The Seafood Market that I remember is the one that was on Makati Ave in the late 80’s/early 90’s. A huge, brightly lit space, it had these odd fluorescent lights that bathed everyone in a weird pinkish-green glow. It was called a “market” because there was a selection of seafood neatly arranged like that in a supermarket from which customers would choose from and then indicate their desired method of cooking and/or dish. The restaurant itself was air-conditioned and quite plush ”“ or at least as far as “plush” can be along Makati Ave. I remember my dad telling me that a meal in Seafood Market (the name of the restaurant) wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t much concern to me because back then, Pa paid for everything.
Fast forward to now where I’m the one who takes great pride in treating my dad out to the occasional expensive meal and where Seafood Market has been replaced with “Dampas” in Libis, Quezon City, ParaÃ±aque, and Pasay. The new century “seafood markets” if you will, this is a restaurant … er, eating place with its own wet market at the back. Clean and free of stench, compared to other wet-“ter” markets, fresh seafood glimmer under the bright lights of each stall. Fish, prawns, crabs, oysters, squid, scallops, and clams all look especially inviting. The stall owners are more than willing to haggle, sometimes providing comic relief in the form of their outrageous comments ranging from flattery ”“ “Ma’am, bili ka dito, ganda mo,” to promises ”“ “Dito ang pinakamura, Ma’am … promise!”
Diners go to market for their meal and then troop to a weighing counter where an attendant will weigh the just-bought food and take orders on cooking preferences. A great help is the chart on recommended dishes and corresponding prices. In this area, there are about five or so “open kitchens” or carinderias, each with its respective name like Emperor’s Garden, Lola’s, or Trinity and diners can choose where they’d like their food to be cooked. Personally, they’re all pretty much the same so choose the kitchen with the shortest line.
After being given a number, pick a table in the air-conditioned dining room or the wide-open space resembling a mess hall. A bonus here is the bazaar where an appetite is worked up browsing through knickknacks, clothes, and pirated DVD’s. At the Dampa sa Libis, where I’m at tonight, diners can even shop for cars if they’re so inclined!
Obviously, it’s the food that people come for and not the ambience. There are some dishes at Dampa sa Libis that are par for the course such as the shrimps cooked in garlic-butter, steamed clams, and chili crabs. This evening, our crabs are cooked two ways: chili style and buttered. The former is tangy, the latter has Daricreme Margarine written all over it in taste and smell. When asking for a mallet or an implement with which to crack the crustaceans, the waiter replies flippantly, “Sinira na po lahat,” I regret not bringing my own.
Our large shrimps are cooked in the same sauce as the butter crabs ”“ Daricreme Margarine with a touch of banana ketchup. It’s satisfying enough but satiates too soon. Eating with the fingers and slurping seafood juices from shells and peels is a messy affair and soon, I have a mini mountain of used paper napkins taking up residence beside me. Any food that requires too much peeling and preparation beforehand is not recommended for the ravenous ”“ you’ll die from hunger before getting in a few bites!
There are other dishes that make it to our table ”“ the adobong kangkong and stir-fried broccoli. My sister can’t stop raving about the shrimp tempura, so two large platters descend upon our already crowded table. Larger in size than any I’ve ever seen even in Japanese restaurants, this tempura has a thick but light crumb coating. Though this is not authentic tempura by any stretch of the imagination, this one is crunchy at first, followed by a burst of bready-ness, and then the sweet, tender meat of shrimp. Dipped liberally in the requisite sauce, the tempura is addicting. The little one at our table is particularly taken by what she calls the “crunchies.”
Because I spy oysters at the market, I tell my sister that we must have oyster cake. I’m a great fan of this briny omelet peppered with little bursts of salt, and while it’s not as great as the one I had in Singapore, it’s not bad.
Dinner for five of us was a little under P1,500. Sorry, no prices this time. My hands were full of crab.
Dampa Sa Libis
107 E. Rodriguez Jr. Ave, Libis, Quezon City right in front of Greenmeadows Subdividision Gate 5
Open 10:00am- 12:00mn.