I was in Bohol last Saturday taking care of business at a beach on Panglao Island, and I decided to shoot into town for a two-hour break to visit the market and stock up on dried fish. The Central Public Market in Tagbilaran City was a truly pleasant surprise. Huge, airy and clean, with over a hundred and fifty stalls, this market was a real joy to visit. Many of my visits to provincial markets are often disappointing as there is perhaps a lack of buying power that leads to an anemic offering of goods and produce (except in particularly fertile or seaside locations). Not true at all in Bohol. I was told that â€œtaboâ€ or market days were Friday and Tuesday so being there on a Saturday afternoon should have been somewhat of a disappointment. But there was still a huge selection of seafood, dried fish, vegetables and fruit.
My camera battery was nearly out of juice so my photos are limited and their quality level leave something to be desiredâ€¦but you will get the picture, if you know what I mean. In the fresh seafood section, I spied some superb looking, feeling and smelling young octopus just out of the sea. I have never cooked octopus but if I had a kitchen to use that day I would have scooped these up and attempted to do something with them. The selection of fresh seaweed was also impressive. There were at least 6 varieties and they were reef fresh. Crisp, snappy and possessing a salty taste of the sea. Toss this with a bit of vinaigrette and served with grilled octopus, yum!
Also in the seafood section were some fresh dilis, great for kinilaw or frying up with or without batter. I was amused by the use of old cell phone cards as the price tags. Apparently they are waterproof and with the prices written on them with pentel pen they act as really durable price tags. So all across the market there are these used Globe and Smart cards neatly announcing the prices of goods on offer. Frankly, I gain a lot of confidence in a market when prices are transparently displayed. A little bargaining is needed but it means locals and visitors arenâ€™t treated too differently. The prices were superb, savings of 30-40% off of Manila market prices on average. Superb small tulingan, live shells, lapu-lapu, dapa, eels, etc. were all fresh and enticing in the seafood section.
As a kid, I used to watch my parents in semi-horror as they dipped boiled ripe pili nuts into a murky side dish of guinamos or fermented fish. A brownish grey mush that is definitely an acquired taste, it can either leave the impression of decayed old fish (think fear factor challenge) or turn into a salty, pungent condiment that one finds distinctively good. I eventually figured out how to eat it though it isnâ€™t one of my favorites, but in one area of the market I spied a vendor with at least 8 different kinds of guinamos! In varying degrees of fermentation, the guinamos was stored in covered plastic garbage pails for people to buy by the cup. I wasnâ€™t thrilled with the whole hygiene factor but I was thrilled to see so much variety on offer. Somehow bottling it and seeing it on a grocery shelf makes the visuals better.
The vegetable section of the market was another several alleys of revelation. I have been to Bohol at least a dozen times and I was always under the impression that there was a dearth of vegetables on the island, following in the view that Cebuanos and Boholanos never eat anything green except malunggay. Not true. There was a huge selection of everything local you can think offâ€¦ eggplants, onions, squashes, ginger, greens, beans, etc. Oddly, they even had cauliflower, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes â€“ or crops you would normally associate with a relatively small island.
The fruit section was a little smaller than I would have expected but it may have been a function of the time that I visited the market. There was an annoyingly large representation of foreign second rate fruit such as mushy apples, oranges, pears(!), etc. But they also had locally grown bananas by the millions, watermelons, and other local fruits. Best of all, there seemed to be an endless supply of â€œPure Mambajao Lanzonesâ€ from nearby Camiguin Island. Frankly, these were the sweetest and most delicious Lanzones I have ever tasted! And at PHP36 a kilo, the bargain of the day! If I wasnâ€™t afraid of stomach complications, I would have eaten a kilo or more in one sitting. Apparently the annual Lanzones festival was just two weeks away so it was nearing the peak of the Lanzones season. I now understand my momâ€™s love for this fruit. If she grew up in bohol eating the Camiguin variety it would have been as memorable as my first Hersheyâ€™s kiss.
Finally, there was also a dry goods section to the market (didnâ€™t end up there), a feeds and grains section (some of the varieties of rice grown in Bohol are excellent), and a cooked food section for all of the market-goers and vendors to get a snack or meal. One of the vendors was churning out maruya or fried battered bananas like there was no tomorrow. At PHP 10 for 3 pieces these were a bargain as well. Overall, I must say I was quite impressed with the Tagbilaran market!