08 May2008

dang8

Daing na danggit is one of my favorite Pinoy comfort dishes, eaten at breakfast or any other meal, with lots of spicy vinegar, chopped tomatoes and often, fried or scrambled eggs. I have enjoyed this delicacy probably hundreds of times in the last 40+ years; but as with so many other pinoy favorites, I had never seen it made from scratch. Besides wondering how they deboned the fish, I always wondered who in their right minds was (thankfully) responsible for the task of preparing these fish for appreciative diners like myself… Now I know, and if you read the rest of this post, so will you.

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Watching the preparation of fresh danggit for drying was somehow one of the great food highlights on our recent trip to Malapascua. And we were still on the island of Cebu, near the Bogo market! One of the guys on the trip with us used to work for a consumer goods company and he delivered items to sari-sari stores all around the island of Cebu, and it just so happens he knew of a proprietress of a dried danggit business less than a kilometer away from the Bogo market. Without calling ahead, we drove over, hoping that we would get lucky and get there when they were processing fish (only 2-3 hours a day, depending on the catch), and that they would let us observe and take photographs. We were lucky on all fronts, and after parking the van, and a quick word with the owner of the business, we walked about 200 meters to a work area under a shady tree just by the sea shore…

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…two teenage girls were seated on chairs near a makeshift low-lying table with sharp knives and roughly 8 kilos (a small haul that day, it can be as much as 30+ kilos) of freshly caught danggit in plastic basins in front of them. The first step in the process was to partially fillet the fish without taking off an entire side… The process sounds easy enough, but it is far from easy. I can barely fillet a larger fish properly, and the dexterity of these girls was IMPRESSIVE. The fish have sharp fins, are rather small and a bit slippery, and the girls did this with just one quick movement, taking off as much of the meat as possible.

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With a second swift flick of the knife, certain entrails were set aside on the table while other undesirable bits were flicked off the table to a waiting garbage pail.

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The other side of the fish was then filleted…

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…neatly separating the bones…

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…and leaving a nice cleaned, spineless (boneless) fish.

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The bones are also dried and sold as well (though cheaper than the meaty portions)… many like these crunchy salty treats as much or more than the meaty parts!

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The boneless fish are then readied for a rinse and light salting before being dried.

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While I understood completely that “practice made perfect,” these girls were doing a fish in less than 30 seconds or so; and unless they received and chose to answer an excessive amount of text messages from their phones nearby, it would take them roughly 30 minutes to process ONE kilo of fresh fish into boneless wonders. Or two kilos per hour of intense work. They weren’t employees of the company, just contractual workers called in when needed.

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But a basic question that I posed to the girls marred an otherwise amazing learning experience that morning. I asked them how much they were paid to do this highly specialized task, and I was positively SHOCKED when they told me they were paid just 2 pesos PER KILO of fish they processed! That is just 5 U.S. cents to do one kilo of fish! Yikes! Even if they worked 8 hours in one day (which would be more than backbreaking work), they could only earn a maximum of PHP32 or roughly 1/10th the minimum wage in Metro Manila! I was truly saddened by this revelation. But just as I was getting over that miniscule fee, another girl who was rinsing the fish said, “if you don’t want the hard job of removing the bones, you can just do the rinsing and salting like me, but for this I am only paid 1 PESO per kilo!”… omigod indeed. I wanted to hire them on the spot and bring them to Manila, but I didn’t have enough stuff to keep them filleting for more than 4 minutes a day! Oh, and I learned they had one perk, they usually got to keep the entrails of the fish, which mixed with salt and allowed to ferment a few days, was considered a local delicacy or bagoong type mixture…

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The cleaning rinse was followed by a rinse in slightly salty water, then the fish were laid out on bamboo racks and sun dried for several hours. On a really hot day, it took less than 8 hours to dry the thin fish. While some processors cover the drying fish with nets, most do not, and flies are plentiful. The final product, a super fresh, lightly salted, premium danggit, was sold at a wholesale price of PHP500 a kilo. It sounds pricey, but these were of superb quality and albeit made by folks who deserved to be paid much, much more. Much poorer quality danggit in Cebu can run up to PHP900 per kilo at the airport, while this premium version might rightfully fetch PHP1,200 a kilo… And a little daing na danggit can go a very long way…

