A Fishy Trail…


Fried dried salted tuyo na tamban (dried fish) soaked in chili vinegar is a taste profile that is permanently BURNED into my memory banks. I LOVE DRIED FISH. As a child, it was an occasional breakfast food in our home, but I actually had a hankering for it at meals throughout the day. As an adult, after returning from a long trip abroad where Filipino food is scarce, I love having a very sour sinigang (sour soup) with lots of rice, and several fillets of tuyo soaked in vinegar on the side, maybe with some minced tomatoes and salt. On a recent trip to the southern island of Bohol, I had the opportunity to visit a fish landing dock where medium sized bancas (outrigger boats) brought their catch, and on a whim, decided it would be interesting to follow the trail of the fish that day (tamban or a type of sardines) until they reached the end consumer…


The medium sized bancas or basnigs looked a bit like spiders, with several bamboo poles stretching out from the hulls, the support system for nets that are used to catch schools of tamban (sardinella albella) late at night or in the early morning hours. Several dozen were anchored near the causeway landing dock/market near downtown Tagbilaran, Bohol. The bancas appeared be filled to the gills (pun intended) with thousands of tamban and it was fascinating to watch the fishermen unload their catch and start on their journey to people’s dinner tables.


After the fish were transferred to the docks, a fat female auctioneer took over, as dozens of buyers negotiated for coolers or large pails filled with fish. Sold by volume based on the containers in the pictures, buyers took the risk that the weight would be more or less what they had estimated… they checked for excessive water in the pails, if any, and proceeded to cut their deals for the day. Some buyers were there to buy hundreds of kilos for re-distribution elsewhere on the island, while other buyers were mom and pop operations with the father driving the motorcycle and the mother buying the fish and would be selling it in their hometown some 10-20 minutes away at most. In my many market forays, I have always noticed that the auctioneer in these types of situations is ALMOST always this stereotypical fat momma. I kid you not. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. I suppose they are big because they are presumably successful and can buy enough food. But they are always of this ilk. Never have I ran across a stunning provincial beauty, whose looks alone would probably up the price of the fish. And even rarer is a large fat corpulent man in this role… I could be wrong on this, of course, but they always strike me as scary big mommas… :)


We inspected the fish from this catch and they appeared to be wickedly fresh. Perhaps just hours out of the sea and with the clearest of eyes. At the first step of the intermediation process, it seems that the auction was resulting in prices of roughly PHP28-30 per kilo effective price. I suspect the fishermen or owners of the boats managed to eke out PHP25-26 per kilo for their catch. So level one intermediation meant an increase in PHP2 or so. The slightest of discounts were offered to folks who bought in bulk.


Not more than 10 meters from the landing spot of the bancas and just in front of the auctioneers area, were dozens of market stalls for retail buyers. Locals from nearby made their way to this market to purchase 1/2 or 1 kilo of fish for their daily needs. Here the fresh tamban have jumped from PHP28-30 per kilo to a firm PHP40 a kilo, regulars might get an extra fish or two thrown in, for an effective cost of say PHP38-39 per kilo.


Large buyers/wholesalers, immediately packed their purchased into sturdy containers and coolers, for immediate transport to markets all around Bohol, and possibly even Cebu.


Smaller retailers come to buy say a cooler worth of fish, this one bargained from PHP1,300 to roughly PHP1,200, and it was said to contain roughly 40 kilos of tamban. Prices do vary by volume of fish caught, and tales of “manipulation” are probably both truth and lore in these parts. Sometimes, large operators or groups of bancas strategically remain offshore and don’t land their goods at the same time so as not to cause a glut and plunge in prices. Others, in a race not to lose more, try to get back to the dock first and sell their catch at a low price just to pre-empt other bancas


Once the fish have been inspected, bargaining completed, deals cut, and fish loaded onto coolers, pails, etc…


…they begin their journey to nearby towns and smaller markets all around the island of Bohol. It seems that many coastal towns actually wait for fish from Tagbilaran rather than fish landing all over the island… The further one gets from the city, the higher the prices are likely to rise.


