A month ago, in Hong Kong, I was served crab freshly fished out of a tank and placed in a steamer live. I’m sure this will be an issue for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals but not for People Who Eat Tasty Animals like me. Watching the crab shell change color from dark or black to glossy red reminded me of Gilda Cordero Fernando’s cookbook that was rejected by the foreign publisher that commissioned it. The reason for the rejection: Fernando refused to rewrite the sections recommending the Filipino cooking method of boiling or steaming live crabs, lobsters and prawns till they turn red. The publisher insisted on a more humane way to dispatch the creatures: applying a lethal electric shock on a spot between the crab’s eyes with metal prods.
But what made the crab at that Hong Kong dinner special was that when it was cooked, a cross appeared on its shell. This calls to mind a legend regarding a miracle by St. Francis Xavier when he allegedly set foot in Mindanao on his way to Japan. This yarn, first published in 1614, has since been disproven after a long debate on the conflicting historical sources that included early Jesuit works on Philippine history and the Bull of Canonization of St. Francis.
As the story goes, St. Francis’ ship was beset by a storm and his companions feared they would perish. Francis looked out into the sea and storm, took off the crucifix hanging from his neck and threw it into the raging waters. What followed was dead calm. When they stepped ashore to get fresh water and provisions, a crab emerged from the depths and returned the saint’s crucifix.
I presume that, if this story were true, the saint would have blessed the crab and, as a reward for its piety, saved it from the cooking pot that day. That crab’s descendants now sport what is now known as St. Francis Xavier’s cross and they are found in Mindanao. Their ilk is known as St. Francis Xavier’s crab.
I am glad my family saw and ate the crab because everyone who hears my story think I am making it all up. I posted a photo of the crab on Facebook and chef Claude Tayag commented that it is known as “kruzan” in Ilonggo, and it is a favorite of his wife who says it has more flesh and aligue than the ordinary alimango and alimasag.
Now that the 40 days of Lent is over, the spike in seafood consumption will drop giving the creatures in the Philippine seas a respite from being caught for our dining tables. Inquirer does not come out on Good Friday, so I saved this material on fish for today.
One of the fish vanishing from our table is the maliputo. This type of fish thrives in Batangas fresh water which is enriched with minerals from Taal volcano. My mother had a liking for maliputo (aside from sinaing na tulingan made from mackerel or tuna), which remains one expensive fish from the Pansipit River—a luxury compared to bangus or galunggong.
I never shared my mother’s enthusiasm for maliputo because I could detect a faint gunpowder aftertaste in its flesh, which I blame on Taal. Maliputo must have been an expensive delicacy then, as it is now, because in the Philippine Insurgent Records you will find a dispute between two leading residents of Taal—Jose Alvarez and Gliceria Marella —over the rights to a fishpond in Pansipit. So important was this issue that it reached the office of Emilio Aguinaldo and was resolved by no less than Apolinario Mabini in September 1898, as follows:
“It appearing that on May 15, 1898, Don Jose Alvarez acquired through public auction at the municipal tribunal of Taal the lease of the fishpond under consideration for the sum of four thousand seventy-five pesos and ninety centavos (P4,075.90) per annum.
“It appearing that because of the Revolution Don Jose Alvarez was unable to post the bond that was indispensable for the consummation of the contract, and Messr. Miguel Malvar and Santiago Rillo de Leon, making use of the general powers that they had received from the previous Dictatorial Government (of Emilio Aguinaldo before the establishment of the Malolos Republic), adjudged with a provisional character said fishpond to Doña Gliceria Marella for the amount of three thousand five hundred pesos (P3,500) for the term of one year, which they fixed as the duration of the contract.”
The excerpts above summarizes the case. We skip the boring legal jargon and come to the decision:
“I, therefore, make it known to Don Jose Alvarez this government’s right to the Pansipit fishpond, and to consider subsistent the adjudgement of the same to Doña Glicera Marella as long as the matter binds herself to pay, aside from the stipulated price, the difference between this and that of the previous public auction, in the proportion corresponding to the length of time lacking to complete the term of one year.”
Mabini in the above ruling stressed the right of the government to the fishpond and advised all the chiefs of the other towns along Lake Bombon to study the existing duties levied on those who requested licenses for fishpond dikes.
When you fly over Laguna and Batangas today, you will see fish traps and fences from the airplane. In 1898 the issue regarding our aquatic resources and the regulation of its use was already in place, showing that we have not changed much in the last century. Next month we elect a new government that I hope will look back to the past to guide the present and give us a better future.
Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.