The Market - Skillful Cook
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The Market


It's 4am.

I'm sitting on a bench in the back of a big white van, smushed up against our house mothers, older kids, wooden crates, woven baskets, and neon plastic buckets. We're making our way downtown into a mass of people, vegetables, and fish.

Market in Cebu.

This is marketing. Like, a verb. Going to the market.

Market in Cebu.

The Market Experience

When we first came here, I had dreamed of sharing a really romantic, stunning post about the market, with lots of beautiful DSLR pictures of the fresh produce and shiny fish. But things didn't quite pan out like I had expected. When the aunties and uncles warned me not to wear my wedding ring into the market, I realized that bringing the big ol' DSLR was probably overkill. So here's the market experience via my iPhone, a little rougher and less polished than what I had imagined, but real.

The house mothers from the orphanage agreed to let us tag along for their 4-am-on-Saturday-morning market adventure.

The expedition left early because it was cooler (literally, the temperature was cooler) and less crowded. We followed them around, just be-bopping through alleys and busy market intersections to find their favorite vendors and directing the older kids for where to bring the buckets of food.

You know what? Grocery shopping for an entire orphanage is not easy. Remember when I could barely find five ingredients for my own dinner? I don't know how they do it. These women are amazing.

Women at a market in Cebu.

When I lived in Spain I had a made a hobby of checking out the markets throughout the cities that we visited. I went crazy with pictures of jamon serrano, bought at least fifty cutesy-designey little jars of saffron, and sampled lots of olive oil. With lots of bread.

Markets are a food lover's paradise.

Market in Cebu.

But even for a food lover, the reality is that hobby-shopping at the market and taking foodie pictures is different than the reality of living in the poverty of the market. And that's what struck me most: literally how many people live in this downtown market. I saw as many people sleeping on boards, or tables, or the street, as I did people awake and selling things.

I don't want to get too intense here, but I can't not think about this: that people all over the world live without things that people in wealthier nations consider necessities. Beds. Cars. Refrigerators.

And since I'm writing to a mostly Western food crowd, can I just say that it overwhelms me to consider not only the quantity but the quality food choices that we have to choose from at any given time - bright, crispy, clean, healthy, even organic - when some people don't even have access to safe water.


My food loving brain and my deep thinking brain clashed a little bit in the market.

Cauliflower in a basket.

Oh, hey. There's my shoe.

The market is bustling. It's alive. It's saturated with culture. It provides me with mini heads of cauliflower so I can make healthy fettuccine alfredo, thank you very much.

It forces me to push my limits of heat and smell and heart overload.

And it finds me head-to-head with an octo.


Surprise! There she is.

Market in Cebu.

The sun started to come up just as we were leaving.

We rode home in the same white van, except this time I had a warm pandesal in my hand and several watermelon rolling around at my feet and the smell of fish soaked into my clothes. I went home, made myself a little peanut butter toast, and went back to bed.

Market in Cebu.

So there's the market for ya.

Filed Under: Living Abroad

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  1. Skillful Cook Logo

    This post brought me right back to the markets I used to go to while living in Ghana. There are amazing and yes, I completely agree with you regarding the conditions and heavy heart the comes from experiencing it first hand. That octopus is amazing! Thank you for your wonderful “living abroad” posts.

  2. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hi Lindsay! I heard about your blog from a friend and I’m really loving it. I live in the Philippines too with my husband and two little boys and I love to cook and bake, usually for a big crowd (church community), so I feel at home on your site. Thanks for sharing! We also lived in Davao for a year before we had kids (and then went home for three years before coming back) so I know what its like to be excited about going home, yet sad to leave this beautiful place. Besides the people, I probably miss mangos the most when we go back to Canada!!!
    Take care,

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Thanks for the comment, Christina! What part of the Philippines do you live in? If it’s not too forward of me … I would love to get any of your Filipino recipes, if you have any. 🙂 My goal for the last few weeks here is to spend more time learning Filipino food. It’s been hard up till now since I have been so busy with school and work at the shelter. Usually when I come home all I want is a bowl of cereal. 🙂 But seriously – feel free to email me any great ideas you have for Filipino recipes that would be good for a newbie like me. Thanks again!

