Hello, people… 🙂 As I said before, Philippines is an aquatic country. Ours is a big grouping of islands and islets. We’re literally surrounded by water, just like Winnie the Pooh after the rain, hehe. The sad part, of course, is the fact that yours truly hails from an almost landlocked village. I would really have wanted to be born and raised in a place where one rises to the sound of the sea waves in the morning. That must have been cool. I mean, that is cool! Imagine, most seas are right beside mountains… So, if one’s by the sea, the mountain is likely, surely near or across. Two wonders of nature to nurture a child’s curious body and mind, eh… 😉
When I was a teenager, I had the opportunity to see fishermen on the shore, doing what the apostles in the Bible were doing – arranging the fish nets so the fishing vessels could sail to the open seas. I was fascinated, nay, mesmerized, at what they were doing – making sure the nets are okay, all the equipment and tools are in and pushing the boat from the dock area to the sea… That was group work – lots of coordination, happy shouting and silent understanding among sunburned people. They seemed to love the muscle work required, the camaraderie among men and the smell and feel of the sea. There really were years of my life when I wished I could live among sea-faring people.
Anyway, if I were to be born again and in the Philippines at that, I would wish it to be in a village by the sea. At some points, I questioned why I was given birth in a watery country and yet, there isn’t even a river in our place, ahaha. There’s a creek nearby, though and my siblings, cousins and I had to make do – playing with silt, catching small crabs and removing moss from rock boulders. And, lying down the creek bed, allowing water to clean our bodies and relax our nasty spirits. I would later study high school in the city and the visits to the creek would be cut short, shorter than anticipated. In the new setting, there would be tap water, that’s the big news. 😉
Before I was enrolled in the first grade, I had the chance to visit my uncle’s fishpond in the nearby province. Along with my cousins, I was brought to the area during harvest season. There were thousands of fish still moving, squirming, struggling inside the nets. They were how the poet Neruda described them: silvery. I think that was also how Hemingway described those creatures – the bounty of the sea… Except, those fishes did not come from the big, wide, open sea. They came from the nearby lake. And, the fingerlings or fry were the cultivated kind – Uncle had a fish nursery. Anyway,’ twas fun to see them alive, close and too personal… I did not sleep well for four nights after the episode, haha. I remembered the eyes of the fishes, seeming to ask for my help… I did not eat fish my whole elementary years, that’s how bad… 🙂
Anyway, that was a long time ago. In high school, I would eventually learn to eat fish again… In the Philippines, the fish ordinarily eaten by our folks are the small kinds, people – anywhere from 50 grams to two kilos in weight. The world’s smallest fish (half an inch in length) can be found here, by the way, in Taal lake… The big and fancy fishes are for the moneyed people, the cultured folks and those with culinary schooling, ahaha. Actually, we don’t have many big fishes. The huge, giant ones are mostly tunas – the big-eye tuna (Thunnus obesus), and the yellow fin tuna (Thunnus alalungga) from the Batangas bay and even bigger ones, from General Santos city.
Tunas from the Batangas area are generally smaller and are sold in nearby provinces and in Metro Manila. GenSan city, on the other hand, is said to be the country’s tuna basin. Gen San port (and market) captures the biggest, the gigantic tunas (Thunnus albacares), aside from the big-eye and the yellow fin. The prime catch from the Sarangani Bay and from the nearby, wider, open seas in the South, make their way to GenSan market and are traditionally sold to U.S. and Japan to meet the demands for sushi, sashimi and other raw fish dishes of classy restaurants…
Gen. Santos city, by the way, is in Mindanao, down South. Locally, the Saranggani tuna is also called the barilis. The GenSan tuna maybe renowned, here and abroad, but the local tuna industry, has yet to make inroads… There is still a long way to go, before GenSan becomes a prosperous city, it seems… Manny Pacquaio, the world-famous boxer, is Sarangani’s representative, by the way. Or, as the people put it, “Congressman Manny, idol!” 😉
Around here, most people eat the head and the tail part of the fish, excuse me, my dear foreign readers… Usually, Filipinos eat the eyes of the fish, too. It’s not just the Greeks, folks. 😉 And, fish eyes are yummy. Of course, it’s an acquired taste… ^_^ By the way, in the big supermarkets, the fishes sold there are also packaged nicely – sans the head, the tail and the innards, hehe. Most are sold as fillets… In the wet markets, the fishes are sold cleaned and sliced (by the kilos) or whole and uncleaned (by piece, yet weighted).
