30 Jan2011

Banak / Sea Mullet

by Marketman


A white flesh denser than bangus/milkfish meat with the texture of freshwater fish but the flavor of a saltwater resident. Does that make sense? That’s the description that popped into my head when I had several servings of grilled banak for breakfast one day on my quick trip to Coron, Palawan. We were at the local town market minutes after getting off our plane, and a local I was with got excited at the sight of several medium sized pieces of banak being sorted from pails of fish that had just been unloaded from a small banca. We bought all 4-5 kilos of banak and they were simply gutted, salted and grilled, scales and all, over a charcoal flame. The substantial scales served to protect the meat and the results were surprisingly good. A sawsawan or dipping sauce of vinegar, soy sauce and chilis and a pile of freshly boiled rice and we were definitely happy campers… Sorry, I was so hungry I obviously forgot to take a photo of the cooked fish…


A little research back home yielded the following: banak or sea mullet (specifically in this case, I think) or Mugil cephalus Linneaus is one of about a dozen or more species found in Philippine waters. The fish like to hang out near the coastline and close to the mangroves and areas where rivers let out their fresh water. They can occasionally head up freshwater rivers. They travel in schools and surprisingly for me, are more closely related to barracudas (Sphyraenidae) and are a different family altogether from milkfish or bangus that I would have guessed based simply on appearance were close cousins as well… Also known as Agwas, Asubi, Balungain, Kapak, Sumalapau, Tandipil, Tabudyos, Balanak, Ludong or Lumitog. And here’s a bit of trivia — banak have no teeth or possess just teeny tiny teeth… :)

Fishes of the Philippines, Genevieve Broad, 2003
Marine Fishes of South-East Asia, Gerry Allen, 2000
FAO Fisheries & Aquaculture



  1. Getter Dragon 1 says:

    That’s an appropriate Sunday meal!

    Jan 30, 2011 | 10:16 am


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  3. Anne :-) says:

    This is the first time I heard of Banak….thanks for sharing MM! Hope you had a great time at Coron! :-)

    Jan 30, 2011 | 10:18 am

  4. lee says:

    i think we call this “gusaw” in Bacolod and bigger varieties are called “tonkan.” Nice fish.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 11:28 am

  5. EbbaBlue says:

    Are they more expensive than bangus? When I was in Quezon Province, I bought about 3 kilos of these, being sold as bangus, but did not taste like one (I still like it though), I thought it was just different taste because they were just hauled out from the catch banca. I remember I paid about P120/kilo (med size).

    Jan 30, 2011 | 11:35 am

  6. belicious says:

    First time I’ve heard of this fish. Thanks for sharing!

    Jan 30, 2011 | 11:36 am

  7. daphne says:

    we call it “purong” in our place,here in la union.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 11:43 am

  8. ray sanchez says:

    we call it “bulasi” here in pangasinan

    Jan 30, 2011 | 11:58 am

  9. uniok says:

    Is this simillar to LAPES?..i think they travel to freshwater river during the month of december to february ( Magat river). When cooked, the fish has yellow lining of fats in its meat.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 12:21 pm

  10. mary grace says:

    i so love pinaksiw na banak with ampalaya, yummy! The darker skinned fish on the cement floor is white fleshed samaral and very good in sinigang sa kamatis with amplaya leaves. I don’t think i ever saw samaral in north america. i miss this fish.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 1:05 pm

  11. corianderie says:

    Also good with gata (coconut milk) alone, or paksiw with gata.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 1:55 pm

  12. Rizza says:

    We love this fish too! masarap din siyang “idaing” lalo na kung malalaki ang eggs nya :)… our Tita will fry this hanggang sa lumutong… then dip it with vinegar with siling labuyo… the best :)

    Jan 30, 2011 | 2:01 pm

  13. sandee says:

    I think pinapaksiw sa amin itong banak. When I saw the title, I immediately thought of paksiw.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 2:13 pm

  14. marketfan says:

    yes, i agree, paksiw na banak is so good, you should try it MM

    Jan 30, 2011 | 3:07 pm

  15. Anne says:

    Is ‘banak’ a fatty fish like ‘bangus’?

