For Filipinos, a welcome bit of home

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For Filipinos, a welcome bit of home

Filipino merchants in Korea know how to do business. They are aware of sales techniques, and what pleases their customers. At the Sunday Filipino market in Daehangno, a street market lined with trucks selling everything from canned food to curtains, merchants tempt pedestrians with a variety of visual delights, tasty food and sweet words.
When a Korean man looks askance at a large aluminum pot filled with broiled duck eggs, a Filipino merchant quickly gives two thumbs up, saying they boost male stamina and lower blood pressure. When a young, hungry-looking Korean woman stops in front of a food cart, curiously eyeing a bundle of hanging sausages, a merchant kindly explains that they are “Filipino sundae (blood sausage).” Yummy!
If they happen to like you, they even hand you a small card with a phone number offering a fair deal on a professional housemaid.
Indeed, the Filipino market in Daehangno is a delightful place to wear your spring sneakers and spend your Sunday afternoon.
The line of trucks begins at the front gate of Haehwa Catholic Church, where a tagalog Mass is conducted every Sunday at 1:30 p.m. by Father Glenn, and extends for about 50 meters (164 feet).
The stalls mostly sell food. But once in a while there are merchants selling Filipino paperback romance novels and VCDs of popular Filipino dramas for generous bargains like 20,000 won ($20) for six items. The quality is not guaranteed, but there are a variety of English movies ― lots of Bruce Willis flicks for some reason ― at the stalls as well.
Some Westerners complain that Filipino food is one of the least tempting kinds of Southeast Asian cuisine. But that may result from a misunderstanding, mainly because Filipino cuisine is much like the Filipino himself, reflecting a mixture of different Asian styles on top of Spanish, Mexican and American influences.
At lunch time, one can see young Filipinos lined up in front of a large steamer, indulging in a bowl of hot porridge containing pieces of beef liver. It looks somewhat like Chinese “congee,” or rice simmered for hours with meat bones and peanuts.
There are ladies selling marinated pork and fried rice of some sort. A generous scoop of fried vermicelli noodles with vegetables costs 2,000 won. Steamed duck eggs, which have been half-hatched, are a popular snack here that Filipinos often recommend as a health food.
Desserts are another big thing at the Filipino market. A mango cake, which the merchant describes as “a Filipino tteok,” or rice cake, seems a safe sampler for newcomers to Filipino cuisine. But the item that looks most tempting at the stall is “turong saging,” a deep-fried banana fritter shaped like a spring roll and coated with brown sugar. If you stand in front of the turong seller, you can see his hands swiftly stuffing large chunks of “monkey bananas” in a wrap to toss into a frying pan.
Gilda, a merchant at the market, says the most popular item at her stalls is canned sardines, which Filipinos typically eat as a side dish with rice. There are other steady sellers like dried herbs, canned beans, fruits, cosmetics, cigarettes and even Filipino shampoos.
Fish, both frozen and fresh, is also a sellout item here.
One fish merchant from the market has brought a huge tank full of what she calls “tilefish.” The woman says the fish is a typical breed that only appears in the Philippines, so the eggs are transported from home once a year, and the fish are raised in various local farms in Korea before ending up at the market. If they are real tilefish, though, they are almost a giveaway, because the merchants here sell the fish for 10,000 won for 6 pieces. On Jeju island, the typical local source of tilefish, you have to pay six or seven times more to get that number of fish.
Milkfish, often dubbed the “national fish” of the Philippines, comes frozen in a plastic pack. The Filipinos eat them grilled or in stews.
Jack Dualon, a young Filipino who is working in Korea with his wife, comes to the market every week, buying mostly milkfish and sauce.
“We come here all year round to shop,” he says. “Most Oriental markets in Seoul don’t have Filipino food. So it’s a nice place to drop by after Mass.”
The market was started about 10 years ago by a group of Catholic nuns and priests, as the Filipino Mass, previously held in a church in Jayang-dong, relocated to Hyehwa-dong in 1995. Since then, the market has helped Daehangno develop a unique neighborhood image.
But while it exists to nurture homesick migrants, it also presents a glimpse of the bitter reality faced by the Filipino community today. Near the church, men hand out business cards to random dark-skinned women on the streets, offering marriage to Korean men.
Currently, there are about 31,000 Filipinos living in Korea. The number started to rise after the national depression that followed the fall of the Marcos regime in 1985. During its heyday, the market in Daehangno had up to 4,000 visitors a day, according to a merchant who said he came to Korea in the mid-1990s. Business slowed during last year’s crackdown on illegal immigrants. But now the number of visitors is on the rise again, as many Filipino women are coming to Korea to marry Korean men. The number of Filipino women is the third highest among Asian women in Korea, after Japan and China.
There is a slightly surreal feeling to meeting Filipino merchants in Daehangno. But what better chance is there to get a taste of Filipino sundae on a Sunday afternoon?

by Park Soo-mee

The market is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Sunday, except when it rains. To get to the market, take exit ( ) of Hyehwa station on line No. 4, and walk toward Dosung High School. Toward the Hyehwa Rotary you will see about 40 trucks lined up on the streets.
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