Market Finds (San Mateo Public Market)

In my town, San Mateo, our public market is truly a gem.  Not only that is orderly and cleaner compared to the rest of the wet markets in the country, it also practices a zero-plastic policy when it comes to shopping bags since 2007.  To walk through the market is inspiring for me.  Here are my market finds since I came back late January.













Gigi Dressed for the Ball

No, I’m not talking about the gorgeous Leslie Caron in “Gigi” musical movie production, I’m talking about the lowly seafood staple of the Filipinos affectionately called “Gigi” or “GG”, a contraction of “galunggong”  (Decapterus macrosoma).  Its English names are round scad, round mackerel and short-fin mackerel.  From my own childhood recollection, Gigi became famous during the Cory Aquino administration because it was one of her agenda to bring the cost of this fish.

Today’s lunch was, yes, Gigi!  Traditionally, it’s pan fried until crisp and served with seasoned vinegar or side of cut tomatoes over freshly cooked rice.  It’s also very good when smoked–my town, San Mateo, is quite noted for their smoke houses.  It’s pretty versatile and it could be cooked in various forms, but today, without the aid of electricity, I pumped water from the water faucet to clean this fish, made fire out of branches outside  and cooked lunch for the workers in the house.  First, I fried these Gigis until crisp.  I thought it was good enough until I got bored staring at it and I want to dress it up for a change.

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In my pantry, I found some Tausi (fermented, salted black beans).  The only produce gathered from the farm yesterday was a small kalabasa (kabocha).  Using the same pan I used for frying with caramelized bits of Gigi, I removed most of the fat and kept about 3 tablespoons, just enough for sauteing the savories.  Garlic, onion, lots of native ginger, one can of Tausi drained and washed twice, and a small kalabasa with seeds scraped out and diced half inch–totally alright to leave skin on because it’s more nutritious that way.  Saute all of these and add two cups of water and let it simmer, season with a two tablespoons of palm vinegar and one tablespoon of sugar (optional).  When kalabasa is soft but not disintegrating, it’s ready.  Depending on your preference, some people like it dry, some like it soupy, for me, I like it just right.  So, here’s my dressed up Gigi in Cinderella’s kalabasa.  Just top the fried fish with the mentioned concoction and call it day!

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Bleeding Skies after the Rain

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Photo: Taken from my window after a hard rainfall.  Behind the lower clouds touching the ground is Ifugao (Mountain Province) mountain range.

I live in a vast valley floor with two magnificent mountain ranges on opposite ends of Isabela: the Mountain Province on the west and the Sierra Madre mountain ranges towards the east. With that said, an ocean view is something that we are void of especially at sunsets when the ocean is most stunning. But, my beloved Valley won’t fail to disappoint. In fact, it’s been providing equally stunning sunsets after sunsets, not to mention sunrises. Afterall, I still see ocean but in this case, it’s not water, they are emerald rice plants.

Sanggumay Dreams

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Intoxicating perfume.  Vivid colors of purple, violet, and mauve.  Orchids of my childhood often made into a corsage or simply left as is adorning the dark bark of  a [tamarind] tree.  But, wait!  It also comes in white!  Like the Duchess of Alba–an albino sanggumay.

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Side by side, they compliment each other.  These are my botanical treasures.  They look best after a night rain and a foggy morning.  Truly jewels in the heart of the rainforest (or my front yard).


Click here for more information about Sanggumay.

“If you take care of a heart properly, with immeasurable patience, it will blossom like Sanggumay.”  (I just made this up).  Ha!

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Wisdom of the Mangoes






My father has a mango grove and now that I’m dealing one-on-one with our mangoes, I’ve somewhat learned to understand the profound wisdom of the bearing cycle of a mango tree.  Trees can teach us so much, just like these mango trees–it has shown me that in order to have a successful life, a victor will fight through tough sequential elements and immense internal pressure.

When a mango tree starts blossoming, it will blossom profusely and ever so fragrantly.  To walk through a fully-blossomed tree is to encounter countless flying insects—definitely not as romantic as a cherry tree in full bloom.  There, pollination in full action, making sure all flowers are fertilized triggered by nature.

Then, just a few days after, most of the blossoms will fall off, as well as the nasty sap it’ll shower the ground. Just make sure you don’t park your car under the tree for you will regret it.  At this point, there will be just a few fertilized flowers on the stalks.  And, if it rains, there are much more flowers to fall off.

Then budding of fruits occur.  Throughout the development of the fruit, some will continually fall off the branches naturally.  From tiny to large, developed fruits will also fall leaving the blossoming stalk–that once were a profusion of blossom and fruit buds–with now only fruits that could be counted with just one hand.  It’s natural selection at its best.

When quasi-matured green mango fruits fall off, it’s picked off the ground and made into some salad.  The green fruit is the epitome of pressure. As soon as it is peeled, instantaneously, the crunchy flesh would crack open–as if it was a genuine relief to break free from its rind.  For every green mangoes I’ve peeled, they have always cracked with a loud crunch.  From there, I’ve concluded that a green mango holds so much pressure in order to maintain that compact, dense flesh.  By keeping the pressure inside the fruit, when it ripens, it’ll reward you with its succulent, fine and complex texture with a concentration of sweetness and utter explosion of indescribable flavors only your palette and heart will know how to explain, because there are no words in human language to describe its true taste.

The mango tree teaches me to live through the tough elements of life in order to ripen with elegance and profound quality.

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Isabela Express

After 67 days since I left my beloved San Francisco, I’m beginning to make sense of my reality here in the province I grew up in: Isabela, Philippines.  Armed with tools of my everyday conveniences in the States that I’ve brought with me, I wish to document moments, things and traditions I’ve taken for granted when I was young and stupid growing up in this bucolic, agrarian countryside.  As I hang my apron temporarily, giving my “chef” title a break, to smell the roses (or ilang-ilang in this case), I wish to share the world that happiness comes from the smallest and simplest things.  I look forward to my everyday adventures whether it is around my yard or out and about other provinces and big cities.

Welcome to Isabela Express and come explore with me!


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