An Earthly Ritual in Manila

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Hans Villarica

Out of the bag At Ritual, many goods are sold loose

If you're in the Philippine capital and looking for original gifts for the folks back home, bypass the barong shops and head for Ritual. Located on the periphery of Makati, Metro Manila's frenetic financial district, this alternative grocery bursts with smart gift choices in the form of organic goods sourced from all over the archipelago.

The gourmet in your life will thank you for one-of-a-kind cooking ingredients like organic sea salt from southern Sarangani province. There are seasonal food items like balayang, an indigenous banana from the northern Ilocos region that's pickled in black cane vinegar and served as a tangy garnish. There are even some time-tested holistic products like tawas (potassium alum), used in traditional local medicine as an antiseptic, deodorant and moisturizer. "Each of our products has its own story," says co-owner Rob Crisostomo. "It's when we give importance to that story, that ritual, that we help protect the environment that made it all possible."

Ritual's prices are cheap, with most of the stock sourced straight from local farms and forests. Pieces of tawas are on offer at just 34 cents each. And the much ballyhooed civet coffee beans — the ones "processed" by wild jungle cats and famously gathered in Indonesia but also in the Philippines — are just $200 a kilo, a steal compared with typical export prices of $500 and beyond.

After browsing, visitors can chill on Ritual's shaded patio while indulging in desserts made with fresh local ingredients (don't miss the frozen calamansi yogurt with honey). Plans are also under way to transform the second floor of this cozy 20-sq-m space into a traditional hilot (Filipino massage) area. There won't be too much relaxation for Crisostomo and his partner Bea Misa, however. The two eco-entrepreneurs first worked together six years ago when they sold reusable bags in college. Today they are piloting programs with the advocacy group Hapinoy to help the country's small convenience stores — known as sari-sari stores — go green. One of their objectives is to persuade store owners, who sell most of their wares in plastic sachets, to adopt Ritual's practice of selling everything from shampoo to sugar in loose form. Not only does the lack of packaging mean lower costs, it also allows customers to purchase the precise quantities required. Which reminds us: if you're planning on a visit to Ritual, cadge a few containers and cloth bags from your hotel first. For the store's address and opening hours, call (63-2) 400 4326.