The Wet Market
Without sampling Boracay’s delicious seafood, the white-sand beaches and turquoise waters would only be half the fun. For budget-conscious travelers, the word “seafood” might ring an alarm bell – and for good reason. Seafood prices here can be exorbitant. Luckily, upon exploring the busy D’Talipapa market area, we discovered an exciting alternative to the overpriced seafood restaurants and the underwhelming all-you-can-eat buffets along the beach: the Wet Market.
Appropriately called so for its water-filled buckets and dripping ice chips, this local seafood market is perfectly located amidst several small cooking services. These establishments, set up with tables and chairs and serviced by smiling waiters, are run like regular restaurants with only one small difference: customers need to bring their own uncooked food. And what better place to pick up a treat than at the Wet Market across the way where seafood choices seem endless.
Colorful, 12-inch lobsters and buckets full of big-eyed squid and tiny shrimp sit next to rows of tropical fish and piles of crabs desperately trying to use their pincers to cut the strings that bind them. Vendors yell from behind their scales: “fresh oysters, sir,” “prawns, only 700 pesos per kilo,” or “delicious mahi mahi.” The salty ocean smell of the seafood mixes with the aromas of barbecued clams, garlic-marinated tiger prawns, and deep-fried calamari. Seafood lovers can’t ask for more.
But something was missing. While the market was swamped with Asian tourists digging through buckets full of crustaceans, there were hardly any Westerners. I suddenly realized that choosing fresh seafood can be an intimidating process. Fortunately for our taste buds, we were willing to give it a try. Skipping through anything with the slightest imperfection, we hand-selected every prawn and every mussel. If they smelled and looked good, they were good to buy.
After handing over our $20 purchase to Sababi, our favorite cooking service, it was time to sit back and relax. For a small $5 cooking fee, they whipped up scrumptious tiger prawns in butter and garlic as well as baked scallops smothered in cheese. This was, hands down, the most amazing meal we had had in years. Needless to say, we returned the next day for more. And the next day after that. From deep-fried squid to shrimp in tomato-onion sauce, from grilled tuna to barbecued angel wings (large clams), we ate our way through the menu.
Yes, $25 for a dinner may not sound like a budget meal but considering that restaurants along the beach charge almost twice as much, the Wet Market is still the best place to hunt for bargains. Besides, for the same quality of seafood, you would pay considerably more in other parts of Asia, let alone in the West. Take advantage of it. I know, we will. Now that we have discovered affordable tiger prawns as big as small lobsters and lobsters as big as small dogs, we can see ourselves staying in Boracay for a while.