Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Fish Market

Today I tasted a crab for the first time.

I've eated crabs before. Crab Legs. Steamed Crabs. Crab Bisque. Crab Cakes. Even Maryland Crabs, which are supposed to be the bomb-diggity.

But no, I've never actually tasted a crab until tonight.

This morning it was swimming, or rather, crawling, somewhere along the bottom of the South China Sea. At approximatly 8:00pm tonight, I saw it scraping it's way over and under about 30 of it's fellow species members in a box at a market place outside of Manila. And then, about 45 minutes after that, it was sitting in front me, dead, on a plate and steaming hot. After a quick demonstration by our friend George on how to open the creature and reveal it's contents, I gave it a try and had the distinct realization that, indeed, until then I had never actually tasted a crab.

The same with shrimp. Only shrimp would not be the word I would choose to use in this situation. Think more along the lines of the size of a small bird.

Yes, tonight was an culinary eye-opener. George and his mother met us at our building at 7, then drove into Manila to pick up Rene, Vanessa and Crystel. Along the way we passed through some very interesting territory. Think North Philly, but much more alive. People out everywhere, gangs of kids running through the streets, people grilling food on the sidewalk, dogs and cats here and there.

About 40 minutes of driving through this area, then through downtown Manila we got to our destination (called Dampa). We parked, and walked down an alley lined with shops and other businesses. We stopped at a small location with long tables, chairs and a TV (one of the many locations along the street for Ihaw-Ihaw - grill). After speaking with the owner, George led us further down the street to a outdoor market filled with every imaginable kind of fish, crab, lobster, squid, oyster, clam and every other imaginable sea creature. Also, there was every kind of meat available, such as a complete pig leg (with hoof) hanging from a wire. The floor was concrete, with a metal grates running the length of the building. This was to catch the steady rivers of water and goo running off of the tables as more and more fish were dumped onto them. Chunks of bloody beef and lamb from the butchers table were floating down these rivers and under our feet. At every table were several men who would hold up the best of their wares, usually a large fish chopped in half, or a massive lobster-looking creature, and shout out, "Sir, Sir, you like?" or "Hey Boss, for you!" Vanessa took charge and went from table to table picking out vegetables and fish and speaking with the people. She was very aware of what the prices of certain things should be and would barter many times to get the correct deal. On the shrimp table there had to be at least 10 varieties, in various sizes and colors, so I pointed to the very largest of them all, and Vanessa pulled out a dozen.

After loading up with fruits, vegetables, fish, shrimp and crab, we carried it all back to the place with the tables and chairs...the crabs trying to get out of the plastic bag they were in the whole way. This was just one of the locations all along this street that would cook up whatever you bought at the market and serve it to you with drinks and rice.

The food was prepared, brought out and was delicious! Kendra had a plate full of rice and sauteed vegetables, some of which were completly new to us. All through dinner, people would come in off the street, into the shop, selling things such as cheeses, balloons and other toys. They would also come in to sit and watch the Filipino soap operas which were playing on the TV. George and his mother were especially involved in several of these shows, and there was frequent shouting and gesturing toward the television. (Verna actually relocated from our table to sit right underneath the TV sho she could hear about some Italian love-child!)

Fruit finished the meal. Mango, I must say, in its native country, is absolutly amazing. Scraped off the skin and eaten in sections, it's got a flavor unlike anything else. Soft like a peach, but sweeter and firmer, sort of like a kiwi with no seeds.

It was a very interesting night. Complete with beggars, crazy no-rules driving, new foods and a realization that standards have forever been changed.

*****

This is Kendra. Tim has it right on in his post in describing the evening. I had many thoughts going through my head as the evening progressed.

I didn't have time to change for the evening. I arrived back at the apartment from work just a few minutes before we were supposed to meet George downstairs at 7:00pm. I had time to throw down my laptop and take out my earrings. At least even though I went to the market in a skirt, pantyhose, and heels, I didn't go in dangly pink crystal earrings, because that might have cried out "privledged American career woman" even more. (*sigh*) In my defense, I didn't really know what the place would be like.

