Price hikes lead to odd menu: ‘Regular’ steak or ‘with onions’? | Inquirer News

Price hikes lead to odd menu: ‘Regular’ steak or ‘with onions’?

Onions bought much cheaper in Thailand at only 45 baht a kilo (about P74) proved to be the best holiday present a Filipino couple could give to siblings and friends.

TIMELY CHRISTMAS GIFT Onions bought much cheaper in Thailand at only 45 baht a kilo (about P74) proved to be the best holiday present a Filipino couple could give to siblings and friends. —Pennie Azarcon-Dela Cruz

Marking their 41st wedding anniversary, Melissa and her husband hied off to Baguio City for a post-Christmas break. Of course they had to dine at this huge Chinese restaurant where food was consistently good and affordable, with an ambience that reflected the decade when they had first met. Alas, the price of some items had sprinted to catch up to 2022, particularly their favorite beef steak Chinese style.

Listed under specials, the dish had two prices: “regular,” and “with onions.”


“Do you want it with onions?” Melissa asked her husband. “There’s some P40 difference,” she added.


“But is it even beef steak if it has no onions?” he responded.

‘We’re rich!’

Onions, rather than romance, had dominated the couple’s conversation leading up to this date. On two separate weeks in December, the husband had gone to Thailand on business, and she had asked only that he bring home at least 2 kilos of onions. At only 45 baht a kilo (about P74), they were a bargain at a time when local markets were selling red onions for as much as P600 and white onions for P700 a kilo. On his second trip, he had managed about 3 kilos in his luggage that Customs, thankfully, did not inspect.

“Call me ‘The Onion Smuggler,’” he said gleefully, referencing a character (The Onion Knight) from “Game of Thrones,” as he held aloft three net baskets of the fist-size bulbs.

“We’re rich, we’re rich!” she sang along, like they had just won the lottery.

Indeed, she felt like Mother Bountiful as she doled out three onions each to grateful siblings and friends for Christmas. That left her about 2 more kilos in her kitchen, a veritable treasure she looks at with moist eyes before happily retiring to bed.

‘Panciteria’ feel pinch

From being a marketplace anomaly, the staggering prices of onions in the country have not only stretched household budgets but also warped consumption patterns.


And the pinch has been felt not only in family kitchens but also in restaurants and eateries.

In Tuguegarao City, the local “panciteria” (noodle shops)—especially those serving the famous “pancit batil patung”—have been forced to become more creative with the traditional recipe.

Batil patung basically is stir-fried noodles topped with ground carabeef, poached egg and bean sprouts, and served with “caldo,” or an egg drop soup. Other versions of the dish come with toppings of “karahay” (lechon kawali) or “igado” (Ilocano pork and liver stew). But to any local, this pancit variety is best eaten with onions, either chopped and sprinkled on the plate or mixed with soy sauce, calamansi, native vinegar and chili.

At one eatery along Diversion Road, customers are now asked first whether they would still stay and place orders for batil patung despite onions being unavailable. The staff is honest enough to declare the lack of the key ingredient, which used to be almost free and generously served.

Still at P500 a kilo

Several restaurants in Tuguegarao, the capital city of Cagayan province, have either stopped serving onions or have reduced portions given to customers.

As of Thursday, major public markets and roadside stalls were selling onions at around P500 a kilo. At least two stalls were offering the bulbs at only P300 a kilo, but that’s because the produce were from an older stock procured when the prices were still much lower.

Primitiva Martirez, 72, a Tuguegarao resident whose family runs a panciteria in nearby Solana town, said she usually got her supply of onions from traders in the Ilocos provinces at P350 a kilo.

She used to pay P490 for 8 kilos of onion, Martirez said, but the prices started going up in November last year.

But knowing that her customers like their pancit best served with onions, she chose not to deny them this, well, culinary luxury.

“Onions used to be readily available, with an unlimited supply, but now we have to control the servings as they are so expensive,” she told the Inquirer on Thursday.

She said her patrons were just glad to find onions still available at her restaurant, unlike in many other eateries in Tuguegarao.

‘Out of control’

Red onions have remained expensive after the holidays because farm-gate prices also stayed at P300 a kilo, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Speaking at the Laging Handa briefing, the DA spokesperson, Assistant Secretary Rex Estoperez, said he recently visited an onion farm and learned from local farmers that they had buyers willing and even “competing” to buy their harvests at more than P300 a kilo.

After buying onions at farm-gate prices of P300 to P350 a kilo, “agents” would then sell them at up to P500 a kilo, Estoperez said.

On Dec. 29, the DA issued an administrative circular pegging the suggested retail price (SRP) for red onions at P250 a kilo. The SRP was to be in effect up to the first week of January.

However, the Jan. 5 edition of the DA’s Bantay Presyo, its daily price monitor for key agri-fishery commodities in Metro Manila, placed the price of local red onions at P280 to P650 per kilo.

The DA official conceded that the prices of onion were “now out of control” as indicated in the DA monitoring of markets and farms during the holidays.

‘Palliative’ solution

Estoperez said the department might consider the importation of onions as a “palliative” and “short-term” solution.

“But we’re being careful in doing that to protect and balance [the interest of farmers and consumers],” he said. “Production and importation should be balanced because we might hurt the farmers to the detriment of their production, while we are protecting the consumers—so there is a need to balance.”

Based on estimates by the Bureau of Plant Industry, around 19,000 metric tons of onions may enter the local market as the harvest season starts this month.

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“We are expecting this (new harvest) to pull down the prices in our markets. But if the situation remains that farm-gate prices are not going down, it seems we will be compelled, even if we say we are being careful, to utilize the band-aid solution of importing,” Estoperez said.


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TAGS: Farmers, onions, price hike, Rex Estoperez

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