For any kind of major grocery shopping, there are basically two places you can choose from in the Philippines. I am not talking about needing to buy a can of coke or a pack of gum at the convenience store. I am talking about making a major purchase of groceries for your household. Maybe it’s enough for a few days, for a week, or longer. When you purchase that kind of quantity, you are looking to get a good price, and a place where you can get most of what you need. So, where do you go? As I said, generally there are a couple of choices for such purchases: the grocery store or the wet market.
What are the advantages of shopping at the grocery store? Well, first of all, it is more modern. Just like a grocery store in the USA, Europe or wherever you are from, if you go to SM or another major Supermarket, you will find that is similar to what you experienced back home. Brightly lighten aisles full of all sorts of goods. You’ll find imported goods as well as local goods. Generally, big grocery stores are kept relatively clean and germ free (although this can vary). You can find basically every grocery item that you might need under one roof. Whether it is meat, fish, breakfast cereal or tea bags, they will have it at the grocery store. If language is an issue, you can easily get help in English at the grocery store.
What are the advantages of shopping at the wet market? Well, you can find all the basics at the wet market. If you need meat, fish, rice or any other staple product that is regularly needed to prepare meals at your home, they have it at the wet market. When it comes to fish, meat, chicken and such, if you go early in the morning, I believe that you will get a product that is fresher than you will find in th grocery store. I believe this to be particularly true for fish. All the non-necessary items that are generally impulse buys, which you don’t need, are not necessarily found at the wet market. This might mean that you will avoid purchasing things that you don’t need. Fruits and vegetables are available in more variety at the wet market than at the grocery store (and much fresher) in most cases. When you deal with the person at the stall at the wet market, you are generally dealing with the owner of the enterprise, or at least somebody in the family. Because of this, they go out of their way to be friendly, and to serve you. If you are trying to learn to speak the local language, or just get a taste of local culture, I believe that the wet market is the very best place where you can do this. There is no substitute!
What are the disadvantages of shopping at the grocery store? Well, in general, prices at a big grocery store are generally higher than what you will pay in the wet market. You might have to travel half way across town to get to a good supermarket. Selections of fruits and vegetables are generally limited, and also the freshness of such products is generally not that great at the supermarket, in my experience. Many times in a big grocery store, it can be difficult to find assistance as the employees are pretty busy, and sometimes have an unhelpful attitude. The employees are not the owners of the store, and thus they care less whether you buy or not.
What are the disadvantages of shopping at the wet market? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is cleanliness. It’s not that it is really dirty, but it is generally an outside market, and this tends to get all the auto exhaust, smoke, dirt and such. If you buy fruits and vegetables in such a place, be sure to wash the stuff before consuming it. When you are in a place like this, be ready for some unpleasant odors! If you can’t handle smelling some nasty things, better go to the supermarket. If you intend to buy meat, fish and such, it is much better to do it early in the morning when stocks are fresh. Most wet markets don’t have refrigeration, so by late on a hot afternoon, freshness can suffer. Also, when shopping at the wet market, you might not find everything you need, and thus may need to go to the supermarket to get those hard to find items.
So, my evaluation, overall is that you would be best to mix it up and shop in both places. Buy things like fresh fruits, vegetables and fish at the wet market. Shop for dry goods, prepared foods and such at the grocery store. Compare the items in your local area to determine where you can get the freshest items, the best prices, etc., and then decide what to buy at each location!
Here in the Philippines, there are multiple choices for things like this – take advantage of the fact that these places are here to serve you!
Here is an added bonus for you. In Luzon, the wet market is called the Palengke. If you are in the Visayas or Mindanao, the wet market is referred to locally as the Mercado, or in Davao it is most commonly called by it’s Tagalog name, Palengke, but Mercado can be used too.