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