      1. Skillful Cook Logo

        Hi Lindsay,

        I have posted a good Filipino dish for winter since you live in Minneapolis. It’s called Arroz Caldo con Pollo y Callos. It’s a dish similar to Risotto sauteed in garlic and ginger with Chicken. Go visit my blog, haven’t posted since last week of March which I have consulted Bjorg about.

        Thanks for sharing the photos above.


  3. Skillful Cook Logo

    I started following your blog a few months ago and I’ve really enjoyed the mix of ‘western’ recipes and ‘living abroad’ posts (this one, especially!). Thanks for sharing!

  4. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’ve really enjoyed your posts and photos from Cebu. What an amazing experience! And I love pandesal! Last time I visited, on a quiet, remote island, you absolutely had to be at the market before 6am to get fresh pandesal, so I always missed out. I’m half Filipina and have visited the Philippines all my life. It’s a wonderful country but I agree that it’s very disheartening to see the high level of poverty and there’s a whole lot we take for granted in Western countries.

  5. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you so much for sharing Lindsay! I can only imagine that I would have the exact same feelings in a market like this one; I already feel those things and have only stayed cozied up in my little Western culture world. It’s really refreshing to see another food blogger talk about the reality of other people 🙂

  6. Skillful Cook Logo

    I love this post, I love the iphone photos and how I feel like I am at the market with you.

    I remember going to the markets in Spain when I spent some time there in high school. It was a very different experience from yours in Cebu.

  7. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thanks for this post, Lindsay. I’ve been trying to describe the markets in the Philippines to my non-Filipino husband and words are just not enough. It made me a little emotional, too. I miss the old country and will forever be grateful for my early years there.

    And yep, nothing beats fresh baked pandesal in the early morning 😉

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Thanks Lorie! I hope you have the chance to take your husband here someday… there’s really no way to describe it without actually experiencing it, right? 🙂

  8. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful heart, Lindsay. This is a wonderful window into your experience with the children and the need for compassion… may the Lord bless you and keep you: )

  9. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thanks for sharing this post, Lindsay. This brings me back to my first “Marketing” experience in Nicaragua. You are SO right. We often forget the poverty and the living conditions of so many people in other parts of the world. Here we are complaining about our own circumstances when most of the time, if compared to so many others, we are living as kings and queens. Thanks for reminding all of us to be thankful for what God has blessed us with and consider how we can maybe share some of that with others!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Hi Karen,

      I’m a Filipina living in Northern Virginia. Pan de sal is a sour dough based and is normally eaten for breakfast in the Philippines. You can google recipe if you like kneading and baking your own bread. Otherwise, if there is a Filipino store in your area, Pan de Sal is always available because specially on weekends it good to eat in a leisurely way with the local sausage called longonisa which you can also find in the freezer section of a Filipino store.



  10. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hi Lindsay,
    Googling lentil recipes led me to this site and I’ve been looking forward to your posts since
    then. I was born and raised in the Metro Manila area but now lives in the U.S.
    The pictures of the market above remind me of the same market my mother and I would go to every week. I can still remember our favorite vendor booths and the smell! I would
    probably have described it then with indifference since it was just part of the place I grew
    up in, the only world I knew. We could only look at the sparkling clean grocery stores
    from outside, as they were impossibly expensive for us. I have been blessed with a convenient life now but also with a past that would pull me back a bit every now and then to give me a different perspective. I treasure my life there and I hope to never forget how difficult it was (and still is for a lot of people). You’re doing a great job giving back and you
    inspire everyone! Don’t feel too sad. Look at the 6th photo, ma and grandma are smiling.
    Maybe they see a silver lining — they’re all together earning an honest living. Maybe they haven’t lost hope and see a brighter future ahead, just like I did.
    God bless you and your family!

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Hi Rb! Thank you for sharing your incredible story. I ran into the other room to read your comment to Bjork because I was so excited to hear from someone who understands (far more than I/we do) the dichotomy of these two worlds. And as for the picture of the ma and grandma smiling, I thought the exact same thing. 🙂 Thanks again! Really appreciate your comment.

