Second of a series of journal entries on an iconic farmer’s market:
It’s a Sunday. The day’s routine is nine am mass then lunch with mom. Going to the capital city’s tiangge is the first order of the day. Before the car park building sprouted, the watch-your-car syndicate are there to greet you ‘Good Morning’, and it further means, upon return any change would be appreciated. In the farmers market, the vendors are setting up. You bump into neighbors, friends, acquaintances, and familiar strangers. Some children offer to carry your bags, so they can have money for breakfast. Balikbayans abound. You can tell who the vacationing Filipinos from America are. I am both a resident and tourist who will ask a lot of questions and take pictures for some rainy day like today.
August 18, 2013. Ginataang Sariwa
Exotic seasonal fruit is what the Philippine archipelago has plenty of. One is the “Chico” or the Sapodilla plum, a brown oval fruit and pulp with the flavor of sweet malt and pear, that was introduced from Mexico during the Galleon Trade. If you had a drink of beer, you would smell like Chico … and … if you ate a couple of this muddy apple, you would smell like some pilsen. And there is the “Atis” or the custard Apple, a green spherical fruit in segments. It’s sweet fragrant creamy white pulp tastes like custard. The Chico season is usually January to February, while the Atis ripens during the months of July to September. As the main ingredients of Ginataang Sariwa, both fruits are seldom ripe together. Those good years when their seasons intersect are few and far between. Not at Sidcor.
Ginataang Sariwa is a dessert of ripened Atis and Chico, boiled golden sweet potato or Kamote, shredded cucumber, and toasted immature grains of glutinous rice pounded flat that is called by the Tagalog verb Pinipig; mixed in sweetened Kakang Gata – the creamy first squeeze of fresh grated coconut. My wife’s mom who grew up in Marikina served this organic delicacy one hot summer night and I was hooked. In my 30 years as a son-in-law, I have tired Mama Nellie’s heritage after-dinner course 5 times max. That was until I frequented Sidcor.
The Sunday flea market had all the unusual ingredients. The Atis and Chico comes from Thailand when off season. Fresh pinipig were sold by informal ambulant vendors in their circular ‘bilao’ baskets. Coconut, cucumber, and sweet potato are the easy ones to source.
January 28, 2014. Rural Breakfast Cereal
There is one booth that offers pasteurized water buffalo milk in glass bottles with a stopper made of a rolled-up banana leaf. Fresh carabao milk is richer the usual bovine variety. Pour it over the sticky green Pinipig. Add unrefined sugar and wait 5 minutes for the mixture to be absorbed. That mid morning dish transports you to the vast rice fields of Central Luzon.
The empty glass is used to measure a unit cost of x-pesos plus or minus, depending on your ‘connect’ with the vendor. The packs on the left side have unrefined brown lumps of coconut sugar. The green and white balled sweets on the bottom and top corner respectively have a white sugar and grated coconut generously sprinkled. Photo below shows the carabao milk and some sweets.
January 23, 2015. Coconut Milk and Crustaceans.
The concessionaire is always ready to discuss his product. This gentleman cook specializes in the seafood with exoskeletons. He first boils them in water, then adds coconut milk and spices. Then the kicker- crab fat. He explains the color of aligue, which is crab fat in Tagalog. Red orange from the female, Greenish yellow from the male, and Red with green from what he calls the ‘bakla’ or gay crab. I feel my uric acid level spiking up just by listening.
January 14, 2015. The Snake Oil Salesman.
There are booths selling Sagada Mountain and Batangas Barako coffee beans but there are no baristas. Five years ago, the only coffee drinks can be purchased by informal vendors serving 3-in-1 packs and a cup of hot water in the periphery of Sidcor. I had to walk outside to the corner MacDonalds for a real cup.
Outside the flea market, stood a man with a large bottle with an amber liquid and the remains of something that once lived. I had to take a closer look and that was his cue. “Sir, pang pahid sa sakit ng katawan. Hilo. Lagnat at iba pa,” said with confidence. (Sir, this is for muscle aches. Dizziness. Fever and many more uses.) I gaze further in the bottle and see the skeleton of a python.
He then said that it indeed was a ‘sawa’ and that he had already feasted on its meat before preserving it in oil. He then declared that his product has healing powers. In one smooth move, he opened the bottle and rubbed some of the oil on my forearm nearest him. I cringed and sniffed my arm. No harm, no foul, I thought.
Politely, I excused myself. There is coffee waiting at the corner. “I’ll think about it”, were my parting words. I took the longer way back to Sidcor.
by Tom Firme
About the author. Based in Vancouver BC, Tom Firme emigrated together with his family from the Philippines to Canada in the summer of 1993. He has an undergraduate degree in Architecture and a graduate degree in Urban and Regional Planning, both from the University of the Philippines. He is married to the former Ingrid Roxas and they have four adult children living in New York, Manila, and the twins in Vancouver.
Mr. Firme was gainfully employed until the pandemic changed everything. This article is a sharing of his personal life stories. Every chance he is in the Philippines, a visit to Sidcor is a must but this year the early morning breakfast on March 15 at the capital city’s longest running tiangge was not an option. The novel corona virus of 2019 was spreading fast. He has more articles to share on the pre-pandemic, one-stop market where you will find clothes, toys, food, plants, pets and community. Who knows if his visit last March 8, 2020 would be the final Sunday of that normal?