In the busiest markets with lots of volume, close to the source, the tamban sells for PHP40 a kilo…


…and as the distance grows, or the market is in a “higer-rent” area…


…the same fish that landed at a cost of say PHP25 to the fisherman, can rise to as much as PHP60-70 a kilo that same day. I am not sure if there is this quality of tamban in Manila markets, but if there were, I wouldn’t be surprised if they commanded prices of PHP80-90 per kilo there. Now if only I knew how to turn these into good bottled sardines…

P.S. I have written about tuyo before, here. And I did a tongue-in-cheek post entitled a South Forbes Tuyo, here. :)


45 Responses

  1. you’re right MM, in Dalahican, the local fish port in Lucena, Quezon where my father and i would go to buy seafood for our annual holy week feast. i would always see a robust, plump woman serving as the auctioneer and always with the shrill voice ala kris aquino…ouch!

  2. Reminds me of a time when we were on vacation in Bicol, we followed a tricycle with just caught fish from the shore and were haggling with the old manang whilst the tricycle was side-by-side with our vehicle. Our driver was prodding us to purchase ‘now’ as the fish price doubles when it reaches the palengke. Fortunately we reached a good price and we got several crabs as well. The manang was fished out, so she turned back and went home.

    PS. Hate tuyo, but LOVE TINAPA!

  3. Tuyo is definitely a favorite along with tinapa, bagoong but I hate cooking them as the smell will be all over the house if not the whole neighborhood. Thanks to Blue Kitchen, I can always eat them without cooking it. One of the few things you can try on tuyo are
    1. Aglio Olio style (tuyo, garlic, red chili slather on virgin olive oil)
    2. Tuyo and Melon (Something like the parma ham and melon :)
    3. Sushi tuyo (The sushi rice are mixed with garlic chili vinegar
    4. Thin crust pizza top with tuyo, basil, and mozzarella season with blackpepper, salt and virgin olive oil.

    There is definitely a thousand way to do it. Just let your imagination run through with Tuyo in mind :)

  4. An interesting post, especially to someone from the landlocked environs of Quezon City where we see ‘fresh’ fish at the wet market – and notice the coolers full of ice and such beneath the stalls.

    Really fresh tamban at P25 a kilo? Grrr … at Suki Market in Dapitan St (QC), this would be around P100 – a 400% increase which makes one wonder at what the net profit the market sellers have. Granting the cost of transportation, the ‘inconvenience’ of waking up early to secure their wares, and spending the morning or much of the day in a no airconditioned ‘office’ PLUS the cost of stalls, market fees, etc.

    Makes me wonder whether the ‘big, scary mommas’ are actually income class DE … or are they more lower C?

    Such thoughts get washed away, however, when the tamban gets transformed into a lovely paksiw ‘spiced’ with kamias … just the thing for a break after your porky postings. (BTW, do you ever get nightmares where Porky Pig and friends are looking at you with teary eyes, wailing about what you’ve done to their relatives?)

    Anyway … off topic.

    Have you seen the Malaya editorial yesterday endorsing *you* to join the Aquino cabinet? The link is here: https://www.malaya.com.ph/05132010/edit.html.

    Any thoughts?

  5. This is one Filipino food my husband and I fight over. He hates it (the smell) and I love it to death. To prevent future arguments and fights, we have agreed that I can only have tuyo when he’s working and not at home. Or, if I cook and eat it in another person’s house.

    Sigh, at least he lets me eat durian at home when he’s around. But I have to eat this in the living room and NEVER in our bedroom.

    I miss tuyo. Anyone wanna swap tuyo for real Korean kimchi by post? he he he

  6. very interesting post, MM, and a couple of stunning photos (1st and 8th)!

    here’s something u might want to try doing when u have some freshly caught tamban. it’s what we do when we are able to get live sardines from fishermen who have just brought in their catch of sardines (clupea pilchardus), a Portuguese recipe called escabeche.

    after cleaning (and discarding the heads), put salt, coat in flour and fry in hot oil. arrange the fried sardines in a covered container. for 1 kg of fish, heat 1 cup of olive oil, fry some sliced onions (as much as u prefer) and when slightly transparent, add garlic rounds, a few orange rounds (i’ve never tried with lemon, but i’m sure it would be good as well, if not better), cracked black pepper, thyme, dried laurel/bay leaves, salt, 1/2 cup dry white wine and 1/2 cup wine vinegar, some chili powder (dried sili pieces would be great), or paprika (adds a nice colour) and cook in low fire for about 15 min. pour the mixture over the sardines — and leave at least overnight before eating. this keeps for many days afterwards where it only becomes better over time (i’ve tried about 8 days, they say until 15), and if sealed tightly in a glass jar, perhaps even more.

    i love doing sardines this way and june is just approaching, which is the best time of the year for sardines (for us, eating them, that is!), so i’ll be sure to be doing this recipe very soon.

    if u decide to try this, hope u like it! enjoy!