    Jan 30, 2011 | 4:09 pm

  16. kakusina says:

    Small banak are good when pinaksiw, binuro or daing. Big ones i don’t like so much, matabang compared to say tamban which has a distinct taste and smell. Fat tamban, inihaw, without removing gills and guts, NOT overcooked, are so good.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 4:19 pm

  17. hong says:

    You did have a happy day with such a delicious meal.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 4:24 pm

  18. millet says:

    i love banak! my mom insists freshwater banak tastes better, but i can’t tell the difference. the ones on your picture are huge, almost as big as bangus. i love them as paksiw!

    Jan 30, 2011 | 4:51 pm

  19. Junb says:

    This is common in the wet market here in Singapore. Not sure how they cook it and I don’t normally buy as I don’t know how too cook it. I’ll try Unitas, paksiw and daing, thanks!

    Jan 30, 2011 | 4:59 pm

  20. Junb says:

    I mean inihaw not Unitas :)

    Jan 30, 2011 | 5:01 pm

  21. Junb says:

    I mean inihaw not Unitas :)

    Jan 30, 2011 | 5:01 pm

  22. bella says:

    I love paksiw na banak paired with monggo guisado! It’s eggs are an extra treat for the family…well, for those who could get hold of them first. :)

    Jan 30, 2011 | 6:48 pm

  23. bsg says:

    i love this fish. In bataan, while small, it is called kapak, usually made into the prized ‘tinapa’ (smoked fish). when it gets bigger, like in your picture, locals call it banak and is usually cooked as paksiw (very good as breakfast/brunch food with rice).

    at certain times of the year, this fish is caught with plenty of roe and these are collected and made into bagoong – our local caviar.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 6:50 pm

  24. Biy says:

    i think to really enjoy its individual taste , fresh fish should just be salted rubbed inside cleaned stomach and out, then throw it into a very very hot pot. Upon throwing in enjoy the sizzling sound coz it means its gonna cook in its own juices, cover the pan upon throwing, then wait for the most aromatic grilled fish, when u can already smell the aroma of grilled fresh fish, turn over fresh fish, wait for that smell again ,when u do, turn off fire, let it cook a bit more. By doing this the result is a very aromatic firm on the outside but very juicy fish inside, plus the aroma is no-comparison.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 6:55 pm

  25. Biy says:

    base on experience, beautiful looking fishes is not as sweet and flavorful as mga pangit looking fishes and i wonder why those pangit na roundish and long fishes taste so much sweeter than those pangit na malapad fishes.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 7:15 pm

  26. argee says:

    jumb, where do you get banak in singapore?? the choices in the supermarkets are limited. yes good for paksiw .

    Jan 30, 2011 | 7:48 pm

  27. marilen says:

    Thank you for the reference books. Comfort food – steaming rice, paksiw na banak and camatis!

    Jan 30, 2011 | 7:55 pm

  28. atbnorge says:

    Wow, banak! I love paksiw na banak.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 8:54 pm

  29. Ingrid says:

    paksiw na banak – sarap!

    Jan 30, 2011 | 9:01 pm

  30. natie says:

    in the visayas, the big ones are called Balanak and the small ones Gusaw…Binuro nga Gusaw was my favorite, cleaned with vinegar then fried.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 9:10 pm

  31. anna says:

    small banaks are called “aligasin” here in bulacan. day old paksiw na aligasin is perfect for breakfast when paired with sinangag and patis with mashed finger sili that also came from the paksiw. and latundan banana for dessert. super yummy.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 9:22 pm

  32. Junb says:

    @argee … I used to see them sa yishun, sembawang and ang mo kio wet markets and I’m sure it should be available nationwide. Supermarket doesn’t sell this fish although sometimes I see them at ntuc.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 9:26 pm

  33. Marketman says:

    junb, would you happen to know where you can buy malunggay leaves in Singapore since you seem to hit the markets there? A reader has asked me that question and I didn’t know the answer… thanks.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 9:58 pm

  34. phil says:

    Biy, I enjoyed reading your posts, ha ha. What are your examples of pangit-looking fishes?
    Bsg, are you from Bataan? I’m from Hermosa. Yes, Bataan is well-known for its many types of tinapa fishes, like kapak, tilapia and boneless bangus. One other excellent particular type, tinapang kabasi, seems to be available only in Bataan.
    BTW, we also cook fresh banak ‘pangat’ style; i.e. almost like sinigang but with only tomatoes and a dash of kalamansi juice as souring agent and a few stalks of tanglad for a little oriental twist.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 10:46 pm

  35. DJ says:

    phil & bsg — i’m from orani, i think we call that alugasin, and yes yummy when it’s tinapa! Mr.MM, we get to know each other here because of your blog and there’s one thing certain we all love good and old finds and home cooking — hope you’ll discover BATAAN soon!

