When my niece and nephews were very small, I made them try latô. They looked doubtfully at this strange-looking, green bunch of tiny “nodules”, but I told them they were grapes that grow in the sea. “Ah, grapes”, said their young and innocent minds! Their vegetable police has outsmarted them again. At first, the briny taste weirded them out… but they liked it. They loved how the tiny “grapes” would pop in their mouths and would explode with the amazingly delicious flavor of the sea. And that’s how I got them to like latô.
Latô, also called arorosep in the northern provinces, is a seaweed that grows deep in the ocean, in intertidal zones near mangrove forests. Living in the city, getting your hands on really fresh latô is not easy. They are usually packed in seawater to keep them as crisp and fresh as possible in their trip from the sea to the market to your table. It’s incredibly delicate, too. Those teeny-weeny grapes can melt into watery nothingness if banged around in your shopping bag or even washed with tap water long before you eat it. To keep it crisp, rinse it quickly just before you eat it.
I like my latô as a salad, combined with sliced tomatoes and onions. NEVER pour dressing or sauce over the entire salad — they will melt. I dip the salad separately in a sauce of Bagoong Balayan and kalamansi. Some prefer to use local vinegar, like sukang Iloco, as dipping sauce. They make a healthy and perfect side dish to fried or grilled fish.
In texture, flavor, and the aroma of the ocean, it’s a winner! I love latô — Definitely amuses my bouche!