Seafood on a Budget

In the Philippines, dampa-style eating boils down to three main steps: 1.) strolling down the wet market to haggle and purchase fresh produce such as seafood, 2.) selecting a nearby restaurant or eatery where, for a service fee, they will cook your market finds any way you like, and 3.) enjoying your freshly cooked dishes in a modest outdoor setting, usually the kamayan way (eating with your hands without any utensils).

Wet market: point and purchase

The problem with many seafood dampa spots I’ve tried in Manila is the hefty price tag. I remember going to Seaside Dampa in Macapagal Road, Manila, with six friends early this year. We purchased a few kilos of shrimp, crab, squid, and oyster from the wet market, and had five kinds of dishes cooked at the Claire Dela Fuente Seafood Place. Add in our orders of rice and drinks and we had to shell out P750 each to pay for the total cost of about P5,000 plus tip. For the same amount of money we could’ve gone to a cleaner air-conditioned buffet.

Old Pala-Pala, Bacolod

But I did find a budget-friendly dampa spot all the way in Bacolod. Hyksos Tulahan in Old Pala-Pala is a town favorite, beating even the New Pala-Pala in terms of customer quantity. If you’re too lazy to bargain for fresh catch at the wet market next door, you may ask one of the waitresses to do it for you while you wait at your restaurant of choice. Or if you don’t mind spending a little more, just order a la carte straight from the menu.

Shrimp and scallops for P350 a kilo or P175 for half a kilo

Bacolod’s wet markets remind me of the days when Mama would take me to the Cavite City market to purchase fresh seafood and meats.

We didn’t want to miss out on the whole experience, so we braved the smelly wet market and purchased ½ kilo of shrimps for P175 and ½ kilo of scallops for also P175. The Hyksos kitchen buttered and roasted our scallops for a cooking charge of P80, and turned our fresh shrimps into a sumptuous dish of chili shrimps for P90.

Hyksos is pronounced by the locals as “exhaust.”

The cook did not skimp on the butter and fresh seasoning, making each dish a flavorful dining experience. The fun was also in eating with your bare hands, as we peeled each tasty shrimp and pulled out each scallop from the seashell while scooping helpings of white rice into our mouths. Not to worry; forks and spoons are available for those who aren’t willing to get their hands dirty.

Chili shrimps

Buttered scallops

The entire meal was good enough for three people, and our entire dinner cost only P585—drinks and rice included. Now that’s a steal!

A warning to the picky eater and upscale diner: if you can’t stand tropical outdoor heat and non-luxurious eating spots but would still like to indulge in fresh Bacolod seafood, head to the more upscale New Pala-Pala at 18th Street instead. As for cowgirls like me, the Old Pala-Pala is the place to see food (pun intended).

Hyksos Tulahan is located at Old Pala-Pala, San Juan Street corner North Capitol Road, Bacolod City.

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