Find Home Kitchen Savings in Local Foreign Food Markets

Reader Contribution by Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo
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People who live out in the country, whether they are homesteaders, farmers or preppers, or even people seeking out nothing more than a simpler, more natural lifestyle, tend to be both prudent and keen regarding matters of the home. A part of this is searching for the best deals not only on food, but on condiments, kitchenware and other amenities. While working with one particular client, the author happened to need to make a stop to pick up a few items. What was not expected however, was the reaction of the client and the realization that then occurred. While it may be a foreign concept to many people living off the grid, those little foreign markets can be an excellent place to shop for certain items — even if it may be something of a foreign concept — so to speak.

At the time, the shop in question was a small, Asian store where a few select items needed to be picked up in preparation for the arrival of a guest. The client however, was quite intrigued with these purchases and wanted to shop around some and look at some of the many items that he had deemed to be “of interest” and indeed they were, and for a good reason. There are a great many bargains to be had for the prudent shopper, including many items at substantially cheaper prices than can be found in those stores that offer bulk purchases, often without the bulk discount price.

Sugar. Among the most pleasant surprises for many homesteaders are very inexpensive options for two of the most important natural preservatives known to humankind. The sugar industries are not generally subsidized overseas, certainly not in the Philippines at least, and brown sugar was available by the kilogram (or two point two pounds) for less than the cost of a single pound of the processed sugar in the regular supermarket. More amazing still was the fact that sea salt was available in kilogram weights for less than the iodized salt in the regular grocery stores.

While further negotiations did take place under the circumstances, ultimately a deal was worked out to allow the homesteader in that case to make regular purchases for the creation of his own salt and sugar cures — not minuscule purchases — or savings for that matter.

Vinegar is also another preservative that was available at a substantially discounted price, though this is generally sugar cane vinegar which is actually very nice for both pickling and in cole slaw, baked beans and a host of other dishes — including home made barbecue sauce. Some may even prefer the banana ketchup available in the Filipino markets, though this, like many new and interesting products, may have to be experienced before any new favorites will be discovered.

The vinegar however, available in one liter bottles, may also come with a one liter bottle of soy sauce. While it may not be obvious at first, there are actually a number of creative ways to use soy sauce without having to make a salty mess out of any rice dishes, thus, these items may be purchased together for even bigger savings.

Cookware. Even the women folk around these parts know better than to mess with the cast iron cookware of the house cook, but the Filipino and other Asian cookware can rival that same cast iron in some respects, while at the same time requiring substantially less care and maintenance … and being much more affordable. The two primary cooking pots in the Philippines are the Kawali and the Kaldero. The Kawali is akin to the wok for those who may be familiar with these devices, though with the addition of either one or two handles. The rounded bottom is ideal for a gas-top stove, but may not be so ideally suited for an electric burner without the addition of a base ring.

The kaldero is more along of a saucepan, generally used for cooking rice or boiling water, soup or other items. These may be the same or different than the kaserola depending on the store, though locally the kaserola is made from much lighter material, more like a standard aluminum pan. The traditional kaldero and the kawali however, are made from machined aluminum, generally around one eighth of an inch in thickness. The pans are well suited for everything from dry-frying chili peppers and other seeds such as cacao or even coffee beans, or for more standard cooking. They never require curing, can be scrubbed hard with the steel wool if necessary and will generally last for a very long lifetime of service.

Dry goods. Twenty-five and 50-kilo bags of rice are readily available for the price of a few pounds of rice in the regular stores. The Thai rice or Butterfly rice is comprised of large, full kernels of rice much the same as can be found in the stores. The Filipino brand rice on the other hand, tends to have smaller kernels, looking almost broken … and while it may not be as appealing to the eye, it does seem to do a better job of sticking to the ribs and not leaving one feeling hungry an hour after eating a full meal.

In order to avoid feeling hungry after eating a large portion of rice with the meal, try mixing anywhere from five to fifteen percent of the clean, white corn grits in with the rice. Not only will this help to keep the person eating more full, but it also adds a very subtle but pleasant flavor to the rice.

Remember the discussion about having to scrub out the cookware? While it is not often necessary, it can be a chore — especially with regular liquid dish soap. The Filipino dishwashing paste … yes, that is what it is called … is an absolutely amazing soap that will allow for the glasses to be washed even after all of the greasy pans and plates have been cleaned in the same water … and not even leave water spots on the glasses. The dish soap comes in a small tub, very similar to car wax in shape, size and appearance. This product makes an amazing grease-cutter as well, making it ideal for a great many additional uses … including polishing some metals.

Unique and less available foods. Some markets also have a selection of fish that will be available for much lower prices than they tend to cost at the regular markets and grocery stores. The same holds true for shrimp and crabs, though user discretion would be beneficial in terms of shellfish when they cannot be guaranteed fresh. It is quite common for these foreign markets to carry not only the local varieties of fish, but many of the more common and popular international varieties as well, including fresh salmon and sometimes tuna.

To give the soy sauce a little variety, try adding a touch of citrus to the soy sauce. Key limes are the ubiquitous favorite in the Philippines, but lemons work just as well. Use a small side dish, pour in a small amount of soy sauce and then add lemon juice to taste. For a spicier variation, break apart or finely grind a chili pepper of choice and add this to the mix.

Granted, not everyone is going to be comfortable going to these small foreign markets to shop. Smells, sights and other sensory alerts may be triggered by new and unrecognized scents and scenes. However, while it may be both literally and figuratively something of a foreign concept to most homesteaders, those small, foreign markets offer some incredible experiences and even more amazing savings for the prudent shopper.

As always, please leave any of your thoughts, comments, questions and suggestions in the comment section below so that they can be addressed individually, and perhaps even used for consideration in future articles. None of this work would be possible without you, the reader, and as such, your thoughts and considerations are the most important aspect of any articles published herein.

Ruth Tandaan Sto Domingo has worked with numerous NGOs, governments and Indigenous communities in Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Panama, Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia, the Philippines and Vanuatu to implement sustainable solutions. She is the co-author of  Whole System Sustainable Development. Ruth enjoys “hyper-realistic” cross stitch and is working with her husband to build a largely off-grid and self-sufficient home where she will raise livestock and garden both flowers and food. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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