    Jan 30, 2011 | 10:54 pm

  36. jo says:

    banak, wow this is one of my pa’s fave fish which i buy from a supermarket when i go home to dvo=)

    Jan 30, 2011 | 11:19 pm

  37. millet says:

    the thais have a great recipe for banak (steamed, i think, with lots of cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, galangal and lime juice. am not sure those are the right ingredients, but that’s what it tasted like. it’s usually served in those fish-shaped metal pans that look like the charcoal flatirons. does anybody have a recipe for that? i think they used to serve it at the banana leaf restaurant in greenbelt.

    Jan 30, 2011 | 11:52 pm

  38. Connie C says:

    My father made a definite distinction between banak and agwas as he would always chide me when i brought home agwas instead of banak from the market. I am not sure now if it is the shape of the mouth, one being more rounded than the other. To this day I cannot tell the diffference except that banak is definitely tastier than the flatter tasting agwas ,and that is how I am able to tell.

    I used to think the egrets I see in the ricefields are just one kind of a bird too until a seasoned birdwatcher said there are actually 5 species and called attention to the color of the webs of the feet and the size of the birds. And they all looked the same to me.

    I especially liked banak when many were caught heavy with roe at the mouth of the Naujan Lake in Or. Mindoro during the spawning season. The roe were either salted, dried and sold as such and cooked with scallions and lots of tomatoes and chilies if desired then served as a side dish with fish sinigang with mustard leaves.Yummm. But those days are long gone, perhaps from loss of mangrove forests where they usually “hang out” nearby. If lucky to get the fat roe with the fresh fish, I’d be the first to spoon it out of the sinigang broth and hide it under a mound of rice to keep it out of my other siblings’ coveting sight. Dalish with patis and calamansi as sawsawan.

    We also cooked it as pinangat with dried kamias as souring agent. BettyQ , remember?

    Jan 31, 2011 | 1:19 am

  39. denise says:

    aaaaaah BANAK na naman??! – sorry that’s my favorite expression whenever my aunt hits the Fish Market here in Dubai and comes home with kilos upon kilos of it…there seems to be an abundance of that here…when I tagged along one time, all the fishmongers had it…my aunts would make paksiw with it and daing…i like it simply fried, or pinaksiw and then fried :D my uncle would just wrap it in foil with tomatoes and onion and grill stovetop

    hi phil, BSG and DJ…from Bagac here :D

    Jan 31, 2011 | 3:44 am

  40. louinsanfran says:


    Is this the same endangered fish mentioned in the article above? Maybe it is as Connie says- there are slight but definite distinctions among these mullets.

    Jan 31, 2011 | 3:48 am

  41. Lou says:

    The tastiest of banak I’ve tasted were from Naujan Lake in Oriental Mindoro or from the Abra River. When you cook the ones from Abra River you could see from the soup the yellow fat that came from the fish – aaaah! They are the best!

    Jan 31, 2011 | 5:52 am

  42. Katrina says:

    Ok, not JunB, but to answer your re:malunggay in Singapore.
    Still the wet market. very rare and usually sold out by 10am on weekends
    We get ours from a stall in Marsiling. Right across the MRT.
    known to locals as calla leaf

    Jan 31, 2011 | 11:56 am

  43. phil says:

    DJ, thanks for the info and yes, we also call this fish ‘alugasin’ in Hermosa.
    So DJ, Denise & BSG, looks like there are several MM followers from Bataan, though based abroad I presume. Just an idea, maybe in an opportune time in the future when most of us would be in Bataan, we could arrange a sort of get-together (of course with lots of food from Bataan, particularly seafood, with MM as special guest if he would be available, and other interested readers to be invited). Hail to all MM readers/food lovers all over the world!

