05 Mar2007

Market Moments…

by Marketman


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 you’re going to find at the market but last market4Friday was a full moon so I didn’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 “fishy” provincial seashore locales. Sure enough, there didn’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 me… When I first conceived this website, its primary raison d’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 attention…

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, market2The 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 “backwaters” 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 “making the grade” 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 value… 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 quality…

This same negativish train of thought followed me to the Nasugbu market last weekend as I took note of the way locals were purchasing seafood… When I was about 10 years old and observing Batangas markets (involuntarily) whenever my mom or dad dragged me there…the size market5and types of fish on offer were far better than they are today, on average… 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 “top quality” 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. It’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 market3a great photographer, but the photo up top is really interesting to me when blown up… 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 on…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!



  1. Essa says:

    Marketman, I thought this was a keen and insightful post, and definitely up there with your best recipes and finds. A social commentary here and there is definitely welcome, and truly something we all need as we reflect on how the largesse frequently does not reach so many Filipinos.

    Mar 5, 2007 | 2:07 pm


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  3. tulip says:

    Hmmm, I think wet markets will be non-existent earlier in the future. I have nieces who don’t want to even take a glimpse of how a wet market looks like, not even the Cubao Farmer’s Market, Mahogany in Tagaytay and the one in Baguio! But that doesn’t mean I don’t bring them to the wet market.I usually make a “Trip to the Wet Market” game with them whenever we go out of town. I give them Php 500-1000, let them buy whichever they want good for their own meals for the day. They NEED to learn. So far, so good!(they can’t eat unless they go to the market) Their favorites are the Batangas City Market and the one in Pangasinan.

    Mar 5, 2007 | 2:11 pm

  4. CecileJ says:

    It is really sad that meager market offerings mirror the state of the Pinoy Everyman. Those of us lucky enough to be able to afford really fresh fish and meats should try, in whatever way we can, to help those whose budgets are much, much less.

    Sometimes, it seems like a crime to eat expensive meals when just outside the window of the resto are kids who probably never tasted a hot meal in their lives.

    We don’t have to help out in a big, spectacular way. Treating our househelp/employees well and giving just wages is one way. Sharing with others is another. Quietly and without fanfare but straight from the heart.

    Thanks for reminding us that while we may argue that what we have we earned, we do have a social responsibility to our fellowmen as well.

    Mar 5, 2007 | 2:36 pm

  5. millet says:

    very insightful and thought-provoking, MM…everywhere i go, and i have been from batanes to tawi-tawi, i make sure to go to two places: the market and the church (catholic, in christian areas), if possible. these two places provide pretty accurate indicators of the place’s socio-economic make-up, local color and culture, and first-hand info on the local delicacies and products.

    Mar 5, 2007 | 6:34 pm

  6. Traci says:

    on another note.. there’s an excellent series of articles in the LA Times (accessible online by registering) that talks about the effect (mostly bad) that man has had on the seas.. According to one article, there’s a possibility that the seas may end up with not the variety and bounty of sea life our forefathers were used to, but with inedible bacteria ..the primordial goop that was the origin of life!

    this means that in the long-term, even if the Philippine economy improves, unless we treat our seas better (become more environmentally conscious, more aware of how our acts and “daily conveniences” affect nature as a whole, etc), there won’t be any type of seafood in the market to buy..

    Mar 5, 2007 | 7:37 pm

  7. Marketman says:

    Traci good points indeed. Ever wonder why they no longer publish the data on fecal content of “crystal clear” waters off of Boracay or Batangas for that matter? The last I heard, the numbers were pretty bad…kind of like taking a dip in one’s toilet bowl… And frankly, I wish fish would be smart enough to dynamite or cyanide poison a few humans… Last week when I was in Cebu this guy served some puffer fish to some friends while they were drinking but he forgot to remove some critical parts so he KILLED four people with blowfish poison. Duh. Millet, I wish I was half as intrepid a traveler as you as I would like to see much more of this spectacular country.