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When we finished watching the girls fillet the fish, I quietly slipped the oldest one a PHP100 bill as a thank you tip (or merienda money) for allowing us watch and learn from them, and she had the biggest grin on her face. It was a small token of our appreciation, and it should have been more, but to them, it was as though they had speed filleted 50 kilos of fish that morning! We eventually returned to the same dealer after our trip to Malapascua, and picked up several kilos of dried fish that were made just the day before. Back in Manila, we fried up some of the daing na danggit until just crisp (overdo it and they turn bitter) and they were indeed superb… crisp, barely salty, and highly flavorful and aromatic. Delicious!

Previous danggit posts here:

Danggit
Lamayo (marinated, semi-dried danggit)

 

COMMENTS:

  1. peanut says:

    Sus kalami!My family loves danggit but it is a bit difficult to get most times here in Canberra.
    Danngit and chokolate (native chocolate ymmmm HEAVEN) and plenty of spicy vinegar and rice…….salivating now!

    Sadly though the part about the girls’ wages is so true for most of our workers.I guess the rationale for that would be “something is better than nothing?”

    May 8, 2008 | 3:56 am

     
  2. kasseopeia says:

    Danggit with garlic fried rice, fried egg with runny yolks, sliced tomatoes and spiced vinegar.

    Hungry in the office at 4:17 AM. Just as there was adobo for lunch yesterday, I hope there’s salted dried fish for breakfast today.

    That’s a lot of hard work for 2 pesos! If I were to do that, I’d make less than 10 pesos on an average day… so sad!

    May 8, 2008 | 4:19 am

     
  3. Apicio says:

    If they were paid by the number of fish they filleted would it be okay to call it fish-work?

    A generous and thoughtful customer/friend brought us back some regular danggit from Cebu just around lunch time and so it went directly to the frying pan and between the frying pan and the lunch table, the shop landlord was already on the phone inquiring if I have changed my empanada recipe.

    May 8, 2008 | 4:30 am

     
  4. Eileen says:

    I love, LOVE danggit! But, I usually just buy from the airport on my way back to Manila. One of my friends brought me to the Carbon (?) market once though, and told me to buy there instead of the airport. Mounds and mounds all around me. It was danggit heaven! Haha. And, yes, they tasted far better than the ones I would regularly buy from the airport. =D

    Thanks, MM, for this feature! =)

    May 8, 2008 | 6:58 am

     
  5. the husband says:

    Oh man! 2 pesos for a kilo! Is that fair?! I think I’ll die before I get 100 pesos out of making danggit.

    May 8, 2008 | 7:06 am

     
  6. lee says:

    2 pesos for all that work? Dang It! I tried cleaning danggit, they have killer spines that cut deep and entrails that stink up the kitchen for weeks. But fresh danggit is really nice for frying..

    May 8, 2008 | 7:21 am

     
  7. Mila says:

    I’ll appreciate those tasty treats far more now. P2/kilo??? That’s horrible! No machine can do that kind of filleting (w/o a lot more damage) for that kind of price.

    May 8, 2008 | 9:26 am

     
  8. Maria Clara says:

    Yes, yes they are good breakfast treat with fried garlic rice, chopped tomatoes or spiced vinegar. Great way to start your day especially on weekends. Deep fried in a vat of oil they are also champion hors d’oeuvre with tomato salsa or spiced vinegar kind of chip n dip thing. The workers are definitely underpaid and for the type of work they do – skilled work literally cutting edge job the money they make not enough to buy them a bar of soap to get rid of their fishy smell. I do not blame some of these women who fall for older pr even a married man and keep them in the house and support them even though they are family number XXX or accept a job as entertainer in Japan or Middle East. If their lucky star shines on them they could marry a wealthy guy who will resurrect them from this kind of living. Why kill your back out in the sun where you cannot even buy a handful of rice? They are exploited and they have not much choice at all. My heart goes to women and young ladies.

