Happy Philippine Independence Day, ya'll! I love getting local and American holidays off. Sometimes it does pay to work for the government! ;) In celebration, I'm posting what I hope will be some helpful information for newcomers and old expats alike in the Manila area. As you know, I've been battling all sorts of stomach ailments since our arrival here in May. MED pinpointed at least two different gross, nasty parasites that had taken up residence in my body and gave me some neat-o, powerful druggies to kick their asses out (one had to be ordered from the Philippines National Research Institute, that's the kind of overachiever I am - no normal parasites for me!). I am definitely feeling better, and I am foraying back into the world of eating. I am quite wary of eating out right now, plus Manila (and the Philippines in general) is not exactly known for its cuisine (it is the anti-Asia when it comes to eating :( We did, however, discover a really excellent and authentic (and extremely expensive) Japanese restaurant on the side of one of the Greenbelt Malls (Tsukiji), which was absolutely delicious. Their lunch menu looks much more reasonable price-wise, so we may venture over there for a lunch sometime. In the meantime, I have taken to cooking all of our meals...well, I have taken to directing L, our Yaya, in how to cook all of our meals. It is the most awesome thing in the world to come home to an already cooked meal after a long day at work (thanks to traffic, Husband and I leave at 0630 and get home at about 1730-1800). This is definitely one of the biggest benefits of living in the Philippines. Local help is affordable and, if you can find the right fit (which I think we have with L) it can be a pleasure. We are really, really looking forward to moving into our permanent house and completing our set up! Anyway, here's a bit about what I've learned so far about food shopping in Manila:
Manila has a variety of grocery options for locals and expats alike. So far, Husband and I have been to several different outdoor markets, all sorts of different grocery chains, S&R, which is the local version of Costco (complete with some Kirkland brand items), and a variety of smaller deli and specialty stores which sell *duh* specialty goods that you can't necessarily get at supermarkets here. Below is a listing of markets that I, personally, have been to. There are so many, many more, but a girl can only shop so much!
Market Market! - Okay, so this is actually one of the Metro Market stores which happens to be located in the basement of Market!Market!, but it is the only Metro store I've been to and everyone just calls it Market!Market! anyway. IMO, the best selection of Asian grocery items (Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese, you name it) of any of the Manila markets. Plus, upstairs and outside of the mall is an actual outdoor market where you can buy all sorts of things. Be warned, though, as a Westerner you will never get a good price here even if you can bargain in Tagalog. They tried to charge me P50 (about $1) for one stinkin' kiwi fruit. I wouldn't even pay that in the States! But, you can get some organic produce (I forget the name of the farm that owns that particular stall) and organic eggs and dairy from other vendors. Plus, sometimes they have live music outside and a wide variety of other types of local food goods to peruse. We're big fans of Market Maket! in general :)
SM Hypermart - This was the first grocery store I ever visited in Manila (where my sponsors took me), and I spent about 3 hours just perusing the aisles and trying to figure out where everything was (they have their own way of categorizing food here which doesn't necessarily correspond with what we're used to in the U.S., so I picked up quite a few items not realizing there were other options a few aisles down and resulted in having to dig through my cart to take other items back. Kind of a PITA.) It is large, convenient, and has a wide variety of products, but the quality can be questionable (particularly the meat and fish, which I would not recommend buying here).
Rustans - The priciest of the grocery store options also contains the most ex-pat friendly variety of food selection. Many items are still very affordable by Western standards, but it is a bit of a price boost compared to other stores in Manila. It is a great place to stock up on Western comfort items (spaghetti sauce*, mustard, etc.).
Robinsons - Standard grocery chain similar to SM. Reasonable prices, reasonable selection. Again, I wouldn't necessarily go here for meat or produce.
PhilGrocer.com - If you're too lazy and/or sick of fighting crowds and standing in line for an hour,** you can also have your groceries delivered to you at home anywhere in the Metro Manila area. As with U.S. grocery delivery services, I'd advise using a service like this only for canned/boxed/otherwise prepared items. I've never had much like ordering meat or fruit/veg from a delivery service since they usually won't be as picky as I am.
