Bantayan island is not only famous for incredibly fresh seafood, but also for its abundant and high-quality dried seafood as well. I guess that makes complete sense, but honestly, I have NEVER seen more amazing looking dried fish! It seems counterintuitive that something (often gutted and salted) then mercilessly dried in the searing heat of the sun would look “fresh” but actually they did. And thankfully, the photos seem to mirror my eyes…
The dried seafood section was just a few paces away from the fresh seafood market, and at first glance, far less filled with goods than say the downtown taboan market in Cebu, the largest dried fish market in the country I think. But what was on offer in Bantayan LOOKED phenomenal, and after buying and trying several varieties, I can assure you they tasted better as well.
Dried fish is often one washed out and parched color. Here, there was a vibrant hue of color, with natural oil content of fish playing a role in making things look better than they usually do.
In this member of the mackerel family, you can see the natural oils making the dried fish look a little wet (which it wasn’t), and the colors looked so incredibly appealing.
Even the fresh (as in days old) lightly salted danggit still looked like fish and these particular ones tasted terrific when fried up. But a word to the squeamish. If you buy low-salt danggit, you run the risk of growing some mold if you keep it too long, or in a moist environment. So only buy a little bit and cook it up quickly. Otherwise, you’ll have to brush off the mold and dry it under the intense heat of the sun again. That’s the reason most dried danggit is way over salted in my opinion, to avoid the mold, but the under salted version is a far superior product.
Small dried lapu-lapu were also a wonderful find. We mostly use dried lapu-lapu in our daing fried rice at the restaurants, and while it is more expensive, I find it makes a great fried rice. I have always wondered why fishermen and women might dry this premium fish, but the local vendor said sometimes, when fishermen from the smaller islands get home with their sometimes modest catch, they can’t be bothered to run to town to sell them fresh, and choose to dry them instead and build up a stock before coming to the market to sell them. That made a lot of sense to me.
Shiny dried dilis, again days out of the sea…
…and 250 grams of dried peeled shrimp or hibe… now if only they had dried scallops, I would have been tempted to make up a batch of betty’s stunning XO sauce.
A kilo of salted bihud or fish roe from large danggit or rabbit fish. In Bantayan, they prefer the roe of danggit, as opposed to the larger sacs of bipod from other fish. These are HEAVILY salted and cooked into a side dish with tomatoes, onions, etc. They remind me a bit of bottarga, and I suspect could be used in a pasta or some sort, but they would have to be rinsed to remove some of the salt. I have never seen “baby” bihud sacs like this, and I am highly intrigued by the possibilities of this ingredient.
More wonderful dried fish…
…and still more (with some cut up dried squid in the back). But here’s a disturbing bit of trivia — the small dried squid that are flattened and sold in the Bantayan markets aren’t from the surrounding seas — they are actually imported from China?!? That’s almost as disconcerting as the tidbit I learned many years ago that the vast majority of our fish for tinapa (galunggong) comes from Taiwan in frozen containers!
And how can you tell a local from a tourist? The locals who buy dried fish buy just enough for say a meal or two. And they inspect and pick EVERY SINGLE piece before they have it weighed. We, on the other hand, bought nearly PHP5,000 worth of dried fish, roe, squid, etc. filling a huge styrofoam cooler, and bought this by weight, not really bothering to look at each piece as everything just looked terrific to us!