31 July 2009

Underutilized Plants

Cross-posted from my garden blog, a bit of explanation why I've been quite a sporadic blogger, and what I've been working on (aside from a growing business).

I dream of a food revolution in this country. Of new tastes, old wisdom, practicality, and appropriateness to place.

I was previously growing less than half of the vegetables I eat (and I am vegetarian, so that means, all my food aside from rice), but since the discovery of edible weeds (kulitis, above, is one), it has gone up so drastically that I am smiling like a fool all the time. We don't really know what we've got, and we're so used to eating what the groceries (even wet markets) shove us, that we ignore what sprouts effortlessly from the ground.

I'm in a bit of constant study now (explaining less posts) of these wild plants, and learning something new everyday. Old books, interviews, historical text, listening for "Kinakain ito sa amin." ("Where I am from, we eat this.").

I am convinced this will help us, a country of colonization, Americanization, appropriation of dictated-by-other romanticized cultural associations, sweeping and empty "Pinoy ako" declarations, have an identity borne of our own land. How many of us actually know our own land? How can we know about the culture it informed-- and create a unique culture informed by it-- if we don't have the faintest clue what springs from it?

What "invasives" are naturalized and why? What do they like about our country and what can we learn from their adaptation? I have interest in this because ethnically, I carry the bloodlines of naturalized "invasives"-- a constant occurrence in nature.

I don't always get to type it out, but that is what interests me these days. Garden on.

Chair Repair

A crude kind of weaving with plastic rope.

27 July 2009

The Rising Price of Local Flavor

Large Taiwanese garlic, 50 pesos a kilo. Small Ilokos, 160 per kilo. Large Ilokos, 240 per kilo.

All who cook can attest to the superiority of our local flavoring agents, but insanely low prices of smuggled or dumped onions and garlic make consumers choose the Taiwanese (or Chinese, or Indian) alternatives. How much longer will it be worth it for farmers to produce these gisa necessities locally? Free trade, indeed.

Lady empties an imported sack of large Taiwanese red onions, 60 pesos a kilo. Sibuyas Tagalog, 120 pesos a kilo.


Grilling what are probably small bangus or milkfish in a Divisoria sidestreet.

Grilling, or to subject food to the great Filipino pastime of ihaw. Various skewered meats, marine animals large and small, sometimes small reptiles, and eggplants as side dishes (or ulam for vegetarians, e.g. myself). Grilling alone just isn't that much of a practical choice, so the smell of ihaw smoke makes me warm and fuzzy with thoughts about street life, eating with your hands, parties, community, those times when someone walks in then it's no problem and you just throw another one on.

And closeup.

I do appreciate that most people have their own personal recipe for marinade or sawsawan (dipping sauce). As in many cultures, men who are often, thanks to their own effort, far far away from the kitchen, may launch into a mini-sermon or two about the "right way" to grill things.

A more reinforced grilling thing in temperate Guetaria, Pais Vasco.

I like that the flavor from the wood, a direct source of cooking energy, is part of the meal. Upon the insistence of a Western, sustainable-minded host, I did try an electric grill once (not pictured anywhere on this post), and it was a strange experience. Atmospheric considerations, blah blah. If large corporations and industrial farms didn't emit so much junk into the air, no one would go pedantic on our wood-fried emissions and question our right to grill.

22 July 2009

Old Can Buko Stringer

Beside some potato/carrot slicer, used for fancy-shaped bits in chopsuey.

This thing is what we all know and love as that which transforms buko (coconut) or melon meat into worm-like strings for juice and desserts. It is fashioned out of old large cans, probably once containing cooking oil.

Spring Vegetable Oil, I'm guessing?

Someday I would like to do a Here is Your Life on such things. Guy Smiley was such a hero to me as a child. The segment was a superb way to make people more curious about everyday objects.

Other "Can Reincarnated" sightings:
Watering Cans (from my garden blog, grater-making description)
Percussive Instruments

18 July 2009

Modified Pedicab

Used tarp covers passenger area.

