18 Mar2009


by Marketman


I’ve been checking out local markets for a few years now, and I still occasionally come across something I have absolutely never seen before (particularly in provincial markets). On this recent trip to Bacolod, ugpan was the unusual discovery. I have never seen it before, and after googling it, one of the few posts that comes up is an earlier one I wrote on batitis, where a reader, Jing, left a comment asking if I had ever tried ugpan. There are no photos on the net so this has to be one of the first posts on this uncommon (to most of us) shellfish. At the market they were very much alive, with a slightly green shell and a very active foot squirming about on the counter. They are collected by hand from the shallow sandy/muddy flats by the shore. Only one vendor at the burgos market had them, and I thought she was amused that we were so intrigued by her ugpan. We asked her how to cook the ugpan and she said just add ginger, garlic and some salt and you will get a milky broth that tastes good… Hmmmm… Of course we bought two “piles” of the shellfish and at PHP20, it was an incredible bargain, if you ask me!


Back home, the ugpan were cooked as we had been instructed and the squiggly feet went back into the shells that now tightened up, even after cooking. It wasn’t so easy to eat these guys and they tasted good, but not particularly spectacular, if you ask me. They weren’t like mussels that open up their shells, you had to pry this open a bit, though it wasn’t a great effort expended. In retrospect, looking at the photos, they looked a bit like green cockroach backs or shells in soup… but I didn’t think that at the time we were tasting them. Well, I’ve tried them now, but I am not sure I would seek them out in future…



  1. Maria Clara says:

    Their feet look like an overgrown bean sprout to me. Love the shell color. Never seen them before and see them through your site only. The sea water and land in Bacolod is so rich and fertile that her citizens are rewarded with all these bounties.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 1:01 am


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  3. luna miranda says:

    this is one shellfish that i truly miss. i have not seen ugpan in wet markets in manila, even at SM, Dampa and Seaside. the meat was sauteed in garlic,onions and ginger. but the tails, my favorite part, were soaked and washed in vinegar and made into kinilaw…with ginger, onions, chili pepper. awwww, as we say in Ilonggo…ga-aso agi n’ya a!:D

    the tails are crunchy…nakakagigil!

    Mar 18, 2009 | 1:24 am

  4. Edna says:

    Is this the same as BALAY? I think we used to cook this like adobo.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 2:40 am

  5. sanojmd says:

    oh my, what the heck is that??! it is so creepy. i think i would dare to try that in the future..the feet is so creepy even the shells when it is already cooked..looks like floating cockroaches.. hehehe

    Mar 18, 2009 | 3:28 am

  6. icebucks_12 says:

    We also have this in Alaminos, Pangasinan. We cook it with bagoong and ginger. The white meat in the tail area that separates from the plastic-like part is the yummiest for me.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 5:50 am

  7. tnm says:

    They’re kinda like razor clams but smaller. Here in the Pacific NW, they don’t cook the shells, just the meat. There’s an elaborate way of cleaning it, I suppose.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 5:54 am

  8. Connie C says:

    lunamiranda, are you calling the siphons tails? oh, that would be a chore to collect enough of them for kinilaw, and MM, those very active feet are part of the shells’ respiratory system, siphoning water in and out of their system pretty much how our lungs function….get carbon dioxide out and take oxygen in and for these creepy mollusks, flushes out the grimy sand we don’t want in our soup.

    And yes, tails and squirming feet would make it sound creepier.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 6:02 am

  9. shalimar says:

    hey I grew up eating this one… we used to go down the beach on low tide and come back with these…

    Mar 18, 2009 | 6:11 am

  10. Doddie from Korea says:

    I used to collect these too when the tide goes out at the reclamation area in Bacolod. We lived about 5 blocks away from the sea. It was fun trying to collect these from the sand. We would usually give these to our maids while we ate the clams and diwal that we also gathered.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 7:55 am

  11. Maricel says:

    We call these balay and we thought it had become extinct because we could not find it in the markets for more than 10 years until we found them again about 2 years back. We cook then in the same way as bangus tocho. It is fun to eat the chewy tail which is encased in what looks like plastic. My Dad buys the entire stock from the vendor whenever he sees these.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 8:09 am