About three years ago, sibling and I had the chance to watch a British reality show where the producers tried to introduce the participants to the food industry in U.K. They made the contestants trace the supply chain of the processed food products found in the shelves of big supermarkets. They were brought to several countries in Asia – to learn firsthand how to dress chickens in the factory, haha, to catch shrimps in the ditches and to see up close that fishes originally had tails and heads, so unlike the ones in the supermarkets… 🙂 Most of the participants had a change of heart afterwards. It was shown in the end – how they became better young adults, more appreciative of their parents… 🙂
Anyway, folks, let me introduce to you the famous fishes in my country –
Galunggong or mackerel is the poor man’s almost daily fare, around here. There are five varieties of fresh mackerel common in the wet markets in the Philippines. The most sought after is the round, elongated one – the horse mackerel (Decapterus maruadsi) or the roundscad. The other famous variety is the wide, striped mackerel, also known as the Indian mackerel (Rastrelliger kanagurta) or alumahan. Galunggong generally comes as your small fish, 100 grams a piece, on the average. Or, 10 to 12 pieces of mackerel in a kilo – enough for two meals – for a family of six. 🙂
It is often said that the quality of life of the Filipinos is measured by the price of the galunggong in the market, haha. Personally, I was not acquainted with galunggong, until I went to the metropolis for college (We have small tunas in the province and those were what we bought when we had money. Most days, running on a tight budget, we got the other smaller fishes, available only locally). By the way, galunggong is traditionally salted, boiled and cooked with garlic, onions, ginger and kamyas. The dish is known as “pinaksiw na galunggong.”Or, sometimes, just salt, plain vinegar and some tomatoes… This dish is known as “pinangat.”
Galunggong has indeed stuck with the Pinoys, through thick and thin. This rather small fish has seen the Filipino people through the post-American republic, the crisis of the 70’s, almost two decades of dictatorship and post-EDSA hardships… For ordinary lunch, the galunggong is usually fried and served with sauteed or steamed vegetables, together with ample amount of rice, hohoho… 😉 Around here, one would hear tales from middle-class and rich Filipinos – how galunggong has seen them though difficult days… ^^
Bangus or milkfish (Chanos chanos) is our national fish, one of our country’s symbols… Milkfish or bangus is a bony kind of fish (has two dorsal spines and 13-17 dorsal rays) , silver in color, has a small mouth and no teeth, ahaha. It is a marine, freshwater animal, found along continental shelves and islands (No wonder we have plenty of it ;)). Indeed, many coastal villages in the country have bangus… It is said that milkfish aquaculture originated in the Philippines, 800 years ago and was spread over the Indo-Pacific rim. Filipinos breed and raise milkfish several ways – in saline ponds, in fish pens and in cages (at sea).
The milkfish is a much bigger fish than the ordinary mackerel. Say, twice to 15 times bigger… Thus, it is also priced higher and is considered city people’s regular viand. By the way, bangus is another product that our country exports in bulk, by the tons… Most of the supply come from the Central Luzon area – in the provinces of Pangasinan, Bulacan and Pampanga… Bangus products are traditionally sold fresh, smoked or fermented. In the recent decades, they also come bottled, canned and frozen. By the way, one product stands out: Philippines’ “boneless bangus” or deboned milkfish, available in supermarkets here and also abroad.
