How to Buy Fresh Seafood: A Palengkera Tip

Being able to select fresh fish or seafood is a crucial skill and work for a Palengkera. Except if you caught the fish yourself, you really never have means of recognizing exactly how fresh it can be. Nevertheless, buying fresh seafood is easy once you learn what to look for. Here are the Palengkera tips on choosing fresh seafood.

Whole Fish

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  • Choose those with clear and bright eyes. Like humans, the eyes are the window to an undeniably fresh fish , for they diminish rapidly into gray dullness . Remember that red-eyed fish might have been caught using explosives/dynamites which ruins their innards and flesh. Red and Dull-eyed fish might be harmless to consume , however they are past their best quality .
  • Look at the body. Does it shimmer? It should not look dry or have scales coming away. You may also press the meat with your fingers and it should be resilient so much so that when you press it springs back. If your fingerprint remains, move on.
  • It Should not Stink. The smell test is especially important with fish. They should have no pungent aromas. If not a touch of briny or cucumber-like smell, a fresh fish ought to have a clean water scent. Under no circumstances should you pick up a nasty smelling fish. Cooking won’t improve it.
  • Bright Red Grills. They should be a rich red. If the fish is not fresh, the gills color turns to dull brick red.

Live Sea Creatures

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The easiest way to select a live fish or crab or lobster is usually to try to look for, definitely, life. Do you find it scampering around in the aquarium? Swimming comfortably? And is it sulking in a space or hanging motionless and panting? If so, don’t buy it. Lobsters and crabs starve themselves in tanks and often can be almost empty inside when you crack open one that’s already been imprisoned in a container for weeks.
Your best choice would be to earn friends with the Vendor and find out when the new shipments arrive. Arrange for a time or schedule to visit the Palengke. You will be rewarded for your extra effort. 

Shellfish and Invertebrates

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Buy only at the finest fish markets/wet markets. These are the places where turnover is so rapid you can be assured of fresh mussels, clams or oysters. You may still get a dead one, but the ratio will be far lower.  When you are not living near the coast, make sure to visit the best Palengkes that offers the freshest seafood.  In Metro Manila, the best I visited so far are Farmers Market, Marikina Public Market and Fiesta Market- Taguig.

Shellfish are sold alive, so they should react to you. You can tap the shell. It should close tighter than it was or it should spill water and closes its shell. Oysters are a little tough to do this with, but clams and mussels will definitely react. You can also tell a dead shellfish after you’ve cooked them all. Dead ones do not open after being cooked (like when steaming Tahong/Mussels).

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Shrimp should have a shiny, wet appearance with tight scales and, as with all other fish, no odor.

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The Seafood Stall (Palengke)

Finally, a comment on the shop itself. The undoubted conclusion is the fact that a sea food store should never reek . I’ll say it once again : Should you enter a fish market which stinks, turn around and leave .Superb seafood are accessible at a farmer’s market stall , a hole in the wall or in a fancy store , nevertheless not one should really stench like garbage.

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When talking about choosing fish and seafood, quality and freshness never should be in question. When it’s very hard to measure freshness whenever you buy seafood in a restaurant, you do take charge when you’re looking for yourself.

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Palengkera’s Top 10 Comfort Food during Rainy Season

I really like the weekends when it’s raining.  The house feels cozy. It’s like the whole house gets an Instagram filter on it, something about it is just really comforting.  The sound of raindrops, the chirping crickets, the croaking frogs(Ilocos home), are relaxing and music to my ears. The cool breeze and gloomy atmosphere makes it harder to get out of bed and start another busy day, another reason to be lazy and just enjoy the comfort of your room and kitchen.

I know it’s not just me but I don’t know if everyone gets hungrier when it’s raining. It might just be a state of mind but I get to eat more when it is raining. So, here is my top 10 list of comfort foods in a gloomy weather.

#10. Muncher or Sunshine.  Rainy days might make you sentimental temporarily, but fret not, it will certainly reminds you of the things from your childhood.  My older brother and I used to dig in packs of sunshine-coated green peas. Perfect snack while watching TV. It’s got the right mix of saltiness and spice, you will end up munching the tiny pack in seconds.  I also like Muncher which started to be popular on the late 90’s.  At some point, those were not offered in the market, but now they are back. Hooray!

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#9. Noodles.  Ramen or Udon for the Japanese, Pho in Vietnam, Laksa for Singaporeans, Jjamppong in Korea, Wonton noodles in China, Miki Batac in Ilocos, Batchoy in Iloilo.  Whatever they may be called, wherever they may come from, or however you want to pronounce them, we are in agreement that they are variations of noodles that are perfect for cold rainy days. For a typical Filipino Palengkera like me, we may not have those fancy ingredients to make those foreign noodles, we have instant noodles (seafood, beef, chicken etc flavors)that are just always available in the markets/Palengkes.