    Jan 31, 2011 | 1:26 pm

  44. Marketman says:

    Katrina, many thanks for that information. I’m sure the reader who was asking will appreciate the tips. :)

    Jan 31, 2011 | 1:45 pm

  45. eric philippines says:

    In our area in Bicol, we call it ‘balanak’ when its already big and we also cook it most of the time as ‘paksiw’ . When they are small we call them ‘araran’ and the whole fish (including the gills and innards) is fermented with lots of salt and called ‘tabudyos’. Very good when fried like tuyo especially those with roe inside. Goes well with ginataan dishes as taste enhancer. I love it.

    Jan 31, 2011 | 2:43 pm

  46. junb says:

    Hi MM, malungay leaves and pods are available only sa indian stall in a wet market selling vegetables. Most of the wet market in Singapore has indian stall but if he/she wants to be sure Tekka wet market @ serangoon or around that area has almost 24hrs shop/stall that sells Malunggay leaves and pods. It is at tekka where I found fresh bamboo shoot, fresh unripe tamarind, all the ingredients for pinakbet including native ampalaya. They also have fresh herbs such as Rosemary, Dill, Oregano, and various salad leaves etc…

    Found a Mullet today @ NTUC Fairprice at Ang Mo Kio (S$8.90/kg or P294/kg). Will be trying inihaw and Paksiw !!! Thanks for the post we have another fish type to eat :)

    Jan 31, 2011 | 3:41 pm

  47. Vyanini says:

    First time I heard of Banak being cooked paksiw style here! We usually pangat this kind of fish, or simply cooked in boiling water with tomatoes, white onions and green sili plus a few drops of fish sauce or patis.

    Jan 31, 2011 | 4:31 pm

  48. kasseopeia says:

    “Banak” is what my dad calls the 3 to 5 inchers that we usually caught while fishing along the bay on Sundays. We never ate them, though. Sometimes we’d give them to the local kids but most days we’d return them to the water. I honestly didn’t think they were edible! The things I learn from your blog. =)

    Feb 1, 2011 | 12:11 am

  49. satomi says:

    Love ’em Banaks fried, grilled (sawsan – grilled eggplants with chopped tomatoes, onions, balsamic vinegar & patis!) & paksiw!! sarap!

    Feb 1, 2011 | 1:09 am

  50. tonceq says:

    and here i was thinking that mullet was Bangus! might have already tasted this but must have overlooked it as bangus hehe! :)

    Feb 1, 2011 | 1:35 am

  51. denise says:

    hi phil! yeah that would be a great idea! i’ll be home this may 2011 :D

    Feb 5, 2011 | 1:47 am

  52. Dragon says:

    One of my late mom’s favorite fish – she would ask my dad, who was based in Bataan and coming home every Thursday, to bring back banak whenever possible: both smoked and fresh…

    Feb 5, 2011 | 4:06 pm

  53. gibo says:

    Pangat nga purong or pangat of banak simply made by sauteeing ginger, garlic, sliced onions, and lots of tomatoes, and (although not traditional) some patis and then stewing the banak in it, is great. I also enjoy banak roasted and then served with either a tahini or a tarator sauce.

    Feb 14, 2011 | 8:03 pm

  54. teddy says:

    ang banak ay masarap din sa sinigang sa kamias specialy kung malaki ang banak.malinamnam ang lasa nya.

    Jul 8, 2011 | 8:20 pm

  55. norman says:

    this is the second best thing that happened here in florida (rsw) when i discovered the market for mullet -banak there is no shortage here with this fish.
    my favorite luto is grilled it’s like bangus . masarap pag bagong huli lumulundag lundag pa
    at mapula ang hasang. if you want banak florida (rsw) is the place.

    Aug 4, 2011 | 7:24 am

  56. rob says:

    I just caught a lot of banak today. Nice fish.hehe

    Dec 28, 2011 | 7:43 am

  57. july says:

    thanks for this thread, i know now that banak from the visayas is the same with fabulous ludong in the cagayan valley river

    Oct 2, 2012 | 11:53 am


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