First Stop, the Market

The last 300 Philippine pesos we had were spent at the market – a bottle of rum, a pineapple, a handful of chilies, and four bags of ice. Sounds like the makings of a farewell party, I know, but it was just what ended up being available/needed. With the humidex pushing 40-45C our fridge was struggling, and who are we kidding so were we. The four bags of ice were in hopes of keeping  both the fridge and us a little cooler. I turned the pineapple and chilies into pineapple curry, a dish that keeps well in the fridge and requires only a re-heat and a pot of rice to make a delicious meal. Perfect after a long, hot day sailing. The bottle of rum? Well, that never goes astray, especially when we are travelling to a country where alcohol isn’t sold readily.

After checking in, the first purchases we made in Borneo were at the market. A bundle of pak choy, a bag of bean sprouts, more chilies, a bunch of each cilantro and green onions, and a selection of red, ripe tomatoes. The tomatoes (perfect ripe and bigger than a ping pong ball) and cilantro (OMG fresh herbs!!) were definitely the most exciting find of the day. We haven’t seen either since we arrived back onboard last July. And, if the market in the far flung town of Kudat is a hint at what we’ll find in the rest of the country, then I am excited about the food scene in Malaysia.

We didn’t go to the market because the fridge was empty, or even because I needed a little inspiration for dinner.

We went to the market because that is always the first place I go when we find ourselves somewhere new. Disconnected from family, country, and all that is familiar, the markets are a constant in our travels. People growing food, making goods, and selling them in a common space. This is a through line in our ever changing story. A connection to the land that we so often view from a distance.

The markets are also a way that I can interact with locals without feeling quite so much like a tourist; a category I always find uncomfortable since we usually stay much longer than the average fly-in and are able to visit places off the well-worn track. When you go the local market not to take pictures or find an over priced, out of season mango,  but rather to buy enough fresh food to feed the crew for a week or two, the locals look at you a little differently. Someone staying at a hotel  isn’t going to dig through a pile of sweet potatoes looking for the ones without bug holes, or ask long the tray (flat) of eggs has been sitting out in 30 degree heat. Those are things that cooks do, that locals do.

I learn a language by using it, and markets are a great place to practice numbers, general greetings and questions, and, of course, food words. When you can speak enough words to bargain a little, you are often given the “local price” a little quicker.

Unlike the tourist I do not go to the market specifically looking for the exotic, although I do look forward to seeing what’s in season and finding new things to cook with. It is everyday-ness that I crave. With each early morning encounter with a stranger, each new taste brought home to Kate, I am reminded that we are all connected, and all nourished, by the same thing.

The real market haul!

When I am at the market picking through vegetables, negotiating prices, maneuvering through the crowds, the difference between me and my surroundings melts away. The produce sold, the faces smiling back at me, the colour of the money are always in flux, but the routine, the sense of comfort, is always the same. For those few fleeting moments, I can see through the veil of foreigner and feel like a local again.



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