26 Jun2006


A stone’s throw from the sea, on another corner of the Bicol, stood a makeshift stall with locals selling some freshly caught fish. I headed over to look at some medium sized tulingan sulay2but was instantly struck by some strange looking creamy white fish. Their odd shape and bizarre “skin” definitely warranted a photograph. Called Sulay Bagyo in those parts, this fish is supposed to be excellent when cooked with coconut milk, pimiento, etc. I have not come across this fish before. Back home and armed with reference books, it turns out that Sulay Bagyo are actually Leatherjackets of the Family Monacanthidae. And the “odd skin” turned out to be no skin at all! In fact, I was staring at fish that had been literally stripped buck naked! Seems so improper to buy fish that have been skinned…though I admit I don’t share the same feelings when buying a skinned rabbit.

It’s highly likely that the ones I photographed were unicorn or scribbled leatherjackets (Aluterus monoceros or Aluterus scriptus) according to Marine Fishes of South-East Asia by Gerry Allen. The skin of these fish is tough and coarse so the salesmen/women typically de-skin the fish before selling them. The term leatherjackets is so descriptive and I have visions of the fish swimming down an imaginary underwater ramp showing off the latest patterns on their jackets…. Heeheehee. Let’s not go much further down the leather fashion genre, shall we? Sulay bagyo, the first buck naked fish I have ever photographed for Marketmanila!



  1. lee says:

    Sulay bagyo is processed into fish tapa, a tocino flavored “dried fish something” which looks like light amber translucent disks. Tastes weetish and might be quite tough to chew. More interesting are the sulay bagyo fish bones sold separately, must be fried to a crisp in seconds or all the sugary stuff it’s marinated with burns black.

    Jun 26, 2006 | 2:26 pm


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  3. Gigi says:

    The Sulay Bagyo looks like my kindergarten-quality drawing of a fish. Looks like it tastes good. I like fleshy fish. Puede ba ‘tong sweet and sour but then it has no skin… I can imagine that this will indeed go well with coconut milk…

    Jun 26, 2006 | 3:26 pm

  4. millet says:

    lee, is that the one they sell in cebu, the fish tocino and the tinik-tinik?

    Jun 26, 2006 | 7:53 pm

  5. Chris says:

    Those fish look like Dory (in finding Nemo) in a “bold” role. Hehe

    Jun 26, 2006 | 10:22 pm

  6. RST says:

    I am pretty sure that my friend Robyn of eatingasia.typepad.com has reported finding in Malaysian markets a species of leatherjacket related to the Bicolano sulay bagyo. I will ask her to locate the post on it. To my ears, the name sulay bagyo is extremely beautiful and resonant. But what does it mean exactly? Any Bicolanos out there? It suggests “braving a storm” to me-but maybe I am way off the mark on this…


    Jun 27, 2006 | 3:55 am

  7. Marketman says:

    RST, I think the name has to do with the belief that they only are caught or come near when a storm is imminent. However, we found these in clear blue skies… And yes, leatherjackets would be found in lots of other tropical seas around the globe, they are a common fish, relatively speaking.

    Jun 27, 2006 | 5:26 am

  8. linda says:

    leatherjackets are a common fish here in Oz and I love to just sprinkle salt and pepper on them and shallow fry til’golden brown.Delicious!

    I’ll try cooking them in coconut next time – sounds good to me.

    Jun 27, 2006 | 9:18 am

  9. Robyn says:

    I haven’t posted on leatherjackets, though I passed a photo or two to RST a ways back. Chinese call them ‘aiqing yu’ (love fish) and they’re somewhat easy to find at Chinese wet markets here in Kuala Lumpur. I wonder if the name ‘leatherjacket’ isn’t derived from the skin, which is thick and almost rubbery and can be pulled off in one piece, just like a, well, jacket.
    To my taste these sweet, clean-tasting fish are the ultimate for steaming Hong Kong-style, with nothing more than ginger, scallions, and cilantro. Yum!

    Jul 5, 2006 | 4:06 pm

  10. Marketman says:

    Robyn, the name is in fact derieved from the thick and coarse skin…so you are correct. I have personally never tasted them but now I am curious… They aren’t readily available in Manila or I just haven’t been looking hard enough in the markets…

    Jul 5, 2006 | 4:41 pm

  11. mikibabs says:

    the fish “sulay bagyo” got its name from its behavior “ga sulang sa bagyo” or they appear in huge schools after a stormy weather, its thick leathery skin is very tough and has a very bad smell that sticks to your skin and clothes. remove the tough skin and you get one of the best quality white meat and perfect for deep frying. its liver, is very creamy if you collect them all, wrap it in banana leaves with tomato, onions and a bit of salt and charcoal grill it. sulay bagyo…one of my favorite fish dishes.

    Jul 31, 2008 | 4:43 pm


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