  12. Lydia P says:

    How seredipitous! I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now and this is my first post. I saw this at Nepa-Q-Mart yesterday and was intrigued by it so I bought some. We cooked it the way the vendor described: sauteed in garlic, onion, tomatoes and ginger. Add the balay, add some fermented bean curd (taho-re?) and a little vinegar. The resulting dish was quite good but I think we may have overcooked it a bit because the meat was a bit chewy. The vendor said that the ‘tail’ (siphon) was supposed to be held between the teeth and then pulled in order to extract the tasty flesh inside. The shells don’t open when cooked like mussels or clams so they had to be pried open. I guess it’s an acquired taste albeit similar to clams or mussels but not the work involved to get to the meat.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 8:25 am

  13. socky says:

    OMG, I remember this shellfish! My mom used to cook this. I remember squeezing the laman out of its tail with my teeth. We grew up eating Ilonggo/Bacolod food because my mom’s first husband was Ilonggo and she lived in Iloilo/Bacolod for 16 years. But she used to buy ugpan (I didn’t even know that’s how it’s called)in Paco market. I don’t see it anywhere here anymore. This picture just opened floodgates of childhood food memories!

    Mar 18, 2009 | 8:46 am

  14. Jel says:

    in Navotas we have this kind but due to pollution and garbages that was dumped in the place we called “pulo” many of shells and fishes already extinct,my nanay used to cook this like adobo

    Mar 18, 2009 | 8:57 am

  15. Ellen says:

    This is the first time that I saw this kind of shellfish. Thank you for sharing the info. ‘Learned something new today, yey!

    Mar 18, 2009 | 9:17 am

  16. Blaise says:

    Looking at the first photo without reading the post, I actually thought they were bean sprouts… Turns out they’re shellfish..

    Mar 18, 2009 | 10:39 am

  17. erch says:

    i’m no a big fan of shellfish, but methinks it only looks like a cockroach because it’s swimming in a milky broth. siguro, this would be better with some chili garlic sauce then sauteed or chili garlic paste, ginger, onions and then dusted with cornstarch, then fried for a bit of crunch. at php20 a pile, it would be a great and really cheap appetizer/pulutan.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 10:50 am

  18. Jing says:

    Hey, MM! Thanks so much for featuring this unusual seafood. More thanks because since I mentioned it nothing happened: no reader comments, no reactions whatsoever so I thought maybe na extinct na ang ugpan hahaha! Our cook made adobo out of it and since it’s comfort food of my childhood days, kalami gyud! I’ll show your post to my kids and hubby so that they’ll see here what ‘outrageous’ food their mom had as a kid hehehe!

    Mar 18, 2009 | 10:56 am

  19. TPS says:

    Ugpan is my worst food nightmare. Terribly afraid of tail.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 11:26 am

  20. isabella says:


    That is balay.When we were growing up in Bulacan,my mom used to cook balay for us;sauteed in ginger,tomato and garlic.I love this shellfish,but I think I have not seen them for a long time now!

    Mar 18, 2009 | 11:27 am

  21. aiden says:

    talking about things never seen before (especially in manila markets), hope you get to blog about the batwan, which is the souring agent they use there for their sinigang.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 11:28 am

  22. jadedfork says:

    interesting. i had the same reaction as maria clara. at first i thought they were some kind of toge…

    Mar 18, 2009 | 11:44 am

  23. Marnie says:

    Aren’t these Lingula, a kind of brachiopod or bivalve?

    Mar 18, 2009 | 11:54 am

  24. sonnysj says:


    Balay is available from time to time at the Malolos wet market. just saw some being sold about 3 weeks ago.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 11:55 am

  25. Homebuddy says:

    There are shells similar to ugpan although not green they’re called “tudlo dato” in visayan.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 12:00 pm

  26. Diwata08 says:

    Lydia P, just have to ask… is the lumpia wrapper maker’s stall still in Nepa-Q-Mart?

    Mar 18, 2009 | 12:08 pm

  27. millet says:

    i’ve seen this a few times at the sidcor saturday market at the lung center but they looked creepy.

    the shellfish i miss are the “kaligay” – tiny, cone-shaped shells that my grandma would buy for us whenever we were in manila. the vendors would give her several long suha (pomelo) thorns which we used to pry the mollusks out. i think the shells were washed a soaked for sometime, after which boiling water was poured onto them. after a few seconds, they were drained and ready for eating. prying out the meat was more fun than the eating, actually. i don’t even remember how they tasted like.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 1:55 pm

