03 Feb2011


The fish selection at the Coron market on my most recent trip there was ABYSMAL. Apparently, the strong winds of the amihan discouraged most fishermen from heading out to sea, so there was little, if any, seafood on offer. I tried to purchase fish four times at the market in a two-day span, and came away mostly disappointed. On offer one morning on an otherwise empty tile counter were these two butete. I am always amazed why such beautiful and apparently poisonous fish have to join the local food chain. In Cebu, almost every few months, one reads of a few people dying from eating an improperly cleaned puffer/porcupinefish, often during drinking binges where I suppose it is very macho to eat something that might kill you. Duh. Having said that, I have tasted “fugu” or that Japanese equivalent of these poisonous fish — I really had little choice as my host at dinner one night announced that the bowl laid in front of me contained the very special and extremely expensive fish. I drank the soup with trepidation, and didn’t feel any ill effects, but I have to say, the fish meat itself wasn’t anything particularly special at all. Maybe it is best enjoyed as sushi.


While I was snapping shots of the butete (which I always thought were pufferfishes, but in fact include porcupinefishes, as well), the one on the left gasped for air. It was still alive! I wanted to buy the fish and throw them back into the water so that they might have a few more days or weeks of life to enjoy, but just as I took this picture, a mother and son walked up totally excited to find such fresh pufferfish. They bought it. And I think they were planning to use it in soup. Other locals cook it with coconut milk. I presume they knew how to clean it properly. Geez, talk about a fairly natural way to do away with an obnoxious husband, if not. :)


According to all my western reference books, this fish is rated a “P” for poison, and they warn sternly against eating any such fish. In the Philippines, I suspect we eat tons of it every single day… Porcupinefish apparently puff up by swallowing lots and lots of water and their spines become more menacing looking (think of a balloon with pins sticking out of it. In that engorged state, they turn off most potential predators. Or hope they do. On a final note, I local I was with says that as kids, they used to remove the largest and sharpest needles from the fish and use them as tari or blades on their fighting cocks because the cocks which got poked by the needles tended to run off in a real hurry…

Marine Fishes of Southeast Asia, Gerry Allen
Fishes of the Philippines, Genevieve Broad
The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Fish & Shellfish, Kate Whiteman



  1. Anne :-) says:

    They are scary….I would have screamed when I saw that pupperfish gasped for air while taking shots! :-)

    Feb 3, 2011 | 8:52 am


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  3. ka_fredo says:

    OK this is something I’ll only eat IF I have my own food taster eats it first. Otherwise, I’ll just have some instant pancit canton thank you.

    Feb 3, 2011 | 9:12 am

  4. joyce says:

    alien looking fish (shudders)

    Feb 3, 2011 | 9:33 am

  5. bearhug0127 says:

    Not for me. No, thank you.

    Feb 3, 2011 | 9:50 am

  6. yazi says:

    My father (good bless his soul) used to eat this kind of fish as pulutan. I was afraid back then that i might find him dead the next day, but nothing bad happened to him. But i wont eat this kind of fish, unless marketman prepares it. :)

    Feb 3, 2011 | 9:51 am

  7. Joey in Dubai says:

    Love this post….I really like your sense of humor! (” talk about a fairly natural way to do away with an obnoxious husband, if not. :)”

    Feb 3, 2011 | 10:32 am

  8. Noel says:

    Used to work with a Japanese chef who showed me his Fugu cooking license. He said that customers can demand to ask a chef to show his fugu license, when ordering fugu menu items in Japan. That way, they minimize or avoid food poisoning from such poisonous fish.

    Hmm… perhaps local chefs can do the same and start offering such novel fish on their menus?

    Feb 3, 2011 | 10:41 am

  9. sonny sj says:

    I had the chance of eating butete in one of my many travels to Pandan, Antique. As expected it was cooked ginataan style and served as pulutan. I found it masarap. I relished the skin which gelatinous, very much like soft litid ng baka.

    Feb 3, 2011 | 10:52 am

  10. ami says:

    Does the fish on the left already has it’s eyes removed? If yes, wow, it’s still alive?

    Feb 3, 2011 | 10:58 am

  11. Kai says:

    I disagree that the fish selection was abysmal. Those two live pufferfish more than made up for the scanty offerings, no? ;-)

    Feb 3, 2011 | 11:41 am

  12. Kerie says:

    errr, i’m skipping dinner…they look so scary :-(

    Feb 3, 2011 | 11:55 am

  13. thelma says:

    they don’t look good to eat…

    Feb 3, 2011 | 12:37 pm

  14. LocoFoodie says:

    I remember this fish from childhood. Thank you for posting. And yes, scary indeed!

    Feb 3, 2011 | 2:30 pm

  15. cumin says:

    Fascinating fish. It looks almost sleepy in the 2nd photo. Gen Broad will be thrilled you quote from her book. After completing her PhD, she came here in 1998 as a VSO volunteer to work with NGOs and fisherfolk organisations, and then stayed on to research and write this book.

    Feb 3, 2011 | 3:11 pm

  16. Ingrid says:

    I have seen some of these butete a few years back when we were snorkeling in Pandan Island, Occ. Mindoro. They look like floating zeppelins underwater.

    MM, did you get to sign a waiver when they served you the soup with fugu meat? :) or at least the chef showed you his license? hehehe

    Feb 3, 2011 | 3:13 pm

  17. Mom-Friday says:

    Ummm, not something I would want to eat either. Many more succulent fish out there! :)

    BTW, my comment here appears that I’m from China. Why is that? So i have to edit to correct, I’m local! Wow, Philippines!

    Feb 3, 2011 | 3:25 pm

  18. Tricia says:

    the ugliest fish ever!!!

