30 Jul2005

So many readers have expressed surprise over the availability western herb1herbs that I use in some of my cooking. Others just lament the fact that finding the herbs is a needle in a haystack proposition. Frankly, it wasn’t an easy process to get to the current state of affairs herb-wise. In 1996 there were precious few growers who offered fresh herbs to a wary and undemanding market. Gourmet Farms was perhaps the first reliable and consistent supplier of basics like basil and sometimes mint. I used to hit their table at the Greenbelt organic market in the mid to late 90’s. Other growers there started to experiment and soon vendors like Gil Carandang were offering dill, tarragon, Thai and Vietnamese herbs, etc. But reliability and supply was very erratic and weather driven. A few years later, several more farms in Tagaytay really got into the herb thing partially for more demanding chefs/restaurants and an ever more sophisticated retail market.

Farmers started to supply organic markets, specialty shops like Santis with Italian parsely, dill, oregano, chives, thyme (rarely), several types of basil, etc. A few years ago, I had a aherb5favorite table at the market in front of the Market!Market! mall today. My suki (gosh, his name escapes me) would always have a great selection of just picked herbs that were also packaged right (sometimes pre-washed, but mostly done for freshness). He always was generous with the weighing and I never felt shortchanged. That suki disappeared when the mall opened but the farm’s herbs can still be occasionally found on Fridays and Saturdays at one of the stalls. However, a few weeks after they disappeared from Market!Market!, I ran into my suki by chance delivering and arranging herbs at the vegetable section of Rustan’s Rockwell. That is a roundabout way of revealing where I now go for herbs at any time of the week. While I still like the markets and it’s my first choice, Rustan’s Rockwell has the best selection of herbs the rest of the week.

On a recent visit to the grocery, I bought several bags so I could take some aherb6pictures and show some of the readers what is available in the MIDDLE of the rainy season which normally means there isn’t a western herb in sight! I brought home some great young coriander (wansoy) that I use in chilli crab, guacamole or Vietnamese/Thai soups. A second bag contained dill, also picked at the right time (not too big and grassy). There was also some Italian flat leaf parsley which I always get but frankly the local version is grassy compared to its cool weather raised relatives. There was also some fantastic mint with small leaves, great fragrance and barely crushed as well (normally transporting mint bruises it badly). Great french tarragon was in aother bag, leaves a bit big but nevertheless perfect for a bernaise sauce or tarragon vinegar if you want to make yours from scratch. Finally, medium size basil leaves smelled just terrific. There was also tarragon, curry leaf, curly parsley, oregano and several other herbs…

My other favorite source of herbs on Saturdays is Gil Carandang at the Salcedo market. He always has at least 20-25 different types of herbs and medicinal plants. I often have no clue what a third of his stuff is and recently he got me to try this new leafy herb/green he calls Malva herb3which I think is an abbreviation of its scientific name. At any rate, I include a picture so you can see it (very unusual, first time I have seen it) and I can dexcribe the taste to you – somewhat sour – weird for a green but cool in a way. Indian readers please enlighten me about this unusual (for Manila) plant. Yup, Manila has come a long way indeed on the herb scene. And if the vendors don’t have it, you can always grow it. In my tiny herb patches I have a huge kaffir or makrut lime (critical for thai dishes), lemongrass, oregano, basil, tarragon, galangal (Indonesian ginger like root), rosemary, thai basil, pandan, etc. I also included a photo of some thriving rosemary in a pot that I saw in Baguio but also thrives in Tagaytay, and surprisingly, near the sea in Batangas as well!



  1. stef says:

    i vote for growing your own. most of these herbs will thrive beautifully in our/your tropical climate, more so than they will in mine (here in Northeast US where the winters can get wild) — so there’s really no reason one couldn’t grow them if they wanted to use them for cooking. besides the lower cost there’s nothing like harvesting stuff from your own garden or pots to use fresh. mukhang madami pa namang pesto fan sa mga pinoy.

    Jul 30, 2005 | 8:38 am


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  3. stef says:

    sorry, marketman, i forgot: most (if not all) malva leaves are edible — kapamilya ang hibiscus… i’m not sure which cultivar you’ve got there. i’m growing moschata right now. if i end up making something with it i’ll post. they also grow wild. are you familiar with wildman steve brill? he heads foraging trips in NYC, and teaches people how to cook with wild herbs and veggies.

    Jul 30, 2005 | 8:46 am

  4. Marketman says:

    Stef, though it’s tropical there are also tons of pests and bugs that just feast on anything herbal or fragrant. One year I had a huge infestation of caterpillars on my precious makrut (kaffir) lime tree that nearly wiped out its leaves! They love basil too. Also, the extremes of rain and sun wreak havoc on most western herbs. So many of the commercial growers raise them in screened greenhouses!

    Jul 31, 2005 | 6:11 pm

  5. sha says:

    why dont you build a small green house just for the delicate herbs?

    gee just been a fellow compatriots house here in Antibes, I nearly freaked out when I saw her cooking vetsin.