The modified Divisoria pedicab has a raised seat and a lower "compartment" that extends out back. The large quantities of goods that people tend to purchase in the area can be slipped under with ease.

Modifications like these help keep pedicabs a viable transport choice in Divisoria. They would be perfect for a dense city, where people who go to groceries nearby do not have to call a cab or bring a car.

17 July 2009

A Tool, Grown

A vendor at Divisoria and his long pinkie nail.

Speaking of nails, long pinkie-nails or thumbnails on men seem to be on the cringe list of many people in Manila. They are typical among jeepney drivers or workers who may need to utilize them as tools for opening lids and other such tasks. At times, they are associated with picking ears and some other orifice.

Obviously, as vulnerable, soft-skinned human beings, we are dependent on a multitude of external tools (these days, products and services) to keep our lives running smoothly. I think it's sort of cool that people can "grow" a useful instrument out of their own selves, manipulating their bodies in a manner outside vanity or general health and strength.

Crappy close up (better than none).

Some Biko With That Nail Job?

This manicurista had black stuff on her hand, like she'd been scrubbing a dirty kaldero bottom.

And so another outdoor nail grooming session. This one had a woman beside slicing some seriously fragrant biko (a formidable snack made of rice, coconut milk and sugar).

Why does the topping part look like cake, I asked. She cooked it in a turbo oven! These changing times.

Previous posts on manicuristas working in al fresco settings here and here.

16 July 2009

Do Not Sit

A "no parking" barricade moved aside.

These wooden barricades are placed along the streets of Divisoria. They are for blocking precious parking space, among other uses.

Nail heads.

Teal nail heads.

15 July 2009

A Sweet Avocado Resolution

Large jars, with rubber at the base to prevent slippage.

I thought this guy in Divisoria was selling green mango halves in a quite advanced level of deterioration. Upon closer scrutiny, I found he was selling avocados, scooped out of their skin and into large jars. He puts a few pieces in a cup, fills with crushed ice, pours some evaporated milk in and heaps white sugar over it. I don't have a photo of the iced snack because I didn't think to try it out.

The can of evaporated milk has a wooden stick through its punched pouring hole, for practical, sanitary reasons.

I prefer my avocados savory (guacamole and the sort) or plain. However, in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and some parts of Latin America, dairyfying and sweetening it is the most common mode of preparation. People have told me about their childhood avocado ice creams, milky mashes, and other strange things that almost border on revolting for me.

A woman selling avocados, doomed to be sweetened and drenched in milk.

I have until recently considered this as beyond my intuitive preference and "pleasure sphere", but have become intrigued by such combinations as the Indonesian es alpukat--avocado, condensed milk, and coffee or chocolate. I vow to at least try the next sweetened avocado thing I come across, just to see what the popular combinations (and variations on them) are all about.

14 July 2009

Rubber Stamp Making

Table cover made with politico propaganda tarpaulin.

The rubber stamp maker is a fixture in Manila streets. They are the unsung heroes of office administration and computerless, human-driven duplication and document receiving.

Still quite superior eyesight, uses only low-prescription glasses.

The standard accompanying key duplication services.

Recently I was hanging around a busy but chatty expert-of-the-sort in Raon. In between interrogating me, telling me about his tall and talented daughter, listening to my stories about making stamps out of potatoes, and asking me if I had any source of softwood (for mounting rubber on, the kind used for matchsticks), he gave me some insight into his life and occupation.

Showcase of skills via uncollected rubber stamps.

He has been making rubber stamps for 30 years now, taking up the trade by means of intense and continuous practice at age of 17. He charges about 150 pesos for a custom-made stamp measuring 1 inch by 2 inches. Just off the top of my head, there's a pretty good margin in there, as he gets in several of these a day. But that's still quite a steal to us mere mortals who can't be bothered with making sense out of pieces of rubber like he does:

He begins by examining what he needs to translate onto rubber. Sometimes, it is a drawing, other times, it is an impression from an existing stamp. These he stores in a notebook.