    Feb 3, 2011 | 3:45 pm

  19. Marketman says:

    Tricia, have you seen a stone fish? Or a really deep sea dweller? Think uglier… :) Mom-Friday, you are probably using a server that is based out of China. Sometimes, companies have their main servers located off-shore, hence, the error in location… Ingrid, as guests, we didn’t feel like asking anything from anyone. Let’s just say I wasn’t impressed. And would never pay good money for cooked fugu. I saw Bourdain eat it once raw, so maybe that is the way to try it… cumin, Ms. Broad’s book is on my desk-side reference book shelf, one of the ones I refer to often. It is quite helpful. ami, no, its a quirk of the particular fish and its coloration, the fish eyes had not been gouged out as far as I can recall.

    Feb 3, 2011 | 3:52 pm

  20. Sarah says:

    Those are some scary-looking fish.

    Feb 3, 2011 | 4:25 pm

  21. Dom says:

    out of topic…would like to know how to get to that lovely beach of Coron, Palawan from Manila, can you recommend a place to stay…thank you very much indeed! Dom
    Sacramento, California

    Feb 3, 2011 | 5:16 pm

  22. Marketman says:

    Dom, you fly from Manila to Busuanga on either Air Philippines or Cebu Pacific. From Busuanga airport to Coron town is roughly 30-40 minutes by van/jeepney. Most folks stay in town, we stay at a very modest inn called the Village Inn, I have a post on it from years back… but there are fancier hotels if you want. The beaches are spread out and roughly 30-60 minutes from the town pier on banca.

    Feb 3, 2011 | 5:44 pm

  23. dante says:

    i was able to eat “BURIRING” from masbate. its a small puffer fish consumed by the locals during the months of june-july (only time they make themselves available for fishermen). have you tried that ?

    Feb 3, 2011 | 5:59 pm

  24. lee says:

    i would eat this if prepared by an expert :)

    Feb 3, 2011 | 6:11 pm

  25. Eden says:

    All is well that ends well, right? And you live to blog about it! You are and adventurous eater, I am impressed! Or is that trusting eater? :)

    Feb 3, 2011 | 11:12 pm

  26. tonceq says:

    funny that i am of a different opinion though… i find the fish to the right in the first photo somewhat cute! wouldn’t mind seeing one in real life but i’ll pass on holding them! those needles looks sharp! xp

    Feb 4, 2011 | 2:23 am

  27. Getter Dragon 1 says:

    Andrew Zimmern’s other show, Dining with Death, showcases the Philippines in almost every episode (fire ants, sea turtles, parda beans). All the said foods were prepared the same by locals…’adobo style’ or mixed with coconut milk. This might be another delicacy to make an appearance.

    Feb 4, 2011 | 4:44 am

  28. Mama Mia says:

    Yikes! I wasn’t prepared for those big bulging eyes! I feel a nightmare coming along :)

    Feb 4, 2011 | 5:48 am

  29. Betchay says:

    Fish from outer space!

    Feb 4, 2011 | 10:10 am

  30. wilde says:

    I used to eat those when I was a kid in Ilocos. They grill the fish to remove those thorny skins.

    And yeah, those were tough fish, they can still be alive (and bite you) hours after being caught. I remember poking twigs in their mouth :).

    Feb 4, 2011 | 10:47 am

  31. jo says:

    first time to see a butete, never thought they grow such big size. I must say, they look like weird creatures from the deep. I rather eat grass than have them on my plate, eww.

    Feb 4, 2011 | 1:43 pm

  32. Quillene Petite says:

    I dunno what scared me more… the fact that these were poisonous fish, or the way the fish looked as it gasped for what would be it’s last breath… *shudder* :-)

    Feb 5, 2011 | 1:05 pm

  33. EJ says:

    You might be interested in including Alan Davidson’s “Seafood of South-East Asia” among your reference books, MM.

    Feb 5, 2011 | 6:22 pm

  34. Marketman says:

    EJ, actually, I have Mr. Davidson’s book as well, but I can’t seem to find it at the moment :) It’s lost among piles of books that I haven’t been able to sort lately. If it interests you, another reference book is “reef fishes of the world” by Ewald Lieske and Robery Myers…

    Feb 5, 2011 | 8:00 pm

  35. Flyby says:

    I’m an adventurous eater..but this one…I’ll pass…

    Feb 6, 2011 | 11:49 am

  36. EJ says:

    Thanks for the tip, MM!

    Feb 6, 2011 | 8:17 pm

  37. gibo says:

    Anybody familiar with the fish called kabankaban?

    Feb 14, 2011 | 7:58 pm

  38. Panda says:

    They look like guyabano

    Mar 23, 2011 | 2:30 am

  39. Ludwig says:

    “Geez, talk about a fairly natural way to do away with an obnoxious husband, if not.”

    Bloody hell! Talk about cracking up at 7AM while everyone else in the house is getting ready for work. Hahaha! Well, well, well… Since they simply refuse to legalise divorce, here’s an alternative that’s bloody brilliant – minus the blood. ROFLMAOIMM!

    Aug 11, 2011 | 7:35 am

  40. dante says:

    one of the best dish I have taste….SUPER DELICIOUS!!! most muslim families knows how to prepare this kind of fish.

    Sep 8, 2011 | 4:13 am

  41. romeo says:

    don’t gamble you life for food that you don’t know. if life is short, don’t make it even shorter…

    Sep 28, 2012 | 9:58 pm

  42. bj says:

    This fish is popular in Cebu and is usually prepared as “tagutungan nga larang”. Mmm…very tasty..

    Dec 30, 2012 | 1:34 am


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