Cooked milkfish is available in almost all eating places around here – in fancy restaurants, fastfoods, office canteens and in the roadside eateries… Just like the galunggong, it is usually prepared “pinaksiw.” Pinaksiw is fresh catch bangus, salted and fermented with vinegar, with some ginger, ampalaya (bitter gourd) and eggplants tossed in. It is well-liked among the Pinoys. Its sour-spicy taste brings out the fish’s natural flavor.
The other famous preparation is “sinigang.” Sinigang is a lot like the pinaksiw, minus the ginger, and there is more soup in the dish and more vegetables, haha. It has more more tomatoes, kamyas and tamarind and thus, tastes sour-spicy in a good way. 😉 It is the all-around, all-time dish preparation of the Filipinos – there is protein in the fish, and vitamins and minerals, in the generous proportion of vegetables and green leaves, not present in other dish preparations.
By the way, the milkfish is another food I would learn to eat only upon coming to the big city… A tip, dear people: The best part of the bangus is its belly, haha. Sinigang na belly usually costs more in restaurants, too… As an aside, the cheeks of the bangus is another soft, yummy part. To these days, the younger sister and I quarrel who gets to eat the cheeks… Actually, she always asks me if I’d be good enough to let her eat the cheeks of the bangus in my plate, haha. ^^
Lastly and not- to- be- missed bangus preparations: the daing and the relyeno. Daing means the fish will be cut in half and spread, for the whole fish to be fried crisply. It is famous for breakfast in the Philippines. Most Filipinos returning to the country from abroad have that in their wish list, ahaha… Relyeno, on the other hand, is stuffed bangus – the bangus meat would be taken out, ground and mixed with vegetables and spices – to be put back inside the fish again, before frying or steaming. With rice, relyenong bangus is heavenly… 😉
Another common fish around here is the tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus). Tilapia is another fresh-water creature and abounds in the country – in coastal areas, on fish ponds and even in homes with big backyards. In the last four decades, tilapia-raising has become a huge industry in the Philippines, much like the breeding and spawning of bangus… Philippine tilapia has also become an export product – cleaned and packaged or, in fillet form. Tilapia is another bony fish, unfortunately, and requires meticulous preparation, before serving… Well, if there is boneless bangus, there is also boneless tilapia, ahaha. 😉
As a dish, tilapia is available in the backstreet eateries, as well as, in the expensive restaurants in the Philippines. It may come in its usual fried form or “ginataan.” Ginataan means cooked with salt, coconut milk, ginger, garlic and some leafy vegetables and eggplants. The dish is quite popular – tasty, soft and a bit spicy. It is often eaten with plain rice – lots of, haha… 😉
In the recent months, I’ve come across tilapia served in certain restaurants – so carefully prepared and so nicely served, they are barely recognizable as our ordinary tilapia. They are excellent, thanks to the chefs who never stop innovating – to bring the common tilapia, before the watchful eyes and the discerning palates of the world… 🙂
Just saying, I have watched TV shows that show the tilapia as a pet fish or a garden-type fish, like the koi. Or, simply kept as ornamentals – in certain states in the U.S., in Japan and in some cities in Europe… This phenomenon has left me wondering about the peculiarities of cultures. You know, an edible fish that is not eaten by folks, but kept as decor or, something to afford variety in nature? Ah, am still wondering, hahaha. 😉
Our last fish is the tulingan (Auxis rochei). Tulingan or bullet tuna is also a staple fish in the Philippines. Am including it in the article for a very biased reason: It is my favorite fish. 😉 Tulingan is different from the huge tunas as it is rather small – 300 grams a piece on the average. Otherwise, just like the giant tuna, its fins are black and it has no scales.
Bullet tuna is available in the market most of the time and is affordable … I have cooked and eaten this fish countless number of times, am too partial, ahaha. My fave part is the black lining in its mid part – the fish cod. My favorite preparation is “sinaing.” Sinaing means boiling the cleaned and salted fish – over low and slow fire for several hours – with water, garlic and a few pieces of chili. It is very tasty, soft and the dish could be stored for a few days – without refrigeration.
