Dampa – whenever friends or foreigners ask me, “What’s there to do in Manila?” My stock answer is always… EAT! One excellent place to do so at a price that won’t break the bank is Dampa Macapagal, Pasay – which is what my blog entry will be all about (what to buy, how to have your seafood cooked, and which restaurant to patronize). For non-Filipinos, the dampa concept is basically this: customers buy the raw seafood themselves from the wet market (situated near the restaurants), then proceed to the restaurant of their choice to have the items cooked in whatever way they please. So if you’re excited to enjoy a bountiful seafood dinner at a price you can afford, read on read on!
Note that my family of 12 went to Dampa on January 1 – at the peak of the season and therefore all seafood prices would be quite expensive by normal standards. If you go in the months after Jan/before Dec, prices should be better (unless the seafood you want is not in season)
How to get there
Dampa is located along Diosdado Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City. To get here, you have three options:
- LRT to Gil Puyat station, then grab an orange jeep headed towards Mall of Asia. Make sure to stop the jeep once it reaches Dampa
- Grab a cab/Uber/Grab
- Drive. If you’re driving, try to go early (before peak hours, aka before 19:30) in order to get a parking space quickly.
Question #1: Where can I buy my seafood?
When you enter, you’ll see rows of restaurants on one side, and two rows of open-air wet market on the other side. Have one companion go to the restaurant of your choice (will talk about this later on) to reserve a table for you, while the rest of you should head to the wet market to choose your seafood
Row #1: Specialized stalls
Here, each stall sells only a specific type of seafood – whether fish, squid, oysters, etc. Some prefer buying from these stalls given the greater variety for that particular seafood type
Row #2: General stalls
Here, the stalls sell a little of everything. Some people prefer buying from these stalls, as they garner a bigger discount since they’ll basically be buying all their seafood from that one stall
Regardless of which stall you buy from, it’s best to scout both rows just to get a sense of what’s being sold and for how much
Question #2: What seafood should I buy?
For ALL SEAFOOD
#1 Check to make sure the weighing scale is at 0 before he places your seafood on it – so that you’re only paying for the equivalent weight of your purchase
#2 Haggle haggle haggle. This is why it’s important for you to go around beforehand, to get a better sense of how low prices can go. Also, when the seller tells you he can’t go any lower… He probably still can. It’s also common practice to just round down, e.g. if it costs PHP 440, you can say, PHP 400 nalang
There are three types of crab (from cheapest to most expensive): Male/Lalaki (meaty but has no aligue, otherwise known as crab fat or crab roe), Female/Babae (less meaty, has aligue), Gay/Bakla (but actually, this is really a Virgin Female Crab – meaty, with some aligue)
How we like it cooked: Crab with sotanghon, Chili crab ala Singapore style, Salted egg crab, Crab with egg white (this takes some time to cook), Crab with rice (note that this takes ~1 hour to cook, and it’s only worth it if you buy either Babae or Bakla, since it’s the crab fat that makes it tasty)
What to watch out for when buying crab:
#1 Watch carefully when the seller picks your crab for you, and count their pincers. Remember, the pincers are the meatiest parts, and each crab should have TWO
#2 If you want to have your crab cooked in different ways, get the smaller crabs instead of one huge one. Also, smaller crabs are better value for your money since their shells are lighter – so you get more meat for each buck!
#3 Fresh crabs should still be alive and kicking when you buy them… Don’t get the limp ones
Price paid: PHP 600 per kilo (one kilo = 3 medium sized crabs). We bought 2.2 kilos for PHP 1,250 (power of haggling! + the original price they gave us was PHP 780 per kilo, which we haggled down to PHP 600 per kilo)
Shrimps have different sizes – small, medium, and large. Each one is suited for a certain style of cooking
How we like it cooked: Steamed/Suahe (small/medium), Chili style shrimps (medium), Buttered shrimps (medium), Tempura (medium-large)
What to watch out for when buying shrimp:
#1 Check for freshness – sniff the shrimp, do not buy if it smells like ammonia. Avoid buying also if the shrimp is limp, slimy or falling apart. Lastly, check for black spots on the head and the body. If black spots exist, don’t buy!
#2 If you want to have it cooked tempura style, explicitly tell this to the seller so they’ll point you to their largest shrimps!
Price paid: PHP 600 per kilo. We bought 2 kilos for PHP 1,200
How we like it cooked: Grilled salt and pepper
Price paid: PHP 550 per kilo (one kilo = 3 pieces of sea mantis, which can be cut up into ~12 pieces)
When buying oysters, make sure they’re in season. Not sure if this is true… but my family doesn’t eat oysters during red tide season, just to be on the safe side (we don’t eat mussels either!)
How we like it cooked: Baked oysters, with lots of cheesy goodness!
Price paid: PHP 120 per kilo (each kilo has around ~10 pcs, depending on size of the oysters. Remember, smaller shell = lighter weight). We bought 2 kilos for PHP 240
The quintessential fish dish for the Chinese cannot be forgotten of course! Although next time, I think I want to try the stone fish (but it was ridiculously expensive though!!! PHP 3,300 per kilo!)
How we like it cooked: Steamed with soy sauce (only possible if you buy it fresh aka live), Steamed with tauso (no idea what tauso is in English, but it’s crunchy and sweet)
What to watch out for when buying lapu-lapu:
#1 Best to buy this fresh from an aquarium so you know its 100% fresh! It’s worth the 20-30% premium
#2 If you have no choice but to buy a dead one, check for freshness by:
– Looking at the eyes – they should look alive and totally clear. Avoid bloodshot or cataract afflicted eyes at all cost
– Check the gills – they must be a lively dark or deep red. Pale gills means the fish has been dead for awhile
– See if the fish possess a sheen (e.g. if it looks like it’s coated in slightly sticky saliva-like film). This means it’s fresh out of the sea and hasn’t been sitting on ice for a long length of time
– Gently poke the flesh of the fish (including the stomach), it should be pliable and bounce back a little. It should NOT be mushy
Price paid: PHP 600 for 1 kilo (this was for 1 big fish, that fed 12 people)
Question #3: Which restaurant should I frequent?
My family (and all the friends I’ve asked) patronize Hong Kong Royal Kitchen Restaurant (its English name only says Royal Kitchen Restaurant). I can attest to the quality and tastiness of their cooking! Once you enter the restaurant, they will:
- Ask if you want a VIP room (if you’re a big group). Say no, it’s expensive
- Get your seafood purchases and weigh it. I trust the restaurant, but I also check their weighing scale to make sure it matches the kilos I paid for
- Ask you how you want your seafood cooked. In this case, explicitly tell them the cooking style, and how many kilos to be cooked that way (e.g. if you have 2 kilos worth of crab, tell them 1 kilo should be cooked in manner x, and the other kilo in manner y)
- Give you a number – so that their waiter will know where to bring your food once cooked. Place this number on your table’s number stand once seated
Once seated, ask for a menu and feel free to order the following, unless you want a seafood only dinner – so yummy!
- Yangchow fried rice
- Salted egg French beans
- Drinks (buko juice, softdrinks)
After ~30mins (depending on how busy the restaurant is), the food should start to arrive. Bon Appétit!
Question #4: How much will this dinner cost me?
Hope this answers all your questions! What are you waiting for, go Dampa now!