a package of instant noodles for PHP5 and buy PHP20 in load than spend PHP25 on a meal with a bit more content (let alone consider cooking a nutritious meal on their own). Fastfood and its convenience has definitely replaced slow food and qualityâ€¦
This same negativish train of thought followed me to the Nasugbu market last weekend as I took note of the way locals were purchasing seafoodâ€¦ When I was about 10 years old and observing Batangas markets (involuntarily) whenever my mom or dad dragged me thereâ€¦the size and types of fish on offer were far better than they are today, on averageâ€¦ Even the catch of my Dad aboard a medium sized for-hire bangka fishing overnight yielded over 100 kilos of top quality lapu-lapu, tanguigue, etc. Today, the seas are nearly bereft of the best fish, a result of overfishing, dynamite and cyanide poisoning and a population explosion that means a lot more folks chasing down fewer and fewer fish. This powerful combination of low per capita incomes, huge population growth and depleted fish stocks means folks must be eating less, or at least less well. Everyday shoppers at the Nasugbu market would buy half a kilo of fish, usually, seeking the cheapest one available, spending say PHP35-50 on their purchases which I presume would serve up a meal or two for more than one person. Rarely did locals stop to even ask the price of the â€œtop qualityâ€ fish such as lapu-lapu (grouper, if you can find ANY at all), tanguigue (mackerel), maya-maya (snapper), etc. Only a few vendors sell sugpo (prawns) and most of their buyers are tourists or local restaurants. Crabs at PHP250+ per kilo cannot possibly be everyday fare for 99% of the population. Itâ€™s not only sad, but so true.
Nevertheless, the market activity was just brisk as always, despite the smaller fish, the poorer overall quality, and the diminishing breadth of choices. I am not a great photographer, but the photo up top is really interesting to me when blown upâ€¦ you see one customer with money in hand, ready to pay while a vendor is packing the fish. There is a lady with her back turned getting more plastic to bag another customers picks. There is someone cleaning a fish on a wooden cutting board, a fair-ish maiden towards the back caught in a little sun and a lady sitting just watching the goings onâ€¦for me, it captures the essence of market activity and I just wish we, as a nation, were moving up the economic ladder rather than slipping almost all the way to the bottom… By the time our granchildren are hitting the markets, commonplace fish of our childhood will probably be non-existent!