Filipino fishermen–like other fishermen in remote areas–are adept at turning their catch into the dried variety. They need to be since there’s no refrigeration. The few fishes that they work to preserve fresh are first-class seafood (like talakitok, or tuna, or tauban, a giant squid).
Speaking of first-class fish, talakitok is the Pilipino name for giant trevally. What makes it first-class? Its flesh is firm and its taste is pleasantly mild. In addition, it’s a game fish, a sporting fish.
Those that go into an Ice Chest
First-class fish like talakitok are worth saving fresh for the market. The giant trevally is abundant around Palawan’s waters.
The giant trevally (Caranx ignobilis) is the largest member in the Trevally family, Carangidae. It is a ferocious predator and feeds on other fish species as well as crustaceans and cephalopods. It can be found in the waters of the Indo-Pacific region and has been recorded from the Red Sea, east Africa, Hawaii, Marquesas Island in French Polynesia, south Japan and northern Australia. In Australia it is known to occur from Exmouth in Western Australia around the north to the Solitary Islands in northern New South Wales. The body is silver in color with numerous small scattered black spots. It is generally solitary however large adults can form small groups, particularly around dive sites where they may be fortunate enough to get food from divers. They can be found from the surface to 80 metres. The Giant Trevally (Caranx ignobilis) grows to a maximum length of approximately 1.7 metres and can weigh up to 62 kgs.
More commonly called GTs by most anglers, giant trevally are marauding brutes right up there with the best. Commonly caught by both lure and bait fisherman, specimens range from the smaller 2- to 3-pound school trevally commonly caught in the estuary environment, right up to the 50lb thugs.
Caught in the rivers, estuaries, rocky headlands, the real brutes are usually found around the reef structure and current lines, and these magnificent fighting fish probably offer (pound-for-pound) one of the hardest fishing contests in the tropics.
They will repeatedly crash surface poppers and fizzers with great gusto until hooked, ambush deep diving lures around any structure and pick off a live baitfish or prawn fished along sandbar drop-offs and estuary channels.
Fish to 25kg (50lb) are prime targets but will require the best of quality tackle, many big fish being lost to the razor coral edges, barnacle encrusted rocks, and snags. Good quality 6kg tackle is the minimum required.
There is a growing sector of the sport where GTs alone are targeted on the Barrier Reef. Japanese visitors in particular undertake specialised charters for these fish, which they regard more highly than black marlin. Now that says something for their fighting qualities!
Fly fishing techniques are also proving very successful on GTs but it’s not for the faint hearted.
An excellent eating fish if cooked fresh, most trevally species do not handle the freezing process too well and are best released to fight another day if cooking facilities are not available on the day.
— Fishing Cairns (Australia)
Commercial Fish found around Double Island (Quezon, Palawan)
I explored the area around Quezon several months ago and had the opportunity to learn how fishermen prepare dried fish.
Like numerous areas around this beautiful nation archipelago, Quezon’s catch had declined severely over the past 15 years. Where a fisherman might have single-handedly caught 15 kilos in the mid-1990s, he would now be happy with one. I blogged about this distressing news previously.
Overfishing was and still is the major culprit but equally as bad is the practice of harvesting juvenile fish.
Left, from top to bottom: tamban, matambaka, subingan. Right, top to bottom: salamin-salamin, sapsap, dilis, dilis-bahura.
The fish with the largest eye is aptly called matambaka. “Mata” is Pilipino for eye and “baka” is cow so the fish is named because of its eye which is compared to that of a cow’s!
While all the fish glisten with a silvery color, the one at the upper-right must have a reputation for being particularly reflective since its name, “salamin-salamin,” translates to mirror-mirror.
Finally, the two runts at the lower-right are known as dilis and dilis-bahura. “Dilis” are anchovies. A bahura is any underwater landmark, typically a navigational hazard, such as rocks or coral. Tagalog Wikipedia describes the bahura in terms of sand (sandbar or sandspit) but it seems to refer more to any sort of submerged landmark judging from the context of my own conversations.
Dito ang daan para maiwasan ang bahura. <Take this route to avoid the hazard.> And the hazard being referred to was either a rock formation or corals. Not sand.
The most abundant fish of the ones shown above is dilis–regular dilis and not the dilis-bahura.
- Set up your drying racks early in the morning.
- Arrange each fish individually on racks.
- Wait eight hours.
- At dusk, store the newly dried fish.
Did you notice the little guy two pictures earlier?
Make no mistake. Fishing at this scale amounts to living in relative poverty. These fishermen are nomads. An individual adult fisherman is typically the head of his own family. He and his wife will have anywhere from two to six kids.
Yes, family sizes seem to be smaller!
There were seven nipa huts like the one below; one for each family.
In central Palawan, on the east coast, in Barangay Langogan <la-ngo-gan>, flying fish are abundant and are dried in similar fashion.
The Pilipino term for flying fish is barongoy. Now, read this description of their flight.
The process of taking flight, or gliding, begins by gaining great velocity underwater, about 37 miles (60 kilometers) per hour. Angling upward, the four-winged flying fish breaks the surface and begins to taxi by rapidly beating its tail while it is still beneath the surface. It then takes to the air, sometimes reaching heights over 4 feet (1.2 meters) and gliding long distances, up to 655 feet (200 meters). Once it nears the surface again, it can flap its tail and taxi without fully returning to the water. Capable of continuing its flight in such a manner, flying fish have been recorded stretching out their flights with consecutive glides spanning distances up to 1,312 feet (400 meters).
Flying fish are attracted to light, like a number of sea creatures, and fishermen take advantage of this with substantial results. Canoes, filled with enough water to sustain fish, but not enough to allow them to propel themselves out, are affixed with a luring light at night to capture flying fish by the dozens.
I liked the taste of barongoy. Compared to dilis, or any smaller fishes for that matter, barongoy is “meaty.” That’s important because for many Filipinos dried fish is usually their primary source of protein.
At the fishing village in Barangay Langogan, they were being offered for 40 pesos per kilo (that’s less than 40 U.S. cents per pound). For many Filipinos, that’s affordable.