S&R - Manila's carbon copy of Costco, S&R is just as much of a time and money suck (love it!). You can find all sorts of things here from industrial sized Skippy peanut butter to genuinely Kirkland brand mega-mixed nuts. You can also get all the other sorts of items you can get at your standard Costco like electronics, furniture, and other assorted goods. S&R has the best quality meat of all the stores I've been to so far, although I would not buy produce here since it is overpriced and not of very good quality for the most part.
Santi's Deli - For cheese and cold cuts. Do not buy those items in regular Filipino grocery stores if you can avoid it!
Terry's Selection - For wine, sweets, and all sorts of imported delicacies. Also has a sit-down bistro.
Sinan's Butchery - Love this place so super conveniently located in San Antonio village - a mere five minutes or so down the road from our San Lorenzo 'hood. Great selection of imported beef, lamb, and free range chickens (strangely pork-free, maybe they're halal?) for very reasonable prices. The cuts are quite large, but you can order ahead if you have something specific you'd like them to do. Also has the Brera Delicatessen located next store which has some Italian specialty items and a decent selection of cheeses, organic dairy products, and cold cuts.
I'v also managed to find some local, organic places that deliver (anything and everything is delivered here in Manila, but that's a topic for another post). Shusaesh Farms is a Japanese-owned organic farm in Bulacan that we've ordered from a couple of times. Their produce is of very good quality and I find the price to be very reasonable. A small box (P450 + delivery charge) for our current family of 5 was delivered on Tuesday and lasted the rest of the week. Another place that will be delivering to us later this week is Down to Earth. I've ordered some of their local, grassed beef and pork and a few veggie and fruit options. I didn't want to go overboard until I could assess the quality. ----NOTE: As with all service-related things in the Philippines, expect to contact a business and not receive a reply for anywhere from several days to a week. This can be frustrating for those of us used to doing things at the American rate of speed, but that's just how it is here in the Islands.
Another great resource for food shopping in Manila is Market Manila. In addition to posts about different places to shop in Manila, this blog had lots of recipes for local produce and meat, as well as a section entitled, "Where can I find/Buy....?" which is really helpful if you're desperate for some of those items I list below!
Note of Advice: For some reason, stock and supply changes constantly and without warning. That means if you happen to note, say, Wasabi and Soy Sauce Almonds at S&R, snap up as many bags as your little arms can carry because they may or may not be there the next time you go back. This applies to all grocery stores in Manila. I have no idea why.
Things I Love
- Patis (fish sauce) - aisles upon aisles of different brands to explore tasting!
- All sort of new and interesting fruits and veggies to try (from Ampalaya to Mangosteen to Ube, there is always something I haven't seen before to test my tastebuds!)
- Asian items - every supermarket has an amazing variety of Asian items regardless of country of origin. I can have just about anything I want from Japan, China, Korea....
Things I Miss Already
- goat cheese *sob*
- Veggies not indigenous to this area (brussels sprouts are non-existent, but you can find others such as cauliflower, bell peppers, and tomatoes for a premium***)
- blueberries and, well, pretty much every berry****
- boneless, skinless chicken breasts (there is no such thing as taking out bones or removing skin in this place!)
And to top all this off, some Filipino foodie blogs I've collected along the way:
Shoot First, Eat Later
*Spaghetti sauce might seem like a strange thing to list, but I have learned the hard way that many Filipino items of things like that (especially sauces of any type) are overpoweringly chocked full of sugar.
**Literally. Husband and I spent just over an hour just in line at Market Market! on one of our first shopping trips because we didn't know that prime grocery shopping time is after 7pm here.
***Red bell peppers go for as much as $3 for one pepper.
****Technically you can get these here but they are so beyond ridiculously expensive that it's not worth it