Fish be with you-A A +A
By Betsy Gazo
Sunday, October 28, 2012
AN ISRAELI photojournalist whom I met here in Bacolod asked me where he should go, and one of the places that I recommended for human interest photographs is Central Market. As we were sitting at The Suites‘ Café Nueva to go over the city map, I asked him about the Filipinos living in Israel, and he could only say good words about our kababayans there.
“Oh, we love them,” he remarked. “What we’ve noticed though is that dogs and cats would disappear from the streets.” I gave a defensive reaction. “Oh, no, we don’t eat cats!” Now, that was an inadvertently tacit submission of the fact that some members of our race make a meal out of canines. Did my guest say anything about eating the animals? He just said that they were disappearing from Israel’s roads. Hahaha. My mother would always say that fish is caught not by the tail but by its mouth.
The Bacolod City Public Market is one of the most interesting places one can visit in the city. Unless you’re the uppity highbrow type who’d faint at the sight of fresh pig’s blood, or retch at the mélange of smells, which actually are the pleasant mingling odors of fruit, vegetable, meat, grain, wood, and basketry, Central Market is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures that showcases our folk culture. Take a look for you can still see a vendor unrolling a plastic sheet of tobacco leaves for betel nut chewing. Baskets of a variety of shapes and sizes crowd many stores inside. Folk medicine for many ailments along a sidewalk come from our mountains. Farm implements for all purposes can be bought by an urban farmer.
The suki system still works in our society and when relationships are established, the seller gets himself a loyal customer and the customer gets better service. I get my black rice from one source (only one rice dealer sells it anyway) and my baking ingredients from also one. That way, my payment is accepted with a smile and some small talk. If I’m lucky, I get a little discount, too, although food prices do not allow much opportunity for that. At grocery stores and malls, everything is at fixed price. If you think sweet talking the salesman will have him reducing his price or giving you slavish attention, good luck!
Every day at three in the afternoon, small tables are lined up at Bonifacio Street, making up two long rows that run the length of the street. Bonifacio didn’t exist before in the early part of the 20th century and was laid in order to connect Gonzaga and Luzuriaga Streets. In fact, it wasn’t named Bonifacio until years after its building. What I mean here is that the short street was nameless for quite some time. Now, it is a bustling hub of activity that attracts working people still in office attire, house help hoping to buy the right fish for the evening’s meal (or how much change to pocket), and housewives in Crocs to get through the sludge when it rains.
It’s quite interesting to walk between the rows of tables. Vendors call out to you and if you as much as asked what fish this or that is, the seller gives you the answer and the price and at the same time is poised to grab a plastic bag to scoop up a kilo of her wares. They are as willing to tell you the price as they are reluctant to tell you the source.
Most fish are undersized – bangus, lison, tilapia, lagaw, palad – but some are regularly sized – inid, marot, blue marlin, bayang (P160/kg.), kiquiero, bansa. A plate of 5 small bangus is P50. Prawns are at P260/kg. There are blue-flecked lipod nga pagi (the gagmayan), clams, small white octopus, lukot from Escalante, pitik-pitik, and lavadores of hipon and kalampay that are now in season. Lison roe is at P160/kg. There’s even kinilaw nga panit sang baka (“Humok-humok, ‘day; Tilaw ka?”) for P10 per glass or P25 for 3 glasses. Pigskin for kilaw or chicharon is at P100/kg.
At the sidewalk along Bonifacio just outside Lucia’s Beauty Parlor is a small cart manned by Pipay who sells galapong with red eggs (P10), carrot muffins and chocolate muffins, and chicken empanada (P8). The empanada is a winner. It has a thin, flaky crust with a tasty filling. Now, that’s something I’ll be looking forward to on my next visit.
When I brought Carlos Celdran around the Central Market, he practically went crazy over the 1950s interiors. He saw through the strands of cobwebs that draped over the thick metal transoms of the stalls, the faded painted sign that says “Batangas Coffee” on an old wood-and-glass display for coffee beans, the old-fashioned pressing iron that one puts live coals into, and decades-old business signs that were never taken down and still bears the five-digit phone numbers typical of a certain era. One look down Gonzaga Street caused Carlos to exclaim how like Cuba it looked.
I always say that our market is like one of our famous malls because it’s “got it all for you.” I am especially proud of our artisans who with their skilled hands make crafts, repair shoes, watches and umbrellas, and even coax a depressing piece of jewelry into brilliance. The wet market is a microcosm of who we are, for it is a symbol of our environment, way of life, beliefs, and habits. It strips off our pretensions and unveils our inner personality as a race. Let our markets flourish and may we not be overrun by the American-style malls. Let’s keep our identity intact for generations to come.
Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on October 28, 2012.