Anyway, Morris the driver navigated out of the area in an expert but somewhat crazy way that made me feel kind of woozy. I would do many things before driving one block in Manila. Initially, we drove past the familiar street that goes back towards the airport. However, soon we took a detour to pick up Rene and family, as Tim mentioned. Here is where it started to get even more interesting. We drove through neighborhoods that had character and were very unique, but didn't look very safe. Well, to adjust that - they looked like if you lived there you would be fine, but that if you were an outsider, it would not be a good idea to walk around. It reminded me of the neighborhoods in south and north Philadelphia where you see 5 year old girls skipping around freely and know that if you stepped out of your car you might get shot and you are 6 times her age.

It struck me for the first of many times that evening that if it were not for Raquel's family, I would never leave Makati. The area we are staying in Makati is very similiar to where we live in Philadelphia. It is easy to adjust there and feels familiar. It is good that we have people to show us other areas, because I know we wouldn't do it on our own. At the end of our time here, we will have experienced a more "real" Manila than had we stayed in our area where we are comfortable, and it is an added plus that we can experience this safely with people who live here.

[Before I go on, I had a great time at dinner and with Raquel's family. I am just fairly philosophical about new experiences, and so I am relaying that part of the evening, since Tim already captured the events so well.]

After weaving through several other streets we came to a neighborhood that felt very close. There were little adobe stores and school children walking home from the school (it was 8:30pm) (we were to find out later it was the school Rene teaches at). The car stopped and Verna said "this is our house." It is a very cute house, built with a lot of love. Out from the front door runs Crystel and jumps in the car with hugs and kisses for both of us. How extremely cute!

We drove for longer and arrived at the market. I felt very out of place with my clothes, but one of the many great things about Raquel's family is that they never make you feel out of place. I went into the market and avoided the fish juices as much as I could. Looking at the fish was actually welcome because it prevented me from looking at the recently deceased cattle on the table. I liked when the people held up big lobsters that waved at us. They were cute. Around this time is when the next sad feeling hit. Walking right behind Crystel and Tim and I was a small child about Crystel's age and very cute as well. I didn't see any parents around and I thought she might be a pickpocket. I gave Tim the eyes to be aware. Seeing this girl and Crystel so close together I realized the huge difference in circumstance and being loved. I felt the same thing later that evening as we passed a number of starving and stray animals (cats and dogs). My sister and I both have rescue animals. We love them so much. If not for chance, our family members might be like these animals. It just makes you feel even more thankful for the circumstances you have in your life.

The meal was excellent. I ate most of the vegetables myself, I believe. For the others there was fish head soup, squid, shrimp, and crab.

After much humorous shouting from George at the Pearl in the Palace show, we left with the leftovers in tow. We were approached very aggressively by a small boy beggar who even tried to get into the car and was being aggressive with Rene and George as well. We drove away and headed home. Now we will try to sleep for an hour or so but have to be awake very soon for the airport.

P.S. Sorry, no photos from the Fish Experience. Wasn't sure what we were getting into, so left the camera gear bag at home. Glad I did. It was a little much to keep aware of surroundings and safety and still have a photo eye out as well. Maybe next time.

**********
We're packing up to head back to Japan, Detroit, and eventually Philly. We leave the building at 3am tommorow (Friday), so this will be our last post until we fly back, get home and rest. Probably post again late Saturday.

Thanks to all for your comments and e-mails! They are very much appreciated!!!!!
Tim and Kendra

5 Comments:

At 6:58 PM, Blogger Jen said...

Hi guys! Sounds like you are having quite an adventure. Reminds me a little of when Jay and I backpacked in Europe, but to a much higher degree of culture shock! Not to mention looking different than everyone else. But I am glad you are doing ok and are making friends. That will definitely make things easier!

 
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