Starweek Magazine

The beleaguered onion farmers

- Lydia Castillo - The Philippine Star

It is a grim possibility, but home cooks may soon have to brace themselves for the high cost of onions or its complete unavailability in the market. Woe to us for the onion is one of the most important elements of our cuisine.

Related to the family of lily, onion is an underground bulb that gives that special magic to a lot of dishes with its pungent flavor and aroma. There are two main kinds of onions – the green which are the scallions and the dry, white and red, that we are all familiar with, covered with thin paper skin. The white-skinned variety is much sweeter but the red one has a stronger flavor. Lately, they have been pickled and canned.

The problems now are decreased production and low farm gate prices that went down to the alarming rate of P8 per kilo. The normal price had been between P20 and P25 although the ideal price should be from P35 up for the farmers to earn. Then there are imported onions that flood the market and are much cheaper, a big competition indeed. The last time we bought the native variety from a wet market, the white went for P50 a kilo with the red at P60.

Our question now is why would home grown onions cost more than the imported ones? This brings us to the fact that native garlic, another major element in our cooking, now costs a staggering P480 a kilo! Whew! How did it happen? Do they need government support? If so, is it given? Do they need modern farm equipment? Some people must look into this.

We had information that the farmers are storing their harvest in warehouses until they get a good farm gate price. But onions spoil, so are they risking this?

Anyway, what will our bistek (beef steak) Tagalog be without onions? How can we make tomato-onion salad without it? How will our menudo and binagoongan be without this flavorful bulb? How can we make crispy onion rings? We dread the day when truly, we can no longer cook with onions. Hopefully that will never happen.

Pangasinan is the largest onion producing province. This week the growers and the municipal officials of Bayambang are determined to hold their annual Onion Festival. We hope this will encourage both sectors to save the onions.

Here is the recipe for tomato-onion salad, for those who have requested for it and for those who have not tried it yet. You need four beautifully ripened tomatoes, cut into small wedges (discard the seeds); two medium-size red onions and one red egg, also cut into small wedges. For the dressing, mix well four tablespoons of vinegar, two tablespoons of brown sugar and a dash of pepper. Adjust seasoning to your taste. This is ideal to serve with fried fish, pork chops or pork adobo.

Here’s to a progressive onion industry!


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