Gray Matter


Street Vendors and What They Sell in Olongapo, Philippines

taho - street vendorsI’d be lying to you if I told you I know of everything that’s sold on the streets in the Philippines. I only know what I know from my experiences in a few different areas, all in Olongapo. Still, I can’t name some things I’ve seen. I never buy anything for myself from street vendors, but others in my extended family do.

I won’t even buy street food from one of my in-laws when she’s cooking some. When my younger son was in the Philippines, it seemed like he ate food from street vendors more than anywhere else, even though there was plenty of food at home (and it was probably because he was rarely home for more than just sleeping).

Street Vendors Selling Taho

Taho is a snack food made of soft tofu (soybean) covered in a sweet syrup of some kind, and it’s served warm at a price of around five pesos. It’s usually the kids that go for it and I used to keep 5-peso coins in my pockets for the nieces and nephews that might be around. I don’t do that anymore because there’s just too many of them. I can’t afford to burn through money like that anymore. Not on my budget.

In all the time I’ve spent in Olongapo, I’ve only seen one street vendor selling taho, and it’s in the neighborhood I live in, and only in the morning.


The street vendors who sell fish go to different places early in the morning to get their supply of fish and then sell the fish street by street and door-to-door. The word isda, which means “fish”, can be heard as the word is yelled for hours as they walk by.

A brother-in-law’s wife (a bilas of mine) does this also, but she tends to focus on smaller fish while a guy from another neighborhood focuses on large fish. On occasion, he’ll even have octopus or squid mixed in with the fish.

Some street vendors sell dried fish as well (or only dried fish), but the fish are usually yelled out by type, such as daing or tuyo. Frankly, I can’t remember all the names, and I’ve given up trying to discern what they’re yelling most of the time.

Ice Cream

There’s a street vendor with an ice cream stand attached to a motorcycle that winds his way from neighborhood to neighborhood in the late evening, usually an hour or two before it gets dark. He sells thin ice cream cones with two or three tiny scoops of ice cream of various flavors on top of them.

Again, it’s usually the nieces and nephews that beg for money to buy ice cream cones and if I have any loose change, I’ll usually cough it up. Thankfully, they only catch me outside when their favorite snacks are being sold a couple of times a month. If it was daily, I’d probably go broke in short order.


Back in the 1980s and only in the other places I stayed in the city, it was common to hear the word “balut” being yelled at all hours of the day. I’ve yet to hear it once where I live now.

Balut is either chicken or duck eggs fermented while still in the embryonic stages. It’s a Filipino delicacy but for some strange reason, I can never get past the sight of the beak when the egg is cracked open. I call it the “egg with legs”.

Some Americans love balut, but I’m not one of them.

Household Goods

This is something I don’t understand at all. I’ve seen street vendors carrying furniture, bedding and rugs on their backs and attempting to sell them door-to-door. The furniture is usually in the form of cheap plastic chests of drawers and things like that. I’ve never seen anyone buy anything from them but then, I don’t spend a lot of time watching them. I don’t want to give them the impression that I want to buy something from them.

They obviously sell some of it because some of my in-laws have some of that junk in their houses and that’s really what it is because it doesn’t last very long.

Food Made of Rice and Various Fruits and Vegetables

The number of street vendors that yell out what they’re selling seems to happen a lot less these days. I used to hear puto (a sweet rice cake) and “pan DE sol” (as the bread was pronounced for emphasis) but I rarely hear either anymore. As far as the bread goes, it’s probably because there are more regular loaves of bread being sold in neighborhood bakeries than ever before.

While standing outdoors, I’ve seen various fruits and vegetables being sold, but the vendors usually don’t yell out anything. The products can be anything from mangoes to malunggay (moringa in other places) leaves.

Street Vendors and the Shift in Noise

Years ago, the noisiest things to be heard in any neighborhood were the street vendors. Nowadays, the noise emanates more from various vehicles on the road, from motorcycles to large flatbed trucks, but only during the daylight hours.

At night, along with the sound of various tricycles (motorcycles with sidecars) coming and going, the roosters and the dogs make a lot of noise and tend to be much more annoying because they crow and bark at random times all night long. The barking is what keeps me awake at night. I’ve become accustomed to just about everything else.

Photo Attribution: ​English Wikipedia user Kguirnela / CC BY 2.5
Originally published at one of my other websites in September 2014.

Author: RT Cunningham
Date: August 3, 2020 (UTC)
Categories: Food and Drink

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