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#8. Champorado and Tuyo.  I grew up enjoying fried Tuyo for breakfast. And if it was raining, my Aunt used to partner it with Champorado. It is a sweet chocolate rice porridge that uses glutinous rice (locally known as malagkit) and cocoa powder as main ingredients. A more traditional approach would be using tableya (pure cocoa blocks) instead of cocoa powder.  The salty taste of Tuyo (Maalat) and the contrasting sweetness of Champorado blends well in my taste buds.

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#7.  Goto/Arroz Caldo.  Some say it is a cure for hang-over. But for me, it is a perfect food for cold weather.  ”Goto” Arroz Caldo is basically rice porridge with beef tripe “goto” (pronounced “GOH-TOH”).  Its origins may have been Spain or China, but nevertheless, it’s now a part of Philippine cuisine. We used to call it Arroz Caldo(Spanish) from Ilocos where they prepare it only during special occasions.

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#6. Street foods such as cheese sticks, kikiams, fishballs, squidball.  Available along side streets, but if you want to be sure that it is hygienic , you may want to head to supermarkets as they are available frozen.  Enjoy it with barkada’s sleepovers or kuentuhans while it’s raining. To warm you even more, prepare cane vinegar with crushed fresh chili for the dip.

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#5. Macaroni Chicken Soup.  Speaking of which, our dinner with my Palenkenita-friend today was Macaroni chicken Soup. We paired it with hot coffee, Ms. World Philippines 2013 telecast, and with any topics under the rain so to speak.

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#4. Banana Q/Camote Q with Hot Coffee. My grandma used to make these sweet treats when I was young especially during monsoon days. Perfect munch after siesta and or while watching “My Husband’s Lover”.

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#3. Itlog na Maalat at Kamatis. I could eat this every day, if only my kidneys wouldn’t scold me for taking in too much salt and the thought of gas that could launch many annoyed seatmates. This traditional Filipino salad of salted red egg and tomato  is usually paired with tuyo (dried& salted fish). But it can also be eaten as it is paired with a plate of steaming hot rice. What more can you ask for?

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#2. Monggo with Chicharon(Pork Cracklings).  My humble mom used to prepare this when it is raining. Called a poor man’s dish, this healthy stew is cooked with boiled mongo (mung beans) simmered with sauteed pork or just Chicharon, garlic, and onions.  I prefer to top it with Malunggay leaves (which are abundant in our Ilocos backyard), but you may also add y vegetables like eggplant, Camote tops or Ampalaya.

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#1. Cuddle with Someone. Well, I know you prefer not to hear the details right? I will leave it to your imagination. I am not a celebrity so I decided not to post our pictures/videos as they will not sell like the Chito-Neri thing. Just imagine, raindrops dripping from the glass window outside, while we are cuddling and asking the heavens not to stop pouring rain. Lol. And so, this is my ultimate food. If you don’t mind, let me close the door now.

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I wonder what comfort food you are eating right now?

Quiapo and Chinatown: The Palengkera’s Tittle-Tattle

Folks, forgive me for being a dormant Palengkera for the past 2 months.  My main source of living has been very demanding and frenzied and so I was not able to rove the markets.  Good thing is, I’m back with fresh start and still armed with fervor and boundless love of Palengkes.

I thought what better way to start an early Sunday morning than to focus on one of my favorite public places in Manila: Quiapo and Binondo. I know, the ultra rich and the social climbers (are and always be my pet peeves) would rather hang out in the confines of Rockwell or Greenbelt for their cozy atmosphere and spotless vicinities.  Many of us may hate Quiapo as it may connotes dirty, chaotic and disgusting place, but this reminds me of Carlos Celdran’s signature statement on how he is trying to change the way we look at Manila and Quiapo “…I can’t change the way Manila looks, but I can change the way you look at Manila” and that I agree that “Quiapo shows you what Manila truly is -dirty, noisy, colorful, authentic and full of soul.” Indeed.  Quiapo in many ways confronts the Palengkeras/travelers with real paradox.

A palengkenita-friend has joined me and we had 4 F-words to describe this adventure- FAITH, FUN, FOOD, and FORAGE.

