Some call it strange, odd, bizarre and weird. Lato is a popular seaweed not only in Palawan, I have seen and ate this in Bicol and some places in the Visayas. Nonetheless, Palawan’s lato is famous for being one of the best, because we have a variety that is more plump and gooey. I don’t know if that sounds enticing, but for locals it does.
What is lato anyway?
Lato is among the species of Caulerpa, an edible variety of seaweeds. Biologists call it Caulerpa Letillifera, that’s a handful to say I know. In English people prefer to call it sea grapes, for those who prefer to be posh, call it green caviar.
Lato is eaten fresh, a dip in vinegar or vinaigrette creates a more palatable flavor. But for most locals, eating it even without a fancy dressing is okay. Further, this is preferred as a side dish with grilled seafood.
Lato is gooey yet very rich in iodine. My mother insists on regular consumption and often say that it is good in preventing goiter.
How to eat and where to get?
Seafood restaurants serve it as an appetizer salad, or a side dish to grilled fish. Really good with grilled “anything” though. Lato is best served fresh, washing it in tap would kill it right away so best only wash it before preparing as a salad.
If you are in Puerto Princesa, try the Baywalk where you’d find stalls after stalls of seafood restaurants.
Cuyo is an island municipality of Palawan. The best wild lato is found in the deep seas of the island. They are more plump with richer green color. Latong Cuyo dominates the lato market in Puerto Princesa, often not even reaching the public market because it is contracted directly by restaurants owners.
If you ask me, the flavor of latong cuyo is richer than the usual lato available in the market. Maybe the reason behind it is it isn’t cultured but harvested from its natural habitat. Nonetheless I have not come across a lato from cuyo for quite a while.
Lato as an industry
Lato provides a livelihood to remote municipalities of the province. While it is not the same as the strength of the fish industry, lato’s market reaches Manila and Cebu providing small yet lucrative income to small scale fisherman.
How much is Lato?
From the public market you can purchase a bunch that costs about 20 Pesos, 50 cents in USD. That is about 250 grams. Lato isn’t sold per kilo, best I know. I don’t know how it is in other markets though. Don’t expect this price when eating in a restaurant. The price is a bit bloated, nonetheless, still not that expensive and worth to try.