    Mar 5, 2007 | 8:00 pm

  8. Maria Clara says:

    Very depressing scenario. Everyone should do his/her fair share of taking care of the environment both land and sea. In Venice, Italy one my favorite place in the world – it is all surrounded by water – when you go on gondola ride or water boat you cannot smell a scent of human waste and gasoline. I feel the serenity and tranquility of the place. You see commercial and residential structures on both sides of the water. Yet in the 20s through the early 60s, the country was the most corrupt nation in the world. Evidence by exodus of sea voyager to America – they even carried their roots on their new found land – organized crimes as seen in Godfather trilogy. Italians rehabilitate themselves and one of the powerful economic nation now – member of the G8 nations.

    Mar 6, 2007 | 1:56 am

  9. Erlinda says:

    I like this article, MM. Good observations on your part: fewer fish, less food to eat, just enough to survice another day. Who can we blame? Wouldn’t you consider the poverty you noted in the market to be due largely to the failure and lack of care of the Phil. Government for the poor? With all the educated Filipinos employed in Government, why is it that the Philippine economy does not seem to improve to the point where the lives of the poor “advance” just a little bit. And Gloria Arroyo is even an economist!

    Everytime I read Philippine news online, I get very discouraged and disappointed—nothing but corruption, cheating, killing, poverty, etc. “Walang asenso”. This is why a lot of Pinoys who studied and now work abroad are reluctant to go home. And it is really a shame, as these people really have a lot to offer our country, and do want to help. Whenever my friends and I meet, we make plans to go home and help out by opening a business such as a clinic, a restaurant, a school, etc., hire workers, and hopefully, contribute to the economy. Unfortunately, such plans result in naught, because invariably, someone will speak up and say: “did you know what happened to X? Umuwi siya, pero namatay dahil sinaksak sa bus!” Then somebody will pipe up and say “ganyan din ang nangyari kay Y, alam ‘nyo ba? Paano naman ako uuwi? Baka patayin lang ako!” ….End of plans.

    I think that until such anecdotes cease to be heard, Pinoys who want to go home and contribute will be few and far between. This is in contrast to Chinese and Indian professionals who do go home in large enough numbers that India and China have become economic powerhouses. I know that there’s also corruption in these two countries, but one does not often read of the mindless and senseless killings that seem to be daily occurrences in the Philippines ….. such a grim and depressing state of affairs.

    Once again, good post on your part. If, one day, in your market promenades, you notice any improvement(e.g., people buying a kilo of fish, rather than half a kilo) do write about it just to keep your readers “updated”. You never know, miracles can happen!

    Mar 6, 2007 | 2:18 am

  10. Blance says:

    This are the site that make me want to go back home…i miss the market, it is completely different from the rest of the world, its our unique style, when it come to trading, i love the scenery, the stranged separation of buyers and sellers, the art of reassurance that what they offering is much better than the rest of them. I don’t see this post as a reminder of our economic state, but as a unique picture of what Filipino markets is all about, its people and products, when i go back home hopefully soon, i will come to this place.Thanks MM, nice one

    Mar 6, 2007 | 7:25 am

  11. mila says:

    This is just to comment on something Erlinda wrote above regarding mindless killings in China and India. Please remember that in both countries, there have been massive massacres of people in their histories and even in the present state of affairs. Let’s not forget the Cultural revolution, the forced migration of Muslims to Pakistan, the one-child policy, and what may be considered anti-human rights policies of the Chinese government against those they consider anti-government. The Philippines is not alone in corruption, bad governance, short-sightedness, and general lack of political will.

    As for the markets, I agree with Traci that unless we find a sustainable environmental solution, the quality of the fish we eat is tied into the destruction of our marine environment. Overpopulation, unsustainable fishing practices, and the political agendas involved will affect not just us, but the rest of the region we live in.

    Mar 6, 2007 | 9:17 am

  12. ihid says:

    Who doesn’t love fish/marine products? But for majority of Filipinos who can barely make ends meet, food of choice will be one that is more filling! Comparing pork at P120/kl versus fish at P80-100/kl, pork will go longer.