In my family, most members are also fond of the tulingan. But unlike me who profess that I could eat tulingan as viand with two plates of rice almost everyday, haha, they want the fish deep-fried or ginataan or broiled, on certain days and occasions. Anyway, each to his taste, or, weirdness… 🙂
Anyway, tulingan has a close relative, known as the “tambakol.” The tambakol (Thunnus alalungga) is three to ten times bigger than the tulingan, yet about ten times smaller than the giant tunas for export. Tambakol is even tastier than the tulingan and its meat is tender – a good pork substitute for Spanish-influenced dishes. When bought fresh, tambakol is excellent for raw fish dishes and served on special occasions in my province… Somehow, tambakol is considered the better-off cousin of the bullet tuna… 😉
But tambakol is more expensive and often not available, unless one goes to the wet market very early, haha. At odd hours, one would come across “gulyasan,” or skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), the striped tuna favored in Japan and the Maldives. But for the Pinoys, or at least for the market-going folks like me, the striped tuna is considered the poor relative of tambakol and tulingan. However, fish vendors in the market usually pass it off as bullet tuna, to the unfamiliar. ^^
Generally, I would say that the ordinary Filipinos’ fish preference leans towards group fishes – mackerels and tunas – that abound in our oceans and tropical seas. There are only few healthy rivers around here, healthy enough to be able to host ample supply of fish and aquatic animals. But occasionally, we also do have some trouts and fly fishes in our wet markets. In the fancy restaurants, of course, there are different kinds – salmons, soles, seabass and tuna – prepared tastefully and served elegantly. Ahaha, that is, for folks with more discriminating palates and deeper pockets, hohoho. For the ordinary Pinoys, fish is commonly fried or steamed and eaten with a slew of plain, white, steaming rice… 🙂
We are a fish-eating people, am afraid. Methinks the British folks would envy us for that… 😉
The Philippines is an archipelago, composed of 7,107 islands.
The country has a territorial marine area of 2, 200, 000 square kilometers.
The Philippine tuna (export) industry brings in roughly PhP14 billion or US$337,719 annually (2010 data). It accounts for 12% of the country’s total fish production.
The Philippines is currently the 7th among the world’s top tuna producers. Philippines was 6th in 2008 and 4th in 2004.
General Santos City is called the tuna capital of the Philippines, where the bulk of tuna catch are taken before they are sold to international fishing companies for processing and shipment abroad and to buyers for distribution to different domestic markets.
The bulk of tuna fishing activities are concentrated at Moro Gulf, Davao Gulf, Celebes Sea, Sulu Sea, east coast of Samar and Western Luzon. Some fishing activities are also done at South China Sea during summer.
Tuna industry reports state that the Philippine waters is relatively overfished for sashimi-grade tuna or tuna for export. They claim that the fishermen have to venture farther and longer in the open seas to be able to catch huge tunas.
Reports have it, however, that the yellow fin tuna for the local market increased by 25% as of June, 2013.
The sashimi grade tuna for export is priced $9 to $10 a kilo on the average while huge tunas for the local market is priced between $6 to $8 a kilo.
There are six (6) kinds of tuna commonly found in our territorial waters – in the oceans, shelves and municipal shorelines.
The 1992-1994 Tuna Research Project, however, recorded 21 different tunas in Philippine waters, including the migratory kinds.
Commercial fishing of tuna employ the ringnetting method, purse seining and the traditional payao method.
Municipal fishing or small-scale tuna fishing in the Philippines still use handlines and gillnets.
There are three kinds of fishing in the country: commercial, municipal and aquaculture. Each kind contributes roughly one-third to the fish industry.
The biggest catch or production of commercial fishing is usually mackerel, geared to meet the demand of sardines factories.
Thank you very much for reading, all the best to you, guys… 🙂