  11. Skillful Cook Logo

    Thank you for sharing this post with us. It’s humbling just to read about the experience so I can only imagine what visiting the market (or being a regular visitor or even resident) must be like. That’s real life right there!

  12. Skillful Cook Logo

    Again, thank you for bringing me back home. I miss and love “palengkes” (and all the hustle and bustle). I am slowly perusing your blog since i just discover it this morning. 🙂 Take care!

  13. Skillful Cook Logo

    Love this! In a world where we complain about snow in April, we still have the heat to keep ourselves warm and good food to eat. Its good to be reminded of how spoiled we really are and everything we have to be thankful for. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  14. Skillful Cook Logo

    It’s always an eye opener to see markets in other countries….a trip to Mexico we stopped in Acapolco and went for a walk, several streets from the water front….and the little markets were interesting…chickens hanging along the front and all the pretty flowers….we are spoiled here…

  15. Skillful Cook Logo

    Hi Lindsay,

    That’s what I miss here in Northern Virginia, the fresh fish, seafood, jumping shrimps. There’s lot of that in Quezon City, a suburbs of Manila. Even the marina fish market in Washington, DC, the fish are all on ice, no jumping shrimps. The Octopus is another thing I miss, but sometimes the Korean store have baby octopus which are good for the recipes I know. Thanks for sharing these photos.


  16. Skillful Cook Logo

    When my Filipina wife and I retire there in a few years, we plan to move to Negros, the big island just west of Cebu. While we won’t be working at an orphanage, we do want to plan out some sort of business that we can start and utilize local Filipino talent and labor. Teach them my cooking and baking and business experience, create a livelihood, start up some local farmer’s markets in the tonier (so to speak) areas we will be living in (to us, straight up middle class; to the locals, we’re the frickin’ one percent), then give away the business when its time.

    Your work at the orphanage is inspiring. The saddest thing about returning to the states was that many friends weren’t as interested in hearing about life overseas–and of course, those ‘friends’ faded out of our lives as we had changed and they, in their sweet domestic lives– had not.

  17. Skillful Cook Logo

    That is an incredible place. I’m so happy that you took the time to take pictures and share the story of the market. I can’t imagine shopping for an entire orphanage in one market. It reminds me how spoiled I am!

  18. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’m usually miss silent reader over here, but there is so much I want to comment on that I couldn’t control myself this time. First and foremost, I am so thrilled that you are enjoying your time in the Philippines. Half of my family is Filipino and although I haven’t had the pleasure myself, I have heard many, MANY wonderful things about this particular group of islands (and their people). Thank you for sharing your adventures with all of us in such a way that we feel like we are a part of your journey. Secondly, what a market! You bring up a great point – these people have a variety of healthy, natural food yet they struggle to get clean water. Something needs to change there – it’s a head shaker.

    And thirdly (and lastly!) … octo!

  19. Skillful Cook Logo

    Wow, that was such a cool post to read! I felt like I was there with you (wish I was)! Pretty jealous! I love all your stories!

  20. Skillful Cook Logo

    I’ve done some grocery shopping in those markets. It is a humbling experience for sure.

    Have you tried kamungay? It’s a green leafy vegetable often used by the poor and I’m sure you could find some at a market like this. One of my favorite native Filipino dishes has Kamungay with coconut milk and sometimes fish. I never did learn how to make it, but a few years ago I learned the English name for kamungay (Moringa) and how incredibly healthy it is. It’s a super food in same category as kale and spinach and has loads of nutrition.

    Do you take recipe requests? If so, that would be on the top of my list. 🙂 I’m sorry I don’t remember the name they used, I had it for the first time on Negros near Dumaguete and again when I was in Toledo, Cebu. I believe it’s a regional dish because my friends from Luzon didn’t seem familiar with it.

    1. Skillful Cook Logo

      Thanks Melissa! I have tried kamungay once – I am trying to remember now what I used it in. Maybe a stir-fry? Anyways, thanks for the request and I ask the aunties at the orphanage if they have any good ideas for how to prepare it! 🙂