To get to Quiapo you must first understand that it will take a good two hours in the car. You need to make your way through the metro, through Makati and along the bay. The view is quite pleasant if the sky is blue. Even if it isn’t the sight of water here in the city is a treat and the sunlight glistens off blue-grey waters. You drive past Wack Wack, whose name I find hilarious and makes me think of either a tennis court or something a bit ruder, depending on my mood. There is actually a big golf course there. You eventually get towards Old Town where you choose your own adventure. Turning off to the left for China Town and the wonderful tastes of Binondo. Turning right you veer off past derelict buildings whose exteriors rich with relief designs and broken stained glass windows beg to tell their stories about a glamorous past. Driving past Rizel Park and the National Museum you eventually end up squeezing into narrow roads overflowing with bikes, trikes, vendors, cars, pedestrians, dogs, cats…Slowly goes it, ever so slowly as you make your way along, being sure not to move too quickly or you will run into something, or someone…If you want to walk around and explore the best place to be dropped is outside the enormous and remarkable Quiapo Cathedral.
This is where we landed a few weekends ago. Aside from the enormous Cathedral, Quiapo is also known for having one of the largest markets in Manila simply called The Central Market. The reason for the visit? Well you know we do love our markets, but for this one, it is because SB had watched an episode of Bizarre Foods and the host had been there and eaten this street food that is basically a deep fried baby chicken. This is not Balut, no, this is just as gross though, in my opinion. A baby chicken with its head, eyeballs, intestines, feathers…all of it, is seasoned and deep fried. It is called ‘Day Old’ because that is the age of the chicken. Spoiler alert – we did not find the Day Old…so don’t worry, no baby chicks were harmed as a result of this post. You may read on in comfort now…
The Central Markets are your standard outdoor market layout. On arrival you are met with a maze of narrow lane ways filled with stalls selling everything from fruit and vegetables to clothing and homewares. The noise is loud with the sounds of traffic and people making their sales calls. Children walk around selling shopping bags to the forgetful and your senses are assaulted over and over again depending on where you walk, where you stand and in which direction you turn. The seafood is pungent as it lays in rancid water festering in the sun. Stalls are higgledy piggledy and there is no system here. Every alleyway you take will bring you to anything you may need. Meat lays next to fresh vegetables, which lays next to toys or household items. There was a wonderful site of a pile of fresh turmeric root next to a display of bras.
You push your way through the crowds trying to find a system for walking but there isn’t really any because you may need to be on that side or this one. The children, being so low to the ground cannot see ahead of themselves and feel disoriented and frightened at times. Large looming adults staring down, and occasionally a friendly smile and a hand tries to grope at them. They hold fast to us and we watch like terriers to make sure they do not get swallowed up in the mayhem here.
Every now and then I would pull off to the side, finding a small open space where the children could rest a moment and have some air to breath. I loved to watch the vendors at work, or sleeping as they waited for their regular customers to come through. Often groups of people sat around fanning themselves in the overbearing heat, chatting listlessly, and idly playing games on their phones.
I was fascinated watching the vendors shaving baby bamboo. It looks like such a wonderfully mindful practice, or just a lovely way to day dream away your time. I watched a lovely lady with a radiant smile for the longest time. We spoke of our children as her mother and two children watched on and I brought a cup full of the bamboo from her. She told me how to be sure we boiled it for about three minutes first before adding it into a stir fry. Add garlic and onion she said, then some meat and soy sauce. I promised we would try it out that night.
Street food vendors dot the areas as they walk around. We tried the fish balls which look really good, served with vinegar and chili. SB didn’t mind those. They really are not to my tastes, but I am a bit thingie with seafood. We had hunted high and low for the baby chicken for SB to eat and were unsuccessful so we settled on a bowl of Mami Pares which is a beef stew type thing served with noodles, rice and chili. It was super delicious and very hearty and filling. It reminded me of a winter stew and to be honest a little less ‘vomit in your mouth’ inducing than a whole baby chicken thrown in a deep fryer concept.
As we walked along we picked up a few treats for the children here and there. Glittery balls to play with, a tee shirt and I fell in love with the wish candles. Whenever you are near a Cathedral here you will find candle sellers. These candles are different colours which represent a different area of life – money, confession, luck, study…I brought a bunch and wished later that I had brought more. They are really cheap wax and burn down quickly leaving beautiful smooth wax drips as they go. The flame gets bigger and bigger as the wick struggles to keep up. They melt down in that beautiful organic way candles ought to melt down, leaving a puddle and burnt out wick…
It was eventually time to go home as the children were hot, tired and very whingey and whiney. We brought them a melon water drink each from another vendor, a very refreshing icy mix of rockmelon juice and either water or coconut water and once we got into the car, I suspect sugar as well. The children’s heads would have been spinning around if they could, they were that wired up. We arrived home a few hours later and SB got busy cooking up a stir-fry storm with the bamboo shavings. The children and I lit up some wish candles and sat around mesmerized as we stared into the dancing flame and soft secret wishes floated off our lips like a curl of smoke from a cinder.