These highly seasonal and increasingly rare patties made of dried “saguyon”, tiny fresh water fish from Jabonga, Agusan Del Norte were a really spectacular food discovery for me… I had heard of the tiny fish before, but had never tasted them. They were simply fried up in some lard and were great for nibbling on, clearly dried fish with all the good flavors that come with that, but not bitter at all, and not too salty either. Really nice. Light, crisp and incredibly tasty. An instant favorite.
A close-up of the patties reveals the hundreds, if not thousands of fish that make up each patty. Apparently harvesting is regulated to keep stocks up, and they are only available at certain times of the year. A little googling yielded some other interesting sources of information on this delicacy from Agusan Del Norte — this website, with an extensive listing of local names for Philippines fishes, suggests that these are goby fry or ophiocara aporos, also known as ipon, see this paper, here. However, the ipon described appear to be saltwater, and from the Northern part of the Philippines. These saguyon in the photos here are from a freshwater Lake Mainit, perhaps where the fish are spawned, and I am not sure if they get bigger and head out to sea or stay in the lake… Lake Mainit is quite close to the sea, and several species of fish there do indeed spawn in the lake and eventually head back out to the sea. Another interesting paper, here, suggests that these are not exactly the same as ipon, or ophiocara aporos, but rather a jumble or mix of other goby fry, possibly bugwan or hypseleotris agilis and pijanga or glossogobius giurus. Suffice it to say they are likely from the goby family, are indeed teeny tiny fry from fresh water, and they taste really good. :)
The fish come is dried “discs” about 4 inches or so in diameter, and they are very thin, say a fish or two in thickness. I am not sure what binding agent, if any is used to keep the fish together, but they seem quite stable and are easily fried to a crisp in seconds in hot fat. They are rather addicting to eat and like potato chips or popcorn, you can’t stop after having had just one…
We happened to be experimenting with our in-house made bagoong that we were sauteeing in the kitchen and decided to pair the sauteed bagoong with bits of saguyon and we were in pinoy culinary heaven! The crew had just eaten and yet many took out fresh plates and piled on some rice to tuck into fried saguyon topped with ginisang bagoong. Simple pleasures and discoveries like these are the ones I cherish most. How I wish I got to sample something unusual (to me) from every corner of the archipelago on a daily or even weekly basis. Needless, to say, I tried to place an order for several kilos more of this delicacy, and have my fingers crossed that they will find their way to Cebu in the weeks ahead.
P.S. I tried to think of how one might describe this snack or treat in English, so how about — “Tiny freshwater goby fish fry wafers fried in leaf lard and topped with homemade salted and sauteed fermented shrimp”? :)
P.P.S. Our cook, who hails from Surigao and just now walked in from a two-week holiday at home, says… “lots of saguyon in their hometown, all fresh, cooked just hours after you catch them, into tortas or paksiw…” The things you learn with a bit of curiosity… :)