    May 8, 2008 | 10:18 am

     
  9. Adam says:

    Hi MM – another fascinating article from your travels. I continue to learns so much through your site. Incidentally, just came back from Boracay where we bumped into a friend who was working as a waitress at a fairly big establishment. She was paid PHP140 a day for a 8 hour shift. Her transport (on a trike) to and from work to her lodging house cost her PHP50 a day. So basically she worked for PHP90 a day in a responsible, customer facing job – on one of the most popular and wealthy of all the islands! The economic reality that Maria Clara alludes to above is very sad but understandable…

    May 8, 2008 | 10:42 am

     
  10. Artisan Chocolatier says:

    DANGG-IT!! I just had breakfast and now am hungry for Danggit, garlic rice and fried eggs!!

    May 8, 2008 | 10:44 am

     
  11. Adam says:

    ps I should have written ‘she worked for JUST PHP90 a day..’

    May 8, 2008 | 10:45 am

     
  12. Booey says:

    what an eye opener… i used to think the prices of dried fish like danggit was high, didn’t really think about the work involved… maybe you should start a fair trade movement for dried fish workers…seriously… i mean, P2 a KILO??? wow…

    May 8, 2008 | 11:00 am

     
  13. chris says:

    Wow, P2.00 a kilo is shocking. Even if you factor in the amount of shrinkage, it’s still too low. If the fish lose 90% of it’s weight by deboning and drying, that equates to just an equivalent of 30 pesos (P2.00 for deboning, P1.00 for rinsing) labor cost per kilo of dangit that sells at 500! And what these girls do is the whole process, the wholesalers do not have to do anything other than pack and transport, which should not cost that much.

    May 8, 2008 | 12:07 pm

     
  14. Vanessa says:

    Fascinating glimpse into the preparation of a beloved delicacy. Much as I enjoy danggit, the part about unjust wages leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Sincerely, knowing what I know now, I don’t think I can look at a serving of it without this grain of “social truth” crossing my mind.

    May 8, 2008 | 4:02 pm

     
  15. andie says:

    the 2-peso wage is indeed shocking, and which makes me think how much the fisherman who actually caught them received for each kilo. should be shockingly low too in relation to the hefty sums the dried ones sell for in the market. while this phenomenon of extremely low wages is certainly not limited to the dried danggit industry, the fact that danggit sells for that much, however, makes it almost a crime. we know of course that the margins all go toward the pocket of middlemen and other (perhaps unnecessary) actors — but i wonder where exactly along the chain it happens. there is certainly a disconnect. and the only way this can be corrected is if there is local government regulation, although is that wishing for the moon? high danggit prices have been around for ages, and while there is demand, there will always be greedy, unscrupulous middlemen and such, to take advantage of the poverty of girls like the above. only willpower by the local authorities to address this will restore a bit of fairness to the situation. of course there is the possible move of consumers themselves refusing to buy at all at such inflated prices, and so eventually by virtue of the law of supply and demand, should lower the price at some point. but that is not correcting the situation of these girls, as it will even lessen their possibility of earning at all.

    Booey: the fair trade movement for dried fish workers is a superb idea, it should restore a bit of “fairness” to the situation. i wouldn’t mind paying 1,200 pesos for a kilo if i knew it would accrue to the workers fairly along the line, and a movement like this might be the only one that could ensure it (forget gov’t taking up the cudgels for this marginalised and invisible sector).

    May 8, 2008 | 5:24 pm

     
  16. maria says:

    sinangag, danggit, itlog… payts na! Astang lami-a! Thanks marketman!!!

