The way food concepts come and go in the Philippines is quite fast paced. I remember when the food park phenomenon was picking up steam with multiple locations popping up, only to close down soon after. Weekend markets, usually set up in residential areas and villages, have also come and gone. Given the short lifespan of many of these enterprises, it becomes even more admirable that the Salcedo Saturday Market has flourished since it was first set up in 2004.
For those who may not know, Salcedo Market is an extremely popular food market open every Saturday from 7 am to 2 pm, rain or shine. It was first conceptualized by Lisa Periquet and Trickie Lopa in 2004, after they noticed that Velasquez Park inside Salcedo Village (where the market is situated) never really functioned as a park for people to roam around and play in, but rather as a parking lot. One of its proponents, longtime Barangay Bel-Air Chair Constancia “Nene” Lichauco saw the market as an opportunity for community building. She explains, “(The market is) for the people in Salcedo Village to realize that they belong to Barangay Bel-Air.”
You may also like:
Initially, the organizers struggled to find vendors for the market, starting with only 14 stalls at the time. But they persevered, finally hitting the mainstream with the success of Ineng’s Special BBQ which Trickie Lopa attributes as the turning point of Salcedo Market.
Fast forward to 2019 and the market has given birth to 160+ stalls that offer everything from Texas BBQ to Malaysian cuisine to Mexican dishes. It also boasts regional Filipino fare, as well as organic produce, meats, seafood not usually found in public wet markets. Getting the right mix of gourmet and turo turo, newfangled and traditional, local and international falls to the non-profit Women of Bel-Air, composed of women volunteers and their staff who run market operations.
The selection process
When asked about how they choose vendors for the market, Lichauco attests to the tough screening process to assess both the quality of the products and the needs of the market. “We just don’t put anybody in here,” she says. There is a food committee that interviews applicants, and of course, tastes the products. “We like to keep a certain product mix,” explains Mia Villanueva, one of the organizers, making sure vendors aren’t selling the same kind of food. There is actually a certain cachet to selling at Salcedo Market, with the waitlist currently running at more than a hundred!
With marketgoers willing to spend, the organizers don’t necessarily see high prices as a deterrent. Instead, they assess quality of ingredients, taste, uniqueness, and owner profile. Villanueva elaborates, “We appreciate it if the owner is here. It makes a big difference…When the owner is here, they sell so much better.” Lichauco adds that they take no inquiries online, preferring new applicants to come to the market first and imbibe the market culture, before making their pitch.
Supporting the vendors
While inviting relatively unknown food vendors may seem risky at first, the market organizers have found a recipe for success. In fact, many stall owners have gone on to expand their business ventures elsewhere, with Salcedo Market as their jump off point. One such owner is Iya Cua, founder of Bun Appetit which gained a following for the best New England-style seafood rolls around, and has since opened a stall in Power Plant Mall.
The market also sets aside slots for local farmers and producers to sell fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and seafood, as a way to help these small start-ups. Farmers like Joey Malana, who joined the market in its first year, has been able to make a living by selling high-quality vegetables sourced from Atok, Baguio, Isabela, and Tagaytay.
Peanut vendor Louie Bagunas only heard about the market through the grapevine. On his first day, he walked from Pateros all the way to Salcedo Village, but ended up selling out his boiled peanuts in just a few hours. Twelve years later, he continues to sell peanuts, with majority of his income coming from the market, with which he was able to buy a house and send his three kids to good schools.
Salcedo Market’s 160+ vendors form a close-knit community that the organizers support through an annual fellowship, outreach programs, and training seminars on relevant topics like food safety, cleanliness, tax preparation, and more. The most recent initiative involves a zero-waste program limiting the use of single-use plastics and encouraging recycling.
For the most part, since 2004, Salcedo Market has stayed open every Saturday, even during storms, except for Black Saturday. When asked the reason for its 15 years of success, Villanueva states, “I like that it’s consistent, steady, reliable.” No longer a mom-and-pop operation, the market is professionally run by a passionate group of women who you’ll see every Saturday, sitting by the entrance, ready to entertain new applicant inquiries, address concerns, and greet friends and acquaintances who constantly stream through the gates from morning till closing.
Even after 15 years, Lichauco admits how much she still enjoys her Saturdays at the market. “I’ve been abroad to Europe, nothing can compare to ours,” she declares with a smile. “We do not have any side goals like making a profit. Since profit is out of the way, we do it with heart, with a purpose, that’s why it will not go wrong,” she affirms.
This August 31, to celebrate its 15 years of community building in Barangay Bel-Air and Makati, Salcedo Market is planning a fun-filled day of games and performances, including a scavenger hunt, trivia contest, taste test, among other activities. With the aim of bringing the market back to its community building roots, the August 31 celebration is open to friends who have stuck by the market for many years, as well as those interested in visiting for the first time. Who knows? It could be the start of a weekly trip to Salcedo for years to come. See you at the market!
Photos by Chris Clemente
Event photos courtesy of Salcedo Market