Everybody loves Galunggong » Manila Bulletin Lifestyle

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By Sol Vanzi

After many decades of close obervation at office cafeterias and sidewalk carinderias noting what people like to eat, I have concluded that almost everybody loves galunggong, inappropriately termed “the poor man’s fish” for reasons lost in history and folklore.

 EDSA 1 hero

Galunggong, the much-maligned fish of the masses, was an EDSA hero, being partly responsible for overthrowing a President. His opponent complained in a memorable snap election TV campaign commercial that the price of galunggonghad reached P30 per kilo.

“Tama na, sobra na, palitan na,” Cory Aquino pleaded to electorates. And they listened. Ironically, after she got installed at Malacañang palace, the price nearly doubled from P30 to P50 per kilo. It was the start of the galunggong’s price climb that has not stopped.

 No longer for the poor

Today, fresh galunggong no longer qualifies as the “poor man’s fish” as it costs twice as much as tilapia, the most commercially-farmed fish in the Philippines. Freshly caught galunggong even competes price-wise with bangus, prompting then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to comment during a field inspection trip that perhaps our fishponds should be raising galunggong instead of tilapia and bangus.

Of course, GMA the economist is not an aquaculture expert and should not be expected to know that galunggong is only found and caught in the wild. I suspect majority of Filipinos are not aware of that fact either.

 Frozen Japayuki

Temperature of the water where it is caught influences fat or oil content of the fish; thus scad (dalunggong) caught in cold Northern Pacific waters by Taiwanese and Japanese fishermen are more oily than those netted around our warm islands. Exported frozen in boxes sporting Japanese and Chinese characters, the imports were instantly nicknamed Japayuki byimaginative Pinoy fish vendors who sell them cheaper than locally-caught fish because their high oil content makes the imports taste more fishy (malansa) than Philippine galunggong.

A sure way to get really good tasting, large, and cheap Japayukiis to buy an unopened 10-kilo box of the imported fish direct from the dealer while it  is still frozen. To get a lower price, I always make sure the vendor hears me calling it Japayuki, indicating my familiarity with his business. If buying retail, choose japayuki that’s still frozen; once thawed, its quality deteriorates fast.

Simple is Best

Who can resist crispy fried galunggong? Depending on the size, it can be deep-fried sliced or whole, plain or with a flour breading. Deboned, it also presents well as tempura.

Leftover fried fish is great the next day with a sweet-sour sauce or drenched with sauted onions and tomatoes, sarciado-style.But leftover fried galunggong is a rarity in most households.

Galunggong sardines Portuguese-style is easy. Arrange layers of small, headless fish in a thick covered pot. Season with canola or corn oil, salt, whole black pepper, sliced onions, garlic, carrots, red bell pepper, and siling labuyo; cover tightly and simmer over low heat at least an hour. This keeps in the ref for days.

When making pinangat or paksiw with small galunggong, use banana leaf strips to tie them up in bundles for easier handling. Keep the heat low to prevent fish from breaking up.

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