Sunday, October 11, 2015

Dampa Seafood Market

In Manila on Saturday, my friend and I went to catch a fantastic showing of Everest in 3D at the IMAX theater on Saturday (which caused a lot of discussion and a lot of reading or suggested reading, including this book by Jon Krakauer, as well as this whole slew of articles (see here, here, here, here and here and here)).

After that, we had a wonderful opportunity to check out Manila's dampa market with a local (my friend's coworker).  "Dampa" apparently is a word in Tagalong that means a hut constructed out of coconut and bamboo, but in Manila it also specifically refers to a market area by the water where you first select one of the (many many) restaurants which will cook your meal, then, with a restaurant staff accompanying you, go to the wet market to select the seafood that you want to eat.  

Thank goodness we had a local to take us around, because we would have had absolutely no idea what to do!  I asked how one could possibly know where to go given the dizzying number of stalls -- it turns out the restaurants work with certain stalls and direct you to their associated vendors.

The process at dampa works like this: 1. Pick your restaurant. 2. Go to the market to buy your seafood with your restaurant attendant in tow.  3. Choose how you want your fresh seafood cooked.  

The market at dampa is divided by sections.  
First, we went to the crab section.  Being led around by my friend's friend, being introduced to all the little tricks and tips of bargaining, picking out fresh seafood and bargaining, I got a giddy glimpse, for a few minutes, of what it must be like to be Anthony Bourdain.
 It was there that I learned the difference between a female crab, a male crab, and what they call the "gay crab" -- you can tell by looking at the width and size of the little tab on the underside of the crab.  We picked out a female crab and a gay crab, as they are supposed to be tastier.  When we ate dinner, I scrutinized the crabs' gonads, and I think the "gay crab" is actually the equivalent of a crab hermaphrodite.  Personally, I love the runny yellow yolk of crab roe, so I think I will stick to female crabs in the future.
 Here, this is a basket of just crab claws - if you are lazy and don't want to go through the trouble of digging through the byzantine compartments of the crab's body and legs.  This was troubling, though - what do they do with the other parts of the dismembered crab?  I got a disturbing mental image of a dystopian crab world, a la Margaret Atwood, where these huge crab claws were just sprouting abnormally from the backs and some of some other animal.

Then we went to the clams section.
 Very fresh, so pretty!
Manila clams
Sea grapes
Oysters and mussels
Then we went to the lobster and shrimp section, which was filled with tanks.
 Check out this huge whopper of a lobster that another guest was selecting for purchase.  Apparently at this size most people opt to eat it in the sashimi style, instead of cooking it.  For purposes of boiling or cooking, I find that lobster chicks (clocking in at 1 to 1.2 pounds or so) are the most tender.
 This guy weighed in at nearly 2.5 kilos, or a whopping 5.5 pounds!

Then we went to the fish and squid section.
Lots of fish, laid out in a pretty assortment of colors.
I learned that you pick a fresh fish by checking his eyeballs and his guts.  We picked up a big portion of tuna belly.  I saw a stone fish for the first time but I didn't get a good picture of him, sadly.
Trayfuls of squid, in water colored black by their ink
Here, bits of fish head, intestines and sliced ribbons of fish belly
 I did question the sanitation of the market…I also wondered, given how much fish and seafood there still was so late at night, (we went around 7:30 pm) what the market does with all of the seafood that it cannot sell.  It is not so much of a concern with the lobsters, shrimp, clams, mussels and crab, because those are sold live - but what about the fish?

After the heady excitement of choosing our seafood - we settled ultimately on two crabs, a kilo of shrimp, a slab of tuna belly and half a kilo of Manila clams.  That's a lot of food for three people!

The shrimp came first, served boiled and accompanied by a vinegar soy dipping sauce.  The shrimp was incredibly fresh - so tender and juicy and perfect.  It was kind of amazing to think that these critters had been alive only minutes before.
The crab came next - because we got two, we chose to have them cooked two different ways, one in the chili crab style, which was slightly sticky and sweet and peppery and fiery:

and the other in the restaurant's specialty method, the egg yolk battered stir fry method:
 Then the clams came, also cooked in two methods - one half stir fried in a black bean sauce, the other put into a soup with vegetables.  At this point my hands were messy beyond belief, so I only managed to grab one quick snap.

Here, the aftermath of our meal.  We ate everything except for one small portion of the tuna belly.  I think we did a really good job!
 After we ate, we walked out to the parking lot where there were lots of fruit stands selling mangos, durian, watermelon, bananas and mangosteens, among other items.
 There are many restaurants to choose from at the dampa market in Manila, but we went to Royal Kitchen.  The dampa market is located at Macapagal Boulevard, Pasay City 1309. 

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