The Salcedo Weekend Market has been around for years but we’ve never gone there until yesterday. Despite the raves, there was always some excuse not to go — it was too far, traffic on Saturdays are always horrendous because there is no truck ban, getting up before noon is next to impossible…
But a few days earlier at the Oarhouse, bar owner and friend Ben Razon introduced us to a friend of his. Miguel Ongpin. The guy is a serious foodie and he talked about decades old iconic restaurants like Ramon Lee Panciteria where people who know that good food is more important than ambience go. We rarely take anyone’s raves at face value but as he went on and on about his love for Filipino food, I gave him more than the cursory attention that I usually bestow on new acquaintances.
Somewhere toward the end of that conversation, someone mentioned that Miguel has a shawarma stall at the Salcedo Market. He generously described his shawarma meat fillings which he said ranged from lamb to Wagyu beef to chicken. He got me at lamb. He got Speedy at Wagyu beef. He had Speedy’s full attention when he said that his shawarma were the largest in the country. Two days later, we were at the Salcedo Weekend Market.
I’ll cut to the chase and say simply and directly that Miguel wasn’t exaggerating about the size of the shawarma. Large, yes. But more importantly, the shawarma was good and there was no scrimping on the meat. I loved the lamb and even Speedy had to admit that it was better than his Wagyu beef. Succulent meat — none of the dry and rubbery junk that one gets at shawarma stalls in supermarkets and malls. This was premium quality meat that justified the price tags.
We bought a lot of other products, some we ate right there but most we brought home. The Vietnamese spring rolls that Miguel raved about were okay but nothing to get terribly excited about. We’ve had better.
The pritchon stuffed into rolled flour tortilla was ridiculously overpriced. There were no dipping sauces to select from. In fact, there was not even a single dipping sauce. The time I had a whole pritchon delivered to the house for Speedy’s birthday, there were six varieties of dipping sauce. In subsequent encounters with pritchon, there weren’t always six but never less than three. The pritchon stall owner at the Salcedo Weekend Market probably thinks that everyone who goes there is a pritchon greenhorn.
But the overpricing was a minor annoyance. Most of the food items we brought home turned out to be disasters. There are only a few that we still have to try — the spinach and feta pot pie that we bought for Sam, the Angus steaks and the lamb burgers. I cannot stand another disappointment after all the disasters at dinner last night.
And just what disasters have we encountered so far?
There was this stall selling cooked pasta where everything looked so good. Because it’s so hard to find good food for vegetarian Sam, when we heard that they had vegetarian lasagna, Speedy quickly placed an order. Alex, the real pasta fiend in the family, chose meat lasagna. We had both for dinner.
The meat lasagna wasn’t exactly bad. Just bland — and sweet. Too little salt and no discernible tartness from the tomato sauce which made the sweetness more pronounced. I always thought that sweet pasta was only served in fast food outlets. At PHP350.00 per order, the Salcedo Market meat lasagna was more than a minor annoyance.
But the vegetarian lasagna was worse than a major annoyance. I ate my share before Sam touched hers and said nothing. But my daughter isn’t stupid. She’s the only one in the family who can deconstruct a dish — any dish but especially restaurant food — simply by tasting it. She’s that kind of a foodie.
I felt so sad — pained — when I saw Sam’s face after her first forkful of the vegetarian lasagna. There were thick layers of gummy white paste that was difficult to comprehend. Did the cook intend it to be white sauce? It sure didn’t taste of butter so it couldn’t be white sauce because the base of white sauce has as much butter as flour. And judging from the mouthfeel of the paste, I doubt that there was flour in it. That kind of gumminess one gets when using corn or tapioca starch. What the hell…?
To make matters worse, the chopped spinach was held together by the same atrocious paste which made the greens inedible. Sam asked what she was going to do with the vegetable lasagna. I knew she wanted to dump it in the trash but, in deference to Speedy and me, she didn’t say so directly. I asked Sam if she wanted me to prepare something else for her, perhaps heat up the pot pie…? She looked so forlorn as she said, “Maybe later.”
The dessert experience wasn’t much good either. There was leche flan-topped cassava cake. A whole cake, 12 inches round, cost PHP500.00. I skipped it. Cassava is so cheap and the custard layer wasn’t all that thick so how could a cassava cake cost that much? Instead, I opted for a small portion of the cake for PHP200.00. To describe the cassava cake as mediocre would be kind. Too kind. The cake wasn’t even cooked with milk or coconut milk. Just plain water and sugar. And the cook must have missed the pinch of salt altogether which is so essential to create a contrast with the sugar to prevent any sweet dish from giving off that cloying sensation. What milk there was in the concoction was just in the custard layer.
And then there were the boxes of napoleones. Alex was so excited to discover them at the Salcedo Market and said she wouldn’t have to wait for her next trip to Bacolod to enjoy napoleones. Both she and I know the travails of hand-carrying boxes of napoleones on the plane but we both did it anyway, on separate trips, because it’s almost impossible to find this delicacy in our corner of Manila’s suburbia. In her excitement over finding napoleones at the Salcedo Market, she prevailed upon her father to buy two boxes.
Sadly, the napoleones from Salcedo Market tasted nothing like the ones we brought home from Bacolod. Salcedo Market’s napoleones were chewy rather than crisp and flaky. Alex also found them cloying.
And this is the part where I stop writing about Salcedo Market because thinking about all the bad food puts me in a foul mood already. We spent almost PHP4,000.00 and if it were not for the wonderful shawarma and the loaf of artisanal bread (that I neglected to mention earlier), I’d probably just go sulk in a dark corner of the house.