    Mar 6, 2007 | 9:47 am

  13. Myra P. says:

    This was a great post MM, a social commentary as Essa says… Your posts on “gems” around the country give inspiration, but I also know that they are truly exceptions to the rule. I have been to the Nasugbu market too many times so i know what you are describing, even your observation about the buying habits of the locals. It can be sad to observe.

    In recent years, I’ve made a conscious effort to buy from the local wet market instead of lugging all my ingredients from Manila when I go to the beach. My rational: Spread the wealth!

    If im going to buy anyway, might as well from the poor local farmer than SM or Rustan’s. I pre-order kakanins from locals (via text the day before i arrive). I buy fish from roving fishermen, even if they’re Manila price (haggling over price with a fisherman who’s obviously a hardworker is just not right– the 50 pesos I might save means more to him than me). I get massages from the lola manghihilot. I buy fruits off trees, corn from fields, and kamote tops, pandan, sili leaves, etc from my neighbors’ garden patch. In return for spreading wealth, I get fresh, organic food that is simple, yes, but ultimately better for me.

    Maybe this is one way we all can make a little difference in the lives of the less fortunate :)

    Mar 6, 2007 | 12:22 pm

  14. Marketman says:

    Myra, you are so right. I do the same, increasingly I am getting my stuff locally… prawns, crabs, fish, etc. Recently I have been buying a lot of fruit and veggies on the way to the beach. If you have a great kakanin contact in the nasugbu area I would love to hear about it… I, too, don’t bargain that much…I figure I will always pay “tourist” prices but that’s okay… Now if only we could get locals to make great chutneys from neighborhood indian mango trees, or ube jaleya, or carabao mango jams, sampaloc concentrates, etc… And better than just buying for use at the beach…I buy lots of fish to freeze and take back to Manila for use during the week as well! ihid, you are right, pork does seem to stretch further than most seafood…

    Mar 6, 2007 | 1:03 pm

  15. jules winnfield says:

    as for humanity raping mother nature, that’s another thing. i need a whole lifetime to type that down.

    but, as for wet markets, i say goodnight and goodluck. not that i don’t like wet markets, all my childhood ‘palengke’ memories are all happy and cartimar(ü). i remember exactly where all of my mom’s suki stalls are, not to mention my dad’s favorite petshop and garden supplies store, and where the ‘lola’ cuchinta vendor sat. you could say i call on these memories when someone suggests i think happy thoughts.

    but, alas, the day and age of the supermarket lords arriveth. as recently as 20 years ago, no one but no one bought fresh stuff from supermarkets. it was unheard of. heretical even, to my mom. it was the very last place to go to since nobody did a decent job in fresh really. but now, look at how retail has evolved. supermarket chains are alloting more and more space and resources to fresh meats, seafood and produce. fresh has somehow become its playground. although it is debatable whether any chain is at 100% already, fresh categories in supermarkets are without question, exponentially better than before.

    i remember an article in the late 80’s that said only 2% of total meats (beef and pork) in metro manila are sold in the supermarket/meatshop trade channels, while 98% goes to wet markets. who knows what that figure is today? i’m sure that 2% figure has hot-air-ballooned since. why? flies, airconditioning, hygiene, sanitation, dubious scales, wooden chopping boards, sweaty butchers, dripping sweat, saliva showers, etc etc.

    Mar 6, 2007 | 3:09 pm

  16. mahek says:

    Thanks for your contribution to the blogging world.
    I am a great market lover and love to see the markets which blogger offer virtually and which i might not have the opportunity to visit.
    But its a pleasure to see the local markets and the produce sold there so that we too can know what going on in the food world around us and during our times.
    do you have ready food vendors in your markets and if yes pls click them and show us the food that is made and sold.

    Mar 6, 2007 | 8:12 pm

  17. Karen says:

    Don’t forget the illegal poachers of our seas! :)

    Both government and the private sector, even the grassroots have recognised the urgency of the ecological problem. It is encouraging to find more fish sanctuaries being established in different areas across the archipelago. Of course, these are not enough.