    May 8, 2008 | 6:46 pm

     
  17. Marketman says:

    Actually, here is my best guess. In that part of Cebu, I suspect that danggit purchased directly from the fishermen would cost roughly PHP70-80 pesos per kilo. Roughly 4.0-5.0 kilos of fish whole are needed to get roughly 1 kilo of fish dried (remember, guts are removed, bones are removed, and a LOT of the water in the meat evaporates. So that is roughly PHP350-400 in fish cost. Then PHP10 in slicing cost, PHP5 in salting cost, and say another PHP10 in drying and swatting away the flies cost. Say PHP5 in salt and depreciation on palangganas, knives, drying thingees, etc. Total so far? PHP380-430 total. Add on the costs associated with weighing, packaging, etc. and it’s probably up to PHP400 on average. And that doesn’t include the cost of financing… remember, the manufacturer is FRONTING the money and taking on business risk. Not to mention some inventory. So I would say that an average kilo of dried fish is probably around the PHP400-420 mark. And on that the purveyor tacks on PHP80 in makr-up per kilo. This is not a HUGE profit when you take all things into consideration. But I wish the workers were paid say PHP40-50 more and the retail prices were raised say to PHP600 instead… So don’t pounce on “middlemen” when the basic economics are looking pretty grim. Admittedly from this manufacturer at PHP500, several trips (add transport and labor cost to get it to downtown Cebu), then rentals and overheads for market vendors, will eventually jack this up to say PHP700 a kilo, then add on the high rental costs of an airport stall and you see why it reaches PHP800+. In the meantime, the fish starts to dry out further, so the 1 kilo a day after it was made has now lost another good 10% of weight, hence the schemers at the airport claim a package is say 250 grams but when i pull out my digital scale, it is just say 220 grams…. :) Life may seem simple, but it isn’t always so… Now another way to look at this is that if there weren’t so many new babies joining the population, then maybe there would be more of a scarcity of labor, and they would command a much higher wage, and things would sort themselves out… but that isn’t a guaranteed solution either.

    May 8, 2008 | 7:56 pm

     
  18. edel says:

    i love danggit!

    i just wish that those girls will be paid, at least P10/kilo

    May 8, 2008 | 10:52 pm

     
  19. Marv says:

    By reading all these comments, ginutom tuloy ako!

    May 8, 2008 | 11:24 pm

     
  20. Anna says:

    bulad and adobo, back to back entries…
    grabe na ni Mr. MM :P

    May 9, 2008 | 3:22 am

     
  21. CecileJ says:

    While I truly enjoy danggit and lamayo, my satisfaction rating has gone down after learning how much those poor girls (child labor pa yan!)earn for skilled filleting. Sad times, dire straits!!

    May 9, 2008 | 11:07 am

     
  22. quiapo says:

    This article has motivated me to raid the local Filipino food grocery, and lo and behold, it sells danggit. The owners are Visayan so that my have something to do with it. There is actually available quite a variety of different dried fish that I had never tried, and will work my way gradually through all of them.es. Previously I have only known 3 varieties of dried fish – tuyo(tamban and tunsuy), tinapa and daing na bangus, so this is a new frontier, thanks to this column.

    May 23, 2008 | 3:05 pm

     
  23. mariH says:

    hi, i typed danngit on my browser and i saw this article.
    its sad about those dalagitas, but thats how it works for some businesses. but what marketman says is true as well.
    btw, i know of danggit from pangasinan. fetches from 450-550/kilo. goodie-good!

    Jun 21, 2008 | 10:12 pm

     
  24. Maria Rowena Rillen-Rizzi says:

    In Balayan Batangas where I originated from they call it, “Kuyog”. Whenever my mom used to visit us while still in the states, she always brings us these dried fish! It is so crunchy and delicous even my kids loved it! I love to pair it with relish made of mini green mangoes, tomatoes, and green onion. Thumbs ups to those girls who make this specialty, I hope they compensate them more than enough for the skill.

    Jul 22, 2008 | 12:57 am

     
  25. Zeny Cesar says:

    ,,,, Palompon LGU is attempting to enhance its boneless danggit industry,,,, indeed i got some pointers from this, thanks for the documentation

    Jun 23, 2009 | 7:41 pm

     
  26. emsy says:

    I super love danggit but giving those girls two pesos per kilo is just all kinds of wrong! considering how much money they make with the danggit and that processing costs (bamboo drying mats, salt for the rinsing and the sun) is practically zero. I totally agree with Maria Clara, that if this is one of the very few work options given to Filipinos, no wonder they also agree to be illegal migrants in nearby Asian countries, or apply for low jobs in shady overseas recruitment agencies.

    Nov 24, 2009 | 9:28 am

     
  27. Christine says:

    we are now studying danggit business in Cordova, Cebu. If you guys know informations about danggit making, please send info to me. We need your help..tnx a lot

    Jan 13, 2010 | 12:32 am

     
 

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