Thursday, April 14, 2005

A fish story that is true

Business Times p.B1
Thursday, April 14, 2005

By Moje Ramos-Aquino, FPM
A fish story that is true

Yesterday morning when I went to the wet market, I took note of all varieties of fish available. At the talipapa on V. Mapa Street in Santa Mesa, Rosalie de la Cruz showed me tambacol, alumahan, sapsap, tilapia, tulingan, bisugo, bangus, dalagang bukid, tamban, salay, baby lapu-lapu, betilla, danggit, talakitok, maya-maya, tanigue, tuna, dulong, dilis, galungong plus alamang, shrimps, squid, octopus, clams, mussels and even seaweeds. Rosalie said that these are the fish varieties that working people normally buy, particularly tilapia, bangus, galungong and squid. People buy shrimps in small quantities to be used as flavoring for their stir-fry recipes.

My second stop was at the stall of Yolly and Glicerio Sab-a at the New Santa Mesa Mart on R. Magsaysay Boulevard (a morning-only wet market). Because their clientele are mostly rich Chinese and restaurant owners (You can tell by the models of vehicles parked outside), they sell the big and expensive fish varieties. These are tanigue, sole, lapu-lapu (big for filleting, alive, ulpot), salmon (whole and belly only), blue marlin, gindara, maya-maya, pompano, apahap, bacoco, anchu, mameng, dapa, bangus, hasa-hasa, asohos plus shrimp, prawns, squid and, once in a while, live dalag and hito. Yolly says that their customers’ favorites are the big fish, filet and prawns.

Rosalie and her brothers Ricardo, Along and Omie inherited the business from their parents Aling Ely and Mang Espe de la Cruz. Rosalie said she used to just help her parents, when they became too old to do business, then she and her brothers took over and they have been doing it for the past 16 years. They display their goods on a 3” x 6” table. What keeps them going is that they have their respective families to support and they have their suki (regular clients) to serve.

Also, Yolly says this is their only means of livelihood since 1982. She occupies five adjoining stalls and pays P700 a day. Aside from her husband, eight helpers do the fish preparation while she does the selling and accounting. She enjoys meeting all kinds of people and knowing their idiosyncrasies. She could tell who will buy what kind of fish, in what quantity and how much they are willing to pay. She says there are no more cheap fish nowadays and requests that customers not to be too barat because prices are generally constant and they could not give discounts even for bulk purchases. What is important, according to her, is that aside from selling really fresh fish, her weighing scales are honest and reliable and so customers are getting their money’s worth. A Manila city hall inspector comes on a weekly basis to test their scales.

As add-on service, they clean the fish meticulously and cut them according to the specifications of the customers. They also give advice on how to cook certain kind of fish—steam, stir-fry, fried, stew, grilled and others.

Rosalie and family wake up early at 4 a.m. to buy fish from their regular suppliers in Farmer’s Market, Cubao, where they get bulk discounts. On the other hand, Yolly goes to Malabon between 7 p.m. and 2 a.m. She prefers to get them by the kilo rather than by banyera to make sure that she gets the fresh ones.

Yolly say that you can tell the freshness of the fish by the eyes (looks alive and not red), the body is firm and slippery to the touch and naglalaway (spits). She cautions that the gills are not good indicators of freshness because they could easily be colored with pork blood.

I asked them why they use incandescent bulbs which consume a lot of electricity and they both said that fluorescent lamps are too bright and fish don’t appear attractive under their beam; incandescent light makes fish look good and fresh.

At the end of the day, what makes them smile? Rosalie and Yolly said that when they are able to sell every single fish, make a modest profit and when customers come back again and again. Asked if they eat fish, they both laughed and said, “What will we do with the unsold fish? Also fish is health food.”

(Moje assists entrepreneurs in their journey to business excellence, organization and human resource development. E-mail at

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