FAITH. Our first stop was Quiapo Church. My palengkenita-friend being a catholic and a devotee, we both attended the 8:00 am mass. When I saw her concentrating on her faith and beliefs among other devotees, I was busy with my own thoughts. I initially thought of religion and Catholicism. I could also remember when I was a child on how I was thought of the basic principles of this religion. I wonder why my outlook in religion has evolved along with modern times.  It may have been influenced by my education-mostly by science or by my exposure to the western culture. After almost an hour of pondering, the mass ended with my final thought- I still admire people with Faith, people that have faith that tomorrow could be better, the faith that someone guides them through goodness, someone to thank for and a supernatural being that could help them when they are in need. The church housed thousands of devotees, and that I am glad to know the Filipinos are still not losing their devotion to a creator despite how cruel the universe at times.

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FUN. Please feel free to push the disclaimer button, this is not a mock.  It may not be funny to some but I was amazed and had fun with so much paradox. Quiapo is a place so rife with contradictions. Where else can you find a Church where they sell abortion herbal medicines (Pampalaglag) and pang-gayumas in its vicinity?  The righteous fortune-tellers armed with general logic and obvious observations as if they were gospel-truth? How about the syndicated crooks that use minors as snatchers? The church maybe a haven for catholic devotees but its alleys have been ruled by Muslims selling DVDs.  Some also offer items (anting-anting) against curse and polterguise (Aswang and other creepy creatures). The colorful candles that you have to light for different wishes. And ultimately, the many faces of scams like they offer a free religious bracelets then suddenly they ask for payments.

Here are the things I find a little intriguing (amusing). Again, I am not against to those who believe them. From what I remember, I don’t think early Christians did use these articles.

Various Herbal Medicines and Articles

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A Fortune Teller. The lady was not prepared at all- look at her blush-ons and glitters. Magical look.

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Candle Burning Ceremony.  The guy explained to us the practice of burning colored candles to affect changes in our lives. He has laminated list below, but I thought I was more amazed when I asked him directly. He handed us a prayer guide. P5 each candle or a combo P20 that has all the colors. Red candles, when lighted, for wish to have a better family relationship. Green is for money and general success in business. White is purity of thought.  The blue summons peace of mind. The black candles are for turning enemies to friends. ( very noble). And lastly, I giggled and thought of a different thing (not appropriate for this blog), Pink is for a positive love life (lol).  I chose the blue one for peace of mind while my palengkenita-friend lighted a bundle, I guess she wanted to have it all. It never crossed my mind that she was that greedy. lol

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In any case, Quiapo is a fun paradise. It may have an element of danger but in the end, you’ll experience the way of life in irony, which I find amusing.  Palengkita-friend and I had countless laughs with our experience navigating Quiapo and Chinatown.

Chinatown

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FOOD. In Quiapo, street food is given. But just across some few blocks, Chinatown is a food haven. On our way to Chinatown, vast array of food vendors were busy selling their goodies. Even though my digital camera was in danger of being snatched anytime, I had a heyday documenting the extensive variety of street food, as the pictures would show. Fresh fruits and vegetables are available along the streets. Some vendors, on the other hand, have their culinary specialties on Hidalgo St. going to the old SM Shoemart. They sell all sorts of lumpiang prito, kakanin and assorted pansit for as little as P5 to P20. Street food never came this cheap. Along the narrow streets (I have not taken notes) of Chinatown,  shops that sells hopia, ham, dim sum and other Chinese food are popular.

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As early as 9:30am, we were starving. And so we had to stop at a particular Chinese restaurant with Dimsum as their specialty.  We ordered steamed chicken feet, Sour and Spicy soup, spareribs, ox tripe with sesame and a bowl of fried rice.  The order is actually good for four, but we had to consume all for us to store energy for walking to Binondo and a final stop in Divisoria.  We were amused to be entertained by the owners-son that attends to our orders and everything that we need. And of course, it was time to show my talents- flirting.  Apart from filling our tummies with flavorful Chinese-dishes, we had fun with the guy.

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and who can resist this?

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FORAGE. A Shopping and Bargain hunt haven. Maybe Quiapo or Chinatown’s appeal to me lies to the fact that there is a secret waiting to be unraveled in its every nook and cranny. In any case, it is a bargain shopper’s paradise. Be it traditional medicine, Chinese medicine, Food, Jewelry, fake goods and documents and everything that you need, are always available in Quiapo and Chinatown. Quiapo is known by many to offer some of the cheapest prices in for whatever you need. Hidalgo Street is also known as Camera Stalls line both sides of the street and the middle of the street selling clothes, rice cakes, pasta, fruits, DVDs, sunglasses, bags, necklaces and much more.

Pics of our foraging.

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The Palengkenita-friend Occasional click poses

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Our unforgettable visit to Quiapo and Chinatown also reminded me that our ancestors were successful in preserving our religion, culture and traditions which will be passed on to future generations.

I have to get back to work, and it’s Monday again., you know.