  28. Jel says:

    “balay” that’s how folks in navotas call it too…

    Mar 18, 2009 | 2:21 pm

  29. AleXena says:

    Strange looking seashell… very interesting:D

    Mar 18, 2009 | 3:56 pm

  30. Maki says:

    at first glance those feet looks like a mongo sprout, but then as i read the post… those are really strange looking shells… yeah they look alien to me.. ^___^

    Mar 18, 2009 | 5:33 pm

  31. jun b says:

    My medical report is out doctor advise me to stay away of fatty and high cholesterol food such as shellfish for a while as I have elevated triglyceride. Also need to cut down on carbo….haay back to salad and fish diet :(

    Mar 18, 2009 | 5:35 pm

  32. Lydia P says:

    Diwata08, yes, the lumpia wrapper maker stall if still there. Quite fascinating to watch them make the wrappers.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 6:28 pm

  33. Mari says:


    As some of your readers say, it is called balay in the tagalog region… my mom used to cook them when we were young and I have not seen it for ages! Thanks for showing it and to read from others that it is still available once in a while.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 10:21 pm

  34. Apicio says:

    Also called balay in Bataan and pulled out of the muck at low tide by feeling for the shell first since the tails actually anchor them deep in the silt. Allowed to purge overnight in a pail of salt water, they are then cooked like bangus en taucho, that is, sauteed with the addition of julienned ginger, crushed tauhure and black beans. The flesh has a milky oyster-like consistency. Truly yummy.

    Can be lethal or at least, propulsive in either directions if not fresh and of dubious provenance.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 11:20 pm

  35. Apicio says:

    Apologies to Lui for redundancy, I wrote above comment before reading your comment in the Diwal post.

    Mar 18, 2009 | 11:37 pm

  36. lui says:

    No worries Apicio. Seems like en tocho is the preferred cooking for ugpan/balay in the central region.

    Mar 19, 2009 | 2:01 am

  37. marissewalangkaparis says:

    Wow! Memories..my lola used to cook this with tahure and crushed black beans…like Maricel brought back memories. And Lydia P…yes we used to eat the tails by biting one end and they were nice and soft (contents). I don’t think I see them in the markets anymore. It’s only now that I hear that they’re called ugpan. My lola never called it by name….

    Mar 19, 2009 | 9:14 am

  38. mcp says:

    we call this paros in marikina. when i was younger, i just ate the tail and discarded the meat in the shell, hehe

    Mar 19, 2009 | 8:24 pm

  39. GJN says:

    Just last week I emailed a sister abroad if she remembers a shellfish with tail which we as children enjoyed. She correctly remembered it…UGPAN! And now it’s featured here in MM’s blog. How’s that for synchronicity!

    Mar 21, 2009 | 10:35 am

  40. ria says:

    looks like worms!!

    Mar 21, 2009 | 8:02 pm

  41. Brother says:

    Reminds me of “aninikad” in Bohol – a long-ish, conical shell, dark brown in color. Found inside the fringing reef off southern Panglao. A pile of these was also around P10, and we threw them into a pot, added a cup each of sea and fresh water, some chopped ginger and garlic. You needed a safety pin to persuade the little buggers out of their shells, but their intense flavor made it worth it.

    Mar 22, 2009 | 6:14 pm

  42. boygee53 says:

    i haven’t eaten this shellfish for decades. i came from malabon city and this balay was one of my favorite. (tocho) can anybody adviced me where to buy this balay in metro manila wet markets? tnx in advance. my email is boygee53@yahoo.com

    Jul 27, 2009 | 9:10 am

  43. Paleontologist says:

    To shed a light on this enigma: It’s a brachiopod of the genus Lingula (as already stated by Marnie). The “tail” actually is the “foot” these organisms use to attach themselves to the seafloor while the shell protects the tiny arms with which they collect food particles from the water current. They are not related to clams. Lingula is a special case in the brachiopod phylum as it lives within the sediment, using the “foot” to retract itself below the sediment surface when threatened.
    The earliest known Lingula fossils have an age of more than 500 million years.
    Hope to have the opportunity to taste a recent one one day :-)

    Jan 17, 2010 | 8:35 am

  44. Marketman says:

    Paleontologist, many thanks for that comment, we now know more about this unusual brachiopod… :)

    Jan 17, 2010 | 9:27 am

  45. regie esula says:

    In Cadiz City, one city of Negros Occidental province. Ugpan is one of their source for food. It is easy to catch, especially on low tide…..

    Thanks for featuring ugpan on net. tnx

    Apr 23, 2010 | 11:53 am


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