I heart tiangge. The tiangge of my childhood was outdoors and it was a just a jeepney ride away from my house. I always favoured the food area of a tiangge my mum and I used to frequent eons ago on Tomas Morato. It was a maze of vendors and shoppers, the latter a mixture of serious bargain hunters and “window shoppers”. After a couple of hours of walking around, we’d take the jeepney home, our hands filled with several colour plastic bags of stuff and food. I would have had my fill of squid balls and kikiam (Chinese sausage), drizzled in sweet and sour sauce, by then.
Through the years, tiangge, generally a market for dry goods and otherwise, has become to be the place to shop for items at bargain prices. A tiangge also now occupies a very huge space inside or outside of a building and is usually packed with bargain shoppers particularly during the build-up before a special public holiday like Christmas. Regrettably, it has also become a haven for adroit pickpockets who, without qualms, take your valuables. It’s fiesta day for pickpockets! Its name also has gone through semantic changes tinged with social class distinction too. For the hoi polloi it’s lovingly called tiangge. Moving up the social echelon, some groups have christened it flea market while others have dubbed it bazaar like those held in posh housing estates. Aside: The tiangge equivalent in Singapore is pasar malam (night market because they only operate at night on weekdays and weekends, and it’s more nomadic, setting up in different places) while a Singaporean friend re-invented it into a bigger and weekend-only affair called Flea-tique.
A tiangge is actually, despite the thieves and shoplifters, a good place to go weekend, pre- or post-Christmas, shopping because the prices are really low plus you get quality stuff. The key is having the patience to trawl through the stalls and the tenacity of an android under the service of the Emperor. And this is while keeping your senses alert for nimble hands brushing against you as well as bearing the heat. It is generally closed on weekdays because the vendors more often than not are regular employees or weekend entrepreneurs. The “new” –I visited it for the first time during my Christmas holiday – tiangge to figure in my memory bank is Centris Market. It’s located within the grounds of Centris mall on EDSA highway. Just mention Centris Market to the cab driver and he’ll let you off at the drop-off point. Walk up pass Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Pancake House, and Centris Market rises before your vision as you pass these two restaurants. When you see the corrugated steel and one entrance/exit with shoppers and smoke wafting through the air (that’s from the vendors grilling tuna or fanning the coal for the Philippine rice cake called bibingka), you’re there.
Seven o’clock or earlier is the best time to enjoy Centris Market and not be bothered by the heat that creeps up on you as the sun rises. The second time we three – me, mum and dad – got to Centris Market was 7ish which was just right. It was still breezy and easy to walk around. We were hoping to beat the record of my mum’s former colleague from Philippine Inquirer who, together with his wife, had already gone around the market and were heading home with their largesse at 8ish. They arrived around 6am!
Centris Market has its charm, but don’t expect anything romantic as a western farmer’s market or something as overwhelming as Chatuchak Market. It’s a nifty little market that’s neither too big nor small, which has almost everything for everyone even space for dog lovers and their pets. If you beat the crowd you can certainly grab a space at the eating area for your early morning breakfast of whatever your heart desires. I spotted platters of ham and other pork dishes. There was also pasta and still more ham. One stall had paella simmering at the centre of its stall while one section of the area had two stalls selling loads of pastries. It was a case of takaw mata, a saying in Filipino that means being lured by the nice –looking pastries, cupcakes in my case, and only to regret buying them because they didn’t live up to the hype. The red velvet cupcakes I bought were such a letdown, but the bibingka and the Japanese pancake were good buys and so was the kilo of big shrimps, which was fresh and succulent after my mum sautéed them with garlic. Fruits were also part of the shopping list – bananas mostly. Loaves of bread – apple, cinnamon and almond – were ticked off the list too. They were perfect for Christmas give-aways. I just looked at the other offerings less in awe than incredulity. A solitary pack of lechon (roasted pig) – Saran wrapped and all – was waiting to be picked up and all I could think was why. The seller probably thought I was an oddball, not in any away tempted by the crunchy skin and perfectly roasted hue of the flesh. A child – probably an elementary student – excitedly waited for the lady to finish filling her cup with crispy chicken skin, which, I knew, she’d wolf down seconds. I was tempted to buy a cup myself but, horror-struck at the huge wok filled with oil crackling over the charcoal-fire, baulked at the last minute.
Feeling a bit harassed with the rising heat and shoppers flooding in, my gaze stumbled upon a stall filled with colours. A carpet of flowers filled his store. It was just pleasant standing there, looking at the budding flowers and wishing I had a green thumb like my late maternal grandmother (she could nurture a dying orchard back to life!). Then I was jostled by a shopper or two who didn’t even mumble excuse me or sorry and the pleasant mood fizzled out.
Surprisingly, gone were the noisy vendors hoping to attract buyers with their ululations. They were more subdued but bargaining was still a much-needed skill. These sellers were tough cookies but mum wasn’t one to be cajoled easily into buying just like that.
My mum thought it was time to head out of Centris Market when she saw the look of slight agitation on my face. The heat was becoming slightly unbearable; my dad was cool as cucumber. One more stop, my mum said, and that was at the grilling section to the right of the entrance. She wanted her grilled milkfish and we wanted tuna. We had to wait for 20 minutes or so but I didn’t mind. The grilling area had space for people to walk on by or wait for their order. The final stop was at Pancake House for breakfast. I wanted somewhere cooler to eat and the choice this time was Pancake House, which is located outside of Centris Market, for one of my childhood favourites, chocolate marble pancakes spread with whipped butter and peanut butter, and heavily drizzled with maple syrup. For the folks, they went for their usual fried daing na bangus (fried milkfish) with rice.
Tiangge jaunts without doubt top my list of places to go and things to do. Heat and annoying shoppers aside, it’s a dive into a treasure trove of wonderful finds, food and memories.