"a fish needs a bicycle."

tinapa man

(please excuse the poor quality of the photos!)

we were in the province a couple of weeks ago, and just as the sun had set, we heard a bell tinkling at the gate. it was a man on a bicycle, with bamboo baskets piled behind his seat. it was a traveling vendor from a neighbouring village, selling tinapa, or smoked fish. he and his wife work at home, preparing various fish that they procure from the wet market in the morning, or sometimes from their own nets. they work hard at this backyard tinapahan--the catch they get in the morning is more often than not smoked and sold by sundown.

making tinapa is slightly different from the traditional western style of smoking fish. the local method involves the fish being boiled in a brine first, then arranged on a bistay, or woven bamboo tray that is a signature of trade. they are dried in the sun before going through the smoking process; hardwood and sawdust is often used, and the smoking time usually around four to six hours.

tinapa lohan

the fish were still warm by the time the vendor reached our house. he pulled out his inventory, carefully setting the bistays on newspaper he laid out on the ground before him. (unless there are some curious puppies, in which case, on a nearby table.) my aunt inspected them thoroughly, amiably chatting with the vendor, but also asking many questions about the provenance of the fish. he only had galunggong or mackerel scad left; it is a common fish, quite oily but tasty. it was once known as "the poor man's fish" in the philippines, but has gained quite a bit of popularity in the past decade and purportedly it now has to be imported from china to keep up with the demand. however, today's catch, he assured, came from local waters. my aunt remained a bit skeptical, but the fish were firm of flesh, plump, and the smoky aroma was irresistible. we bought out the rest of his supply, which he carefully wrapped in bundles of six, in half sheets of newspaper. amusingly, my little bundle was decorated with news of lindsay lohan. a little entertainment for the evening.

although tinapa are thoroughly cooked, most people fry the fish before serving. we don't; just a little time in the oven or microwave heats them through, without drying them out or diminishing the lush smokiness. served with a simple vinegar mixed with sliced shallots and a pile of rice suffices. nothin' poor about that.


Don't forget the fried egg or salted egg with tomato and onion.

Either with fried eggs or salted egg/tomatoes/onions/cilantro

Hey Santos - I showed the Missus this post.... and She immediately wanted some!

Daimos, if we had them we would have included them!

hey kirk! they were really good--smoky, but not so much to overwhelm the fish, and not too salty. they were juicy, too, which i've never experienced in this type of smoked fish before. i wonder if it's because we didn't fry them? anyway, i wish i had extras to give to you and missus, but we ate them all :/

not frying tinapa... I have to admit the idea is novel to me, but juicy you say? Gotta try that sometime. Lovely photos! I just had this for breakfast the other day with garlic rice and sauteed salted egg with tomatoes. Really love this :)

hi kathleen, i was sceptical at first, and i do miss the crispy little bit of skin, but it's now one of my favourite ways to eat tinapa. with salted egg and tomato and onion, preferrably but if not....that's okay too :)

Happy to know that you bought out his loot. Now he and wife can go home, day's job is done; hopefully, to work on the next batch.

I once tasted this too when I visited a missionary friend there in Baguio City. They serve me with it one breakfast together with pink colored salted eggs and some tomatoes. They were quite heavenly mind you.

I'm so glad I stumbled upon your blog again. Love, love, your blog. Thanks for the tamale recipe. That's my project this weekend.

I love, love your blog and I'm glad my tamales search led me back. Thank you for sharing your tinapa story. Now, I want some, too.

I think the cute dogs want some of the fish too.