    I wanted to tell her we are in south of france and every shop has herbs no need of vetsin yuck!

    Jul 31, 2005 | 6:46 pm

  6. dodi says:

    Hi MM! As always, I learn something new from your blog! I would like to know though, what herbs must I always have in my kitchen, especially if I am just learning to cook mostly Filipino, Chinese and Italian dishes? You featured fresh herbs only, any comments about dried herbs?

    Aug 1, 2005 | 8:48 am

  7. Marketman says:

    Dodi, that’s almost three totally different sets of herbs! For Italian, you should always have basil, oregano, garlic, onions, etc. For Filipino, garlic, laurel, peppercorns, pandan, lemongrass, etc. For chinese, green onions, wansoy, kinchay, chillis or dried szechuan peppers, five spice powder, star anise, rice wine, a near endless list…

    I generally do not use dry herbs except for those that are really hard to find. Fresh is always much better. And don’t under-herb. Most people are afraid to really flavor with herbs so lay them on…

    Aug 1, 2005 | 12:06 pm

  8. Trisha says:

    Hi Marketman. I don’t cook, but have a very capable kusinera who loves trying new recipes. My only contribution in the kitchen is to clip new recipes and buy our kusinera what she needs. How do you keep your fresh herbs fresh? And since we live in a condo, what herbs can we grow that will thrive indoors?

    Aug 4, 2005 | 12:14 pm

  9. Marketman says:

    Trisha – buys herbs fresh then soak in cool tap water and remove all dirt. Spin dry in a salad spinner if you have it but leave some moisture on the leaves (don’t totally dry). Store wrapped in paper towels inside a zip lock bag in the drawer of your fridge. These should keep for several days. I haven’t had much luck growing herbs indoors but if you have a sunny window sill I imagine basil will do pretty well.

    Aug 4, 2005 | 1:16 pm

  10. Oniboy says:

    I love fresh herbs! I was going over the older posts and I encountered a lot of gems – specially this one!

    I remember growing basil about 10 years ago and selling it to hotels and restaurants for 150 pesos a kilo. Mints, too. I’ve stopped growing in hugh quantities, though – it is quite a labor intensive crop. The leaves curl up almost overnight, due to ants and aphids, and it is a hugh battle to keep them pest-free, specially if one grows organic. I use a pepper spray that keeps them at bay, but only temporarily. Ease up on the spray, and the ants return with a vengeance.

    But it’s worth the effort if only to have fresh basil on hand at all times. I “rescued” a very bland vegetarian pochero (tofu, cabbage, baguio beans in tomato sauce) by heating up olive oil and sauteeing basil and black beans, then dumping the underflavored leftovers – and it came out actually good.

    I’ve reached all the way back to June on your archives, MM. Where are last year’s posts? and when will your print version come out?


    Dec 9, 2005 | 4:33 am

  11. Dos says:

    Hi! I wanted to ask if you would happen to know the filipino name for the saw leaf herb? It’d be fantastic if you could point me out to a place where I can get it. It’s always a hassle having to look out for herbs here in manila.
    Thanks so much!

    Jan 28, 2006 | 11:26 pm

  12. Marketman says:

    Dos, I don’t know what the Filipino word is, but I do think that it is sometimes available at Gil Carandangs organic stand at the Saturday Salcedo Market.

    Jan 29, 2006 | 4:38 pm

  13. rt gonzales says:

    Dos and MM,
    Great to read about people talking herbs and their love for it. I work together with Gil Carandang and i will ask him re: the local name of saw leaf herb.

    Jul 2, 2006 | 1:04 am

  14. jun-jun says:

    hey!! market man can u help me!! where is the website that i can found some plant characteristic of baguio beans plsssss!!!! help me

    Aug 8, 2006 | 11:25 pm

  15. Marketman says:

    Baguio beans are otherwise known as just green beans in the West. They can also be referred to as French beans, wax beans or haricots…and are all related. I have a post on haricots verts which as very thin green beans used in salads, etc. and are now grown in Mindanao. I suggest you just surf using the key words green beans, haricots etc. Good luck.

    Aug 9, 2006 | 5:17 am

  16. barb h says:

    What is the difference between baseil and holy basil, if any?

    Nov 27, 2007 | 5:08 am

  17. Marketman says:

    barb h, there are diferent varieties of basil such as sweet basil, red basil, thai basil, etc. All have a similar fragrance but in varying degrees. I am not sure which one is referred to as holy basil.

    Nov 27, 2007 | 6:36 am

  18. bunny says:

    Hi Marketman!

    I’m getting married in Tagaytay in june (do you think it will rain?) and i would like to give potted herbs to my guests as give-aways. Could you give me contact numbers of growers of herbs? thanks so much!

    Jan 17, 2008 | 10:32 am

  19. iansky says:

    Ei guys!is there a herb garden store at quiapo?ill be going der tomorow.thanks!

    May 27, 2008 | 1:24 pm


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