To make the most out of life, you have to make the right choices. The right school, the right course, the right car, the right job, the right girl...and yes, the right food. And it’s not enough to be picky with what you’re putting in your mouth: When you’re "shopping" in the wet market, you should be smart enough to judge if you’re getting fresh meat without relying on your suki’s sweet-talking. Hey, it's cleaner and much, much safer that way, right?
But how do you know that you’re getting prime beef/pork/chicken/fish and not prime botcha? That’s exactly what we're about to answer...
1) SMELL IT
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Take a whiff of that slab of meat you’re eyeing. If it smells off—even if it’s just a bit rancid—it’s probably not the meat you’d want to buy. Fresh fish, meanwhile, should smell like, well, fish. There’s a fine line between smelling fish-like and smelling fishy. And if the scent makes you want to gag, that’s when you know you’ve crossed the olfactory line.
2) PLAY WITH IT
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Don’t be afraid to get a bit handsy with your pork, beef, or chicken meat. Give it a few pokes. If it’s truly fresh, it should spring back to its original shape.
3) CHECK THE COLOR
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Beef should be bright red, pork should be a nice rosy pink shade, and chicken should range from pale pink to pale yellow. If that slab you’re looking at in the palengke is pale and on the brown or gray side, stay away from it. Vacuum-sealed meat, meanwhile, should be on the purplish side, with no air pockets around the meat. And if parts of the meat are turning green, that’s a very sure sign that you should drop it, STAT!
4) NO GROUNDING
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If you need ground meat for your arroz ala cubana, don’t buy from the pre-ground heap at the seller—you don’t know how long it’s been there and what part of the animal it came from. Instead, pick a fresh chunk of meat and ask the butcher to ground it up for you on the spot.
5) FEEL IT UP
Touch the meat. If it feels slimy or sticky, you might be looking at some double-dead stock.
6) CLEAN SKIN IS IN
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Check the skin of the meat you’re buying. Whether you’re getting pork, beef, or chicken, the skin should be clean, with no traces of dirt. The more dirt it has, the longer it probably has been outside (which means it's not that fresh anymore).
7) BEWARE OF BOTCHA
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Double-dead meat, or botcha, is derived from diseased animals and smuggled to various markets around the country. It’s scary because eating the stuff means ingesting the bacteria in the sick animal’s blood, meaning there’s a chance you can get sick too. Aside from the tips listed above, you should also ask for the price: If it’s too low compared to the average market prices, it might most likely be too good to be true.
8) THE GILLS AND THE EYES
When buying fish, check the gills: They should be a vivid red or pink. The eyes, meanwhile, should be clear and protruding.
9) SKIN TO SCALE
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If you’re buying fish, its skin should be shiny and tight. If the fish has scales, they should stick to the skin and shouldn’t be dry or flaky-looking.
10) SHELL OUT
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Shellfish should be sold alive, and clams and mussels should close when you tap them. Dead shellfish should be chucked in the trash can immediately.