Together with two chefs from my restaurant, we took a rare break from our busy schedules and went for a late lunch at a seafood wet market located right by the sea (actually a lagoon), in Pasay City, Metro Manila. In this market you get to buy fresh seafood and then walk across the street, where restaurants will cook your seafood any way you desire.
We went on a weekday, so the market was almost empty of any shoppers.Which is great for us, as there will be more choices, and hopefully able to negotiate better prices.
As we walk down the long corridor of seafood stalls, we are quickly approached by fishmongers eagerly trying to sell their catch. First few stalls had shrimp of every size! I ask the price for some large tiger prawns. “800 pesos”. Cheaper here than the Farmers Market! The other fish mongers must have heard what I said, because after that, the prices seemed to go much higher! I’m very interested in buying some giant mantis shrimp, but am shocked to hear the prices. “2800 pesos per kilo.” Almost as expensive as lobsters! I will see if I can get a better price at any of the other stalls.
We walk down the whole length of the wet market; the stalls brimming with all kinds of seafood. I want to see what everyone has to offer, before I start making any purchases.
We get to the fish section, where all the brightly colored reef fish are neatly lined up from large to small. Beautiful looking fish, especially the lapu-lapu or grouper. There are many Italian dishes that use this fish. Then something peculiar catches my eye, two very ugly fish at the end of the table stand out from the rest. It has lumpy black skin with orange and white specks that look like algae growing on it. Large gaping mouths with white tounghs are the only sign that it is really a fish and not a rock. This type of fish is called ‘stonefish’, and is very good in soup. Just don’t step on it, as it has venomous spines on its back! Ouch!
At the far end of the wet market are all freshwater mud crabs. Not interested in trying any crabs, we wander back to the shrimp stalls, where we buy monster sized tiger prawns. Then I hunt for my favorite, mantis shrimp! This will be harder to find, as most of what we’ve seen was very expensive. The fish monger that sold us the shrimp chases me down, eager to help me find the right one. He has one of his assistants pull out a bucket from behind the counter which is filled with giant mantis shrimp. I was not disappointed, these things were huge!
We make our way out of the market heading towards a popular looking restaurant called “Hong Kong Master Cook”. In here we hand over our freshly bought catch to the waiter behind the counter, and go through the different choices and methods of cooking. I decided on steaming the prawns and for the mantis shrimp, fried in crispy garlic.
As we head to the table, an armed guard picks up our plastic bags of seafood from the counter and brings it to the kitchen to be prepared by an army of chefs.
The prawns arrive first; simply steamed with a soy dipping sauce. Juice is dripping off the prawn as I pick one up from the plate and begin peeling. The shrimps taste a little sweet, and are very juicy with an almost crunchy texture.
The highlight of the meal arrives next. This is what I have been really waiting for. The mantis shrimp is smothered in golden garlic, mixed with chopped red onions and chillies. It smells absolutely amazing! The meat is softer than the shrimp, and has a very peppery taste with a nutty finish from the fried garlic. I am also very pleased to find that they all have shrimp roe! Which gives it a creamier taste.
We ordered a few side dishes of fried e-fu noodles, morning glory in chili and bean sauce, a hot and sour Sichuan style soup, chili garlic cucumber salad, and Chinese fried rice. I might have ordered too much for only the four us!
This is definitely a fun and interesting way of eating seafood. Anyone who loves seafood should give this a try!