Looking Back

Something fishy for Friday

Devout Filipino Catholics observe fasting and abstinence during the 40 days of Lent. Fasting means the reduction of food intake from our regular three meals and merienda to just one meal (and one snack) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Abstinence means that no meat should be consumed on all Lenten Fridays. Senior citizens, the sick and those below 14 years old are exempted.

Sometimes there are extraordinary exemptions, like this year Chinese New Year fell on Ash Wednesday, so Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle gave the Chinese special dispensation so they could celebrate. Then there is San Pedro Cutud in San Fernando, Pampanga, and Bantayan in Cebu where the town fiesta falls on Good Friday, so they are given dispensation to eat meat.


Weaker mortals like myself are relieved that rules on fasting and abstinence have been relaxed, such that one can now do a good deed in place of fasting or abstinence: visiting the sick, giving donations to the poor, etc. In the past all Fridays were deemed days of penitence, so people either fasted or abstained from meat, which makes me wonder why mongo soup and adobo are traditional fare in Filipino homes on Fridays.

Discussing our revised Friday menus with our cook some weeks back reminded me of a lecture that Epifanio de los Santos delivered on Feb. 2, 1921, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the “Discovery of the Philippines by Fernando de Magallanes” (Ferdinand Magellan in English) in 1521. De los Santos spoke on the fishing industry in the Philippines and said that fresh fish with rice formed the main part of the Philippine diet, citing the 1903 Census that said 90 percent of Pinoys counted fish as a principal part of their diet. This is further supported by food terms in friar dictionaries of Philippine languages from the 17th-19th centuries, where the top references pertain to rice and fish.


De los Santos also said that the artificial fish nursery industry was relatively new in 1921 because the first nursery was established in 1862 in Barrio Concepcion, Malabon, by Domingo Coronel. His example was soon followed by his neighbors until it spread, first to Caloocan and Navotas, then to Bulacan, principally in the towns of Obando, Polo, Malolos, Hagonoy, etc. The semilla or kawag-kawag was imported during April and May from the coasts of Tayabas, Batangas, Mindoro, Marinduque, Bataan, Zambales and La Union, and transported in clay jars that contained 2,000-5,000 kawag-kawag each. Their food was called “verdin,” an alga (Oedogonium) acquired in great quantities during the calm or in the months of March, April and May. So popular was Coronel’s example that mangroves were converted into fish nurseries to cover high real estate taxes.

Reading all this gave me an appreciation for the production line that goes from the sea to our supermarkets.

For an urban person like me who only knows readily available fish like: bangus, tilapia, hito, dalag, cream dory, tuyo, tinapa and dilis, the article of De los Santos enlarged my choices for Lenten Friday fare. For example, he provided a list of fish that could be salted and dried into daing or preserved and prepared like anchovies, sardines and herring. In Jose Rizal’s student diary, he said his typical breakfast was sardinas secas, literally dried sardines, that every Filipino knows and identifies as tuyo. De los Santos gave a short list of fish that were the daily sustenance of Filipinos:

Dilis or boqueron (Anchovia commersoniana, Lacepède); dumpilas (Anchovia dussumieri, Bleeker), tunsoy (Harengula moluccensis, Bleeker), tamban (H. longiceps, Bleeker), silinyasi (Harengula sp.), alakaak (Umbrina Russelli, C.V.), aligasin (Mugilidae), talilong (Mugil sunanensis, Bleeker), sapsap (Leiognathus splendens, Cuv), salaysalay (Scomber microlepidotus, Ruppell), and malakapas (Xystaema napas, Bleeker).

De los Santos also listed all the other fish with the corresponding Latin or scientific names that make for engaging reading because many of these fish are not generally known anymore:

Aguja del mar, anguila, aguut, apahap or bakoko moro (Umbrina russelli, Cuv. et Val.), ayungin, baga-baga, bagaong, bakoko, balang or pez volador (Exocoetidae), balila, banak (Mugil cephalus, Linn), bangokngok, barangan, bicuda, bia (Gobiidae), bia bunog (Gnatholepis deltoides, Seale), biang itim (Glossogobius biocellatus, Cuv. et Val.), biang puti (Glossogobius giuris, Ham. Bunch.), bidbid, bonito, buan-buan, buguing, bungayngay, buteteng saguing (Spheroides lunaris, Bleck et Schn.), butete (Tetraodontidae), cabasi, corvina, dangat, dorado, espada, guno, garropa o mero, hasa-hasa (Scomber japonicus, Houttuyn), iso, kabayo-kabayohan (Gasterotakeus), kalaso, kanduli, kapalo, kitang, lapo-lapo (Epinephelus merra, Bloch), lawin, lenguado o dapa, mamali, martinico, maya-maya, moong, mumul, molmol, mulmul, pagui, pating, rodaballo, sakutin, samaral, saramollette, siliw, suwagan, sumbilang, sunog, talakitok o caballa del pais (Carangidae), talakitok o caballa (Caranx sexfasciatus, Quoy et Gaimard), talang-talang, tangingue, and tulisan.

De los Santos missed today’s “GG” or galunggong. In some markets today, GG is sometimes called “Japayuki” because it is imported in boxes from China. Fish vendors mistook the unreadable Chinese characters on these boxes for Japanese and so GG became Japayuki. (Conclusion on Friday)


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TAGS: “Japayuki”, abstinence, Ash Wednesday, Bantayan, epifanio de los santos, fasting, Filipino Catholics, Galunggong, GG, Good Friday, Lent, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle
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