one of the things i love about the philippines is the variety of seafood available throughout the year. freshly caught fish and shellfish is available in almost every market, but there is also quite an array of dried and preserved fish-based items that are often specialties of a particular province. i try to indulge in as many fresh items as possible when i'm in town, but find some of the dried delicacies quite alluring (and of course, some quite stinky, albeit tasty).
the photos above and directly below are from a favourite stall at the weekend market at the FTI (food terminal incorporated) complex in taguig; although it is somewhat out of the way for a casual visitor to the islands, it is worth the effort to seek it out if one is interested in all the local produce and comestibles available. when i say this is one of my favourite stalls, i can't actually admit to trying any of the goods--i just really like the selection of goods: bags of sea salt, dried beans, rice, and every manner of dried and smoked fish. i also quite like the animated vendor; she and her stall are very photogenic overall.
while at FTI, i passed a stall selling halabos na hipon, tiny smoked shrimp, still quite corally pink and juicy looking. i have never tried them, but have been interested in the idea of smoked shrimp since reading about it in a post by marketman. they are really quite small, no bigger than a joint on your pinky finger. i'm not sure how one would prepare them--has anyone tried them and have any hints?
later we stopped by another favourite saturday market at salcedo village; this one also has fresh and dried fish available, but as it caters to much of the surrounding neighbourhood of urban professionals and rather well-to-do folk, its specialty is cooked foods to take home or to eat there. we picked up a fat slab of freshly barbecued tuna belly and some beautiful whole tilapia, stuffed with fresh tomato and onion, then barbecued over hot coals and wrapped in banana leaves for you to take away.
we had, on previous occasions, picked up some other interesting fare such as this fairly decent paella negra--rice, prawns, squid and chunks of fish cooked in squid ink, and served in a giant, shallow paella pan. portions are scooped out and then drizzled with a basil pesto for extra flavour.
however, we didn't see the vendor, nor did we find the european gentlemen who sell a lovely pissaladière (a sort of french pizza with caramelized onions, anchovies and olives), and white (?) bouillabaisse, a stew filled with mussels, prawns, and chunks of firm-fleshed fish. ah. perhaps next time.
as i am typing this, my cousin and i are discussing the different types of preserved fish in the philippines. there are three main styles of preservation: salted and air/sun dried (tuyo), salted and cured with vinegar and garlic but not necessarily dried (daing), and salted and smoked (tinapa). however, almost any variety of fish or shellfish is preserved in this manner. the one above is a salted and smoked cabasi, which is from the province of bata'an. i can't find much online about the fish itself, but it is roughly palm-sized, with a very tender flesh, and lots of sharp, little bones; despite the bones, it is one of our family's favourite forms of tinapa--there's lots of sweet, smoky, milky meat, and it's not too salty nor stinky. my cousin is telling me about these smoked tilapia and bangus (milkfish) that she used to get in her village, freshly made by the neighbours; they would arrive at her doorstep, freshly smoked, still warm, ready to be eaten with platefuls of rice and a salad of fresh tomatoes, onions, and salted eggs. i'm salivating at the thought.
however, there's little chance i'll come across smoked tilapia in the near future. i am consoled by the fact that i have a small cache of tiny dried shrimps, freshly caught just a few weeks ago in the waters of southern philippines in zamboanga. immediately after netted, they were spread out on tarps to dry naturally under the sun. they are brilliantly corally orange in colour, slightly chewy but not hard like commercially available dried shrimp, have a concentrated prawny flavour without being too fishy, and still smell like the sea. i know i should be using these to enhance many of my cooked dishes, but they are so good on their own, i can't help but pop a few in my mouth and savour them slowly. they taste of hot days on the beach, and open waters, off the shores in a land not so far away.