In this country, an astute and curious visitor will soon realize that getting into the heart of Filipino community culture begins with a visit to the local palengke. In fact, in most Asian countries, the marketplace is the hub where trade, culture and even local gossip are best told. Growing up, I was always fond of the weekly caricature then drawn by Larry Alcala called A Slice of Life. Alcala’s caricature would often feature the typical market scene from a day in a Filipino community.
The local market also gives you a glimpse into how food and culture are so intertwined.
As cities become more urbanized and malls sprout around, the local market is in fact at risk of slowly being eased out of its place. The story of how local vendors have had to compete against corporate retailers is not a new story to tell. Despite such competition, fortunately some traditional markets have remained steadfast landmarks in most rural towns.
In Baliuag, Bulacan, for almost a century, the market has served as a point of convergence for many of its neighboring towns. Every Wednesday, people flock to the market cleverly built across the town’s parish and plaza. It’s fortunate that the Baliuag market is quite a distance from the commercial development found along the town’s periphery. Aside from the fresh produce sold, the palengke also features all sorts of sundries from gardening supplies, Filipiniana costumes, school uniforms, and what have you. In fact, Baliuag palengke has been where many of the town’s entrepreneurs began their growing enterprises.
Baguio City’s palengke has always been another favorite destination for our family. It’s perhaps one of the markets that we all grew up in, gaining a lasting knowledge of what lies behind each nook and cranny. Where else would you find French beans, pretty broccoli flowers, fresh strawberries, jams, coffee beans, native oranges, garlic bunches, and walis tambo all together? Baguio’s public market also boasts of local woven blankets, Ifugao costumes, woodcarvings and bamboo furniture beside the ukay-ukay. For the not-so-fussy visitor, the other must-visit part is the meat section with hundreds of red and orange-colored recado and hamonado longganisa are hung like necklaces from one stall to the next. To this day, Baguio’s market is well-endowed with fresh produce and an awesome variety of seasonal food items that only those living here are blessed to go to everyday.
Then, there’s the marketplace in seaside towns like those of Coron in Palawan or those in Batangas. In these markets, typical wide spaces are typically filled with the town’s fresh catch of the day, such as fresh fish, crabs, shrimps, dried fish. The town’s unique produce is also a must-try in these places, such as cashew nuts in Coron or the native chocolate tableas in Batangas.
Aside from these, the other distinct market one must visit at least once is Cebu’s Taboan Fish market. The market is lined with stalls selling thousands of baskets filled to the brim with the famous danggit or dried fish. After shopping here however, you will need to get a good shower as the pungent smell of dried fish and salt water does stick to your hair and clothes just like durian does.
For the curious traveler, getting to know this country best must include a visit to the town’s local market. In fact, in other Asian countries, the marketplace has become a top tourist destination with cooking tours and foodies flocking to these places. Just look at how the Ben Thanh in Saigon, the Nishiki Food Market in Kyoto, and the Floating Market in Bangkok have made these cities well-liked places to see. Well, we can only hope that our towns gain pride in the uniqueness of their local cultures and the palengke an integral part of the Filipino community life.