An Englishman In Isabela Blog #94 – Food Shopping

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Food items such as tomato ketchup are a little different here in Isabela. Shopping at the NE supermarket on Monday there were only three bottles of tomato ketchup (Heinz) but loads of bottles of the Philippines Papa brand sweet sarap banana ketchup. I quite like the banana version these days and, as imported brands are far more expensive than local ones, it’s definitely worth revising your tastes if you move here.
There are always loads of sources to flavour the food, many sour in flavour, which is a Filipino speciality, but I have come to like many of them these days.
Coffee on its own is available here but far more popular are the 3-in-1 and even 5-in-1 brands. Sugar-free versions are also sold however. No fresh milk is available, in Santiago City at least, so we always buy Nestle fresh which seems to last very well in the refrigerator and tastes fine to us.
Reflecting the low average income, everything seems to come in only small sizes. Hence a tin of beans will be about a half to a third the size of its western counterpart. Breakfast cereal also seems to be in much smaller boxes than we bought in the UK.
They don’t appear to sell shower gel here, at least I have seen none so far. Instead you are offered a huge range of soap brands which thankfully lathers up equally well. The same applies to toothpaste. Skin clear products are also available in vast numbers which on their own will fill one and sometimes two shelves of a supermarket. Hair products like shampoos and conditioners are again in vast ranges. Sadly so too does junk food like crisps.
Baby formula milk and nappies are well catered for so no problems there. Toilet paper seems is only a fraction of the thickness of its UK version and so we seem to get through a pack of 12 in no time.
Eggs are normally white and the purple eggs indicate they are already hard boiled. I have not yet tried balut, a fertilized duck (or chicken) egg with a nearly-developed embryo inside. This is a popular Filipino delicacy. I’m still thinking about that one.
Beer and spirits are both sold in the supermarkets here. Prices are very low due to the absence of duty. So a normal size bottle of local brand vodka will cost you around PhP 60 (75p).
Large supermarket car parks are non-existent in Santiago City but I have noticed larger parking areas in some other towns. Here there are just a few parking spaces off the road at the front of the store, usually blocked by a tricycle which hastily repositioned by one of the security guards. The same guards guide us out into the road when we leave, stopping all the traffic and fist-banging on the back of the car to tell us we can move out.
In the wet market (wet because it’s an open market of individual stalls only partly protected from the prevailing weather) there is always plenty of fresh meat, fish, vegetables and fruit. I opened the refrigerator the other day and the fish were still jumping about! There are a number of fish farms in this area, tilapia being the most common fish they breed. Prices in the wet market are well below those one would expect to pay in the UK. Gina could hardly carry the vegetables she bought on Monday for just PhP 280 (£3.50). Much of it is produced locally hence the low prices and if one gets up really early there are places where one can buy straight from the producers at even lower prices.
Gina tells me that the prices in the market are strictly controlled. She thinks this is done by city hall and that stallholders can be fined if they are charging more than the approved price. In practice this also means that prices are standardised throughout the market and only vary in relation to quality or size. So you may find some mangoes selling a little cheaper if they are a little over-ripe. Rice also varies in quality so here again the price may be different and if you buy a whole kaban (50 kilos) you get the lowest price per kilo.
Gina cooks a blend of Filipino and Western food so I have been able to adjust gradually to eating mostly Filipino dishes.