A few weeks ago, #FKEDUP collaborator UniPro posed the question:
“What Filipino food/dish do you identify with the most and why?”
I cringed when I saw the response by contributor Cris Mercado: Bangus (aka the Milkfish), that rich, fatty fish that’s got the soft creaminess of its namesake. I’m still traumatized by the one time I accidentally swallowed one of its tiny bones and was rushed to the hospital, too scared to breathe. I’m glad I didn’t let that stop me from seeking out its crisp skin and salty flavors again as I would have led the rest of my life deprived of this truly unique and flavorful fish!
Here’s Cris’s piece, a veritable ode to a fish that makes you work for it!
My Milkfish Brings All The Girls To The Yard!
by Cris Mercado
Featured image: @FilipinoKitchen, instagram photos: @FilipinoFoodMovement
If we truly are what we eat, then I’m Bangus – otherwise known as Milkfish. But I’m not that sanitized, boneless small version you see at restaurants. I’m grown. I’m full-flavored and I’m prickly as hell. See that’s the thing with me and Bangús: It will take some patience and effort to enjoy the unique taste we bring.
Put Bangus in Sinigang (tamarind stew), or roast it with onions and tomatoes, or just deep fry it, and you will be amazed at its distinctive flavor. If you’re lucky enough to have the whole fish, the taste will leave you wanting to suck the head until it has no contents left. There’s also the belly fat portion that has a richness so lovely, I always save it for last. You almost have to eat Bangus with a large side of bland white rice as a break from the flavor. Yes, it tastes THAT good. After all, it is the national fish of the Philippines!
But what scares people away are the thousands of small bones you have to remove to enjoy the meaty parts. You literally have to deconstruct Bangus to enjoy it. Break it apart with a fork, and use your fingers to pull out the small bones one-by-one. If you’re not careful, one bite can simultaneously have your your taste buds in ecstasy while you are gasping for air as small bones get stuck in the back of your throat. My parents always said to have a banana ready to eat in case the Bangus bones left me choking. I think that advice is for the careless cowards who don’t know how to fully appreciate an amazing catch of the day when they see it.
This heightened intercourse between unrelentingly delicious flavor and unapologetic prickliness is why I love Bangus and why I identify with it. You’re forced to be adventurous and get your hands dirty if you want to enjoy it. It’s going to take a lot of time and resilience to break us into pieces that can give you one of the most delectable experiences in your life. But whether you handle it with proper care or not, I guarantee you this: Your last bite only leads to your next bite.
Wanna try your own hand at cooking this beauty? Check out my mom’s simple recipe for a quick and easy first try!
If there is a Filipino Food you identify with, share your own answer with us by submitting it here!
About the #FKEDUP Collaboration
With this collaboration Pilipino American Unity for Progress (UniPro) aims to push forward the Filipino Food Movement. Engaging Filipino Americans in not only dialogue, creation but also consumption of some of their favorite and least favorite dishes will explore where Filipino Cuisine stands and where Filipino Cuisine is heading.
Through our cuisine, Filipino Kitchen connects Filipinos everywhere with our cultural heritage and the possibilities of our shared future. Filipino Kitchen documents with photography, interviews, stories and recipes, the makers and appreciators of Filipino cuisine and its continuing evolution. Currently based in Chicago and Southern California, we cook our delicious cuisine and share it with our communities at pop-up brunches, dinners and other food events. Through connecting across the diaspora with our shared love and pride of our food, we hope to lead a long-coming renaissance. The masterminds and masterhearts behind Filipino Kitchen are three Filipino Americans: writer Sarahlynn Pablo, photographer Natalia Roxas-Alvarez and chef AC Boral of So Good & Delicious. Filipino Kitchen is online at http://filipino.kitchen and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.