    I love reading your social commentaries, MM.

    Mar 7, 2007 | 8:20 am

  18. Marketman says:

    Hi Karen, good to “hear” from you! Don’t get me going on population commentaries, I would freak out 90% of the religious readers! Mahek, I have some posts on the Salcedo market in makati that has a lot of prepared foods… it’s in the archives. jules winnfield, yes I agree in general that most shopping will move to airconditioned malls/megastores, but in the same way the U.S. has swung back to farmer’s markets, etc, I am hoping there will always be a demand for top quality super fresh produce, preferably sold by the growers themselves…

    Mar 7, 2007 | 9:48 am

  19. danney says:

    This particular “fish market article” is very provocative like fishmonger. It is more about social clash and politics. Let me make a comment that might incite people. There are over 8 million overseas workers and they are contributing 14 billion dollars annually to the Philippine economy. That is about 700 billion pesos!! Where is the money?

    The government considered the OFWs “Heroes of Today” but once the overseas workers lost their job or become incapacitated, they are no longer heroes. I always believe that overseas workers should have their own social security. SSS, GSIS and OSS (Overseas Social Security)

    Overseas workers should pay OSS insurance in dollars and should get health benefits, shelter, education in dollars too. That is the best that the country can offer to our overseas workers!! They should get higher benefits because they are paying in dollars and they are remitting billions of dollars!!

    Mar 7, 2007 | 10:33 am

  20. Marketman says:

    danney, a fascinating topic and something I would like to get into in a post in the weeks ahead. It is something I can really get into… More later.

    Mar 7, 2007 | 10:47 am

  21. danney says:

    Hello Marketman,

    I wish I could join a group of investors and help create OSS Insurance Program for overseas workers. To avoid corruption, the company should be based somewhere outside the Philippines. Are you ready to join me?

    Mar 8, 2007 | 1:47 am

  22. Lou says:

    Bravo, Marketman! You are not only “the windows” to a fine culinary experience to your readers like me, but also a socially sensitive one with a strong dash of political frankness about what is happening to the country. This post is very provocative and gave a better meaning to the changes in our surroundings that most of us ignore for one reason or another. I very much enjoyed this post.
    One last comment about the overseas workers that bring in billions of $$$ and have become the backbone of the Phil. economy; I find it very disturbing that instead of building and making things work in the country, the present government seems to encourage more people to work overseas, rather than really work hard on a plan to solidify and secure the economy thus providing a healthy and stable future for the next generations to come. I have a feeling that this is simply too much of a challenge and deep thinking and hard work to deal with our politicians. And the head of the country is an economist??? Have mercy!
    I look forward to your future observations and comments and of course, your delicious recipes.

    Mar 8, 2007 | 2:15 am

  23. Ebba Myra says:

    I myself love going to Wet Markets.. but somehow I prefer those that are located in the provinces. The “seller” are friendlier and more thrusworthy than the ones I find in Manila. Summer of 2007, I went to Quezon for a Mission Trip, and everyday, my team and I would go early in the morning to the local town market to check on the daily catch of the day, and the fresh produce that has just been harvested. I actually have fun and enjoy doing it.. mud, dust, scent and all. But I DO NOT enjoy going to the Munincipal Hall to process some papers for my mom’s small coconut farm. The employees are not to be thrusted, they gossip, gives you that eyeing look, especially to the people who are with me and are not dressed “professional” enough to be served. It has been years, and the process of our documents is still in the hands of the “designated” one and only he and he alone (as what everybody in that office say, including the town treasurer), can fix of finalized the paper.. even though I told question them that it is a public document and it is the work of the whole office. Nevertheless, I have been back here in the States, and still I have not received the papers. I asked my relative to go see “the man” and ask for the documents… and she also has gotten nowhere after 3 months of visits. I might have to get a lawyer soon.. oh, I hope this one works for honest job.. and not be one of them in the corrupted Munincipal Hall.

    Aug 23, 2007 | 1:49 am


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