I think there are two types of people in the world: morning people and those who aren’t morning people. I have always been part of the first group. It doesn’t take me long to get up in the a.m., and once I’m up, I’m up. No need for coffee or even hot chocolate to get me going. Leaving for Baguio at 3 am? I’m there. Breakfast on a Sunday at 7? No problem. I also do my most challenging work in the morning, which includes my routine at the gym and writing my food articles.
At 6 am, I’m working my way into the Guadalupe Public Market. The buses on EDSA wheeze and weave their way through the metropolis’ major highway, every honk from their horns a strident complaint at being up so early. As I enter the market, I leave the cacophony behind and am swallowed up by a gentler buzz and tranquility of people who thrive at what others would call a still-ungodly hour.
The first thing I see is this buko stand, and it reminds me of the buko pie that I made not too long ago. Around me, vendors are hacking away at meat, scaling fish, and measuring out instant coffee into mugs along with generous spoonfuls of sugar and Coffeemate. The place is busy but there’s a sense and order to it all.
“Ate, ano yon?” (Literally, “What is it?”) Vendors ask as I approach. Most point out their wares, thick fillets of fish, gleaming shells of mussels, etc. A few vendors ham it up once they see me taking out my camera. “Psst, psst! Pic-tyur!” They exclaim. A bakla, or effeminate man (to put it mildly) even hoists his leg onto the counter and strikes a pose. “Ay, ang ganda ko!” He shrieks when I show him the photo I’ve taken of him.
Here, the fish are so fresh that they’re still jumping about, eagerly gulping their last breaths. The fishmongers are so adept at scaling the tilapia that their eyes are everywhere but on the fish. Clams are squirting seawater from their shells, and the market’s aisles are strewn with large containers of just-caught catch from the sea. This is as close to my food source as I can get here in the city. Some stalls over, seafood like squid and baby crabs are lined up attractively, waiting for the next lucky buyer.
Filipinos have a penchant for tingi, or buying just enough for one or a few uses. Here’s an example of a sari-sari store selling everything from peppercorns to vegetables. Right beside it is a stall that sells greens and canned goods, the most popular of which are corned beef and evap (evaporated milk).
Other stores sell pre-packaged portions of sugar and rice. And of course my favorite, eggs!
Something that I’ve not seen before in other markets is this line-up of assorted bagoong (fish paste) made from fermented small fish (dilis) and tiny shrimps. Each bagoong varies in texture and is suited to specific dishes.
A man passes by me, pads of paper resting on his shoulder. These are the “receipts” that each vendor will give his customer to account for the wares sold. Obviously homemade and bound together with adhesive, these little notepads have a certain charm for me. Each pad with about 250 sheets is selling for only P20!
Ducking into an alley, I come across stalls selling processed meats. I gawk at the tall piles of sliced ham and marvel at the chubby spirals of longganiza (local sausage). An old childhood favorite, fishballs, is packaged in plastic waiting for me to take it home.
I read an article in this month’s Preview magazine (the bible of local fashionistas) that uber designer Louis Vuitton has “upgraded” the local bayong by coming out with his versions in finely braided leather. And just to keep that LV panache, each bayong is boldly stamped with the Louis Vuitton Trunks and Bags logo. Good grief. Does he know how inexpensive a genuine bayong from the palengke is??! Since I have as much interest in fashion as a hotdog would have for a bicycle, I’d rather stick to the original, thanks.
One of the best native meals I know is tuyo (salted fish), hot rice, and a sawsawan (sauce) of vinegar, patis, sili (chili pepper), and a touch of toyo (soy sauce). Eaten with tomatoes and chunks of green mango, it spells home. Here, this vendor is selling all the different kinds of dried salted fish I could ever want.
Ah, coconuts! And camote (sweet potato) too, one of my favorite things in the world! Here are the coconuts used to make niyog, or the grated coconut meat that will be squeezed to produce coconut milk and coconut cream.
It’s been an hour since I got to the market. My stomach is grumbling so on my way out, I stop at a carinderia to buy some kakanin (rice cakes). This will be a good breakfast along with some homemade tsokolate. Going to the market always gets me hungry.