In most instances, he begins with a set of pre-divided rubber rectangles. I suppose the sizes can get pretty standard. On these, he sketches designs.

Then he proceeds to do some sketching and layout. He was in the middle of this set for Ace Megamall when I chanced upon him:

A bit of a closeup, where you can see the letters shaping out as they are scrawled with a pen below. Note that he has to render these in mirror-image.

Once in awhile, he stops to take the dull out of his carving tool on a small sharpening stone, which has been sitting in a styrofoam cup filled with water (in second photo below) until now.

And he returns to work.

(I recommend running to your nearest rubber stamp maker with a piece of paper and your chosen inane drawing/text. Pepper the bathroom walls of malls, "serious" offices, and campaign posters. Stamp graffiti must be easy and fun, especially when someone gets permanent paint into the picture. In the process, support unapparent artisans and human-powered processes.)

13 July 2009

And The Winner Is...

Little guy in barong, little ochre lady.

... this little trophy and sports shop in Raon, Quiapo. The display table outside is lined with trophies (the small ones as cheap as 60 pesos), primarily for local beauty pageants.

Beauty tilts trump all sorts of sports.

Blue man in barong, drawn a la textbook.

The hottest boy in elementary school.

11 July 2009

Many Moons

Grills and capiz windows.

Strung plastic crescent moons adorn an old house in Divisoria.

I spy a dried-up garland made of unidentified plant material on the right.

10 July 2009

Everlasting Rubber Bands

Rainbow colors.

Some things (like the packaging of these Everlasting "all-purpose" rubber bands) never change. Other products I can think of whose protective covers resist the digital age: matches, starch for clothes, Choc-nut.

The half-naked Indian wields a bow whose string rivals only Everlasting rubber bands in strength.

06 July 2009

Pimp Your Three-Wheeled Vehicle

It means "You're pretty!" and is followed by what is probably a list of family members sewn on vinyl.

Advertising, vinyl sewn over vinyl for pabitin and palayok party supplies.

Handpainted and amateur.

Gathering and Hunting from the Sea

A very casual pose indeed.

The coastlines of our country are inhabited by people who gather and hunt food from the vast and productive marine factory of life. The relationship of man and the mysterious ocean is comprised of a mixture of management, dependence, reverence, and, in sad cases, abuse. The ocean informs their daily rhythm, their skin color, and their tools.

Interesting silver earring, no doubt from the nearby Paracale.

At Pulang Daga in Daet, Camarines Norte, we came across a strikingly slender and lithe young man, holding a few small lapu-lapu fish which he had speared and then hung on a dangling rope with hooks. His homemade flippers were made of sheets of plywood cut into a roundish shape, with rubber foot straps punched through.

Lapu-lapu against the wooden flippers.

The goggles were another thing as well-- locally made, with a leather strap to pull around your head. His spear was a wooden stick with a fastened pointy edge.

Leather straps.

And so he hurried along after our short conversation, and in a few minutes a child and his mama came by, this time with a less bountiful fish catch (the kid was still learning). They, however, carried a bucket of collected sea cucumbers that they sell to people who sell them to Chinese, who love the stuff. They had no idea how to prepare the penile creatures, and had no interest and looked slightly disgusted by the idea of eating them.

A basket of fish and a bucket of sea cucumbers.

Young fisherboy.

They had more or less the same tools (except their goggles had a rubber strap instead of leather) as the first young man, but with a basket carried by the woman.

Goggles with rubber strap, fortified by a nylon string.

After awhile, they were "collected" from our blabbing away by a man who came out of the thick and thorny row of pandan plants after taking a leak. He looked a bit familiar, and turned out to be the twin brother of the first young man we came across, only with shorter hair and a more mature, responsible appearance (no photo, it started to rain). A good short encounter, while it lasted.

The gathering and going.

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