  7. love the first photo. the guy on the upper right corner’s body is hot!!! love tuyo too btw

  8. I think nothing beats “sinugba” fresh tamban with fresh tomatoes and onions on the side with lots and lots of hot steamed rice. saraaaap…..

  9. First photo reminds me of one of the Goya paintings in the Frick Collection and this post actually sent me searching for your classic (and award winning) post Tinapa.

  10. I love tamban prepared binuro-style, packed in salt, the way they do it in Estancia, Iloilo. We would rinse the fish to remove the excess salt, fry it in a little oil and then finish it off by adding a little vinegar to the pan. We poured the salty-sour juices left in the pan over freshly cooked rice and ate it with the binuro, along with strong and sweet barako coffee and papaya or mango slices. My favorite breakfast. Soooo gooood.

  11. Thank goodness not another liempo post, hahaha! (Joke) I love pork but I have been abstaining from it since last year and I didn’t want to put myself into too much temptation. But I did read the pork posts during these last few days.

    I love this post. It reminds me of how the price of rice rise from farmer to market.

  12. Would love to try deebee’s and kakusina’s recipes. The sardines look soooo fresh. I miss eating these. Have to content myself with canned sardines which is not the same really.

  13. Gosh i miss these uga!! Here in UK they call it sprat and i usually see it at sainsbury and i always buy 20 pieces and my husband will just sigh and stand as far away from me as he can, I love to fry it and eat it with rice and kikko man and cherry tomatoes, but it has to be on week days and only me in the house

  14. What a great post. This was informative, thanks MM.

    And I’m laughing at the “Fat Momma” observations. Now I know what my next career move should be!

  15. OMG, if you join the Aquino cabinet, will this be the end of MarketManila??????

  16. tuyo, garlic fried rice, runny sunny side up with crispy edges and chili laced sinamak. i had to have these every saturday a while back. tuyo can just really stink up the place so i haven’t had the fried ones in ages. the bottled ones aren’t as thrilling to eat.

    anyway those tamban look good enough as is salted and then grilled. like capellin

  17. the fish auctioneer in sipalay (160km south of bacolod city) is one “scary big momma” too…:)

  18. I love sardines with the barest ingredients. Grilled with just salt and olive oil and then squeeze some lemon like in Portugal.

  19. Another winning post, MM. Thank you. (It is taking my mind off the nail biter results of the vice presidential race.)

  20. Is it just me, or do the fish in the fourth and eight photos look different? Those in the eighth pic are what we call tamban, but the ones in the fourth look like hawol-hawol; their scales are less “bunched-up” than their cousins’. Anyway, it’s a minor quibble. In this part of Leyte, people have taken to calling these fish “dayang-dayang” (after the popular song, although I have no idea in what dialect).

    @deebee: Thanks for the escabeche recipe. I talked to my old high school principal recently and she inquired about a sardines recipe. Will share this with her…

  21. I didn’t like like eating tuyo while growing up because of the thought that I still had to remove the fish bones or the “tinik” one by one and it’s only now that i’m enjoying eating tuyo (except for the scales, i still had to remove them before i can eat), sometimes with vinegar, sometimes with tomatoes. [please don’t judge me guys for being “maarte”, its just the way i am :) thanks! ]

  22. by the way, i’m from the Philippines. I think its my IP address that’s causing me to display as from United States :)

  23. tamban this fresh is very good just salted and grilled quickly over charcoal. the flesh is almost milky.

    MM, bottled sardines are very easy to do. just clean and gut the fish and remove the head and scales if you prefer them that way. brining is important so that the fish remain firm even after cooking. after brining, soak in a strong brine solution for half an hour (use cold water for the solution). rinse and drain the fish.

    place a sheet of aluminum foil or a banana leaf at the bottom of a pressure cooker. arrange the fish in one layer, then pour in a cupful of olive or corn oil, 1/2 cup water, 1 or 2 pieces bayleaf, 1 carrot sliced in rings. a few strips of pimiento (red pepper), a few whole or halved peeled shallots, about a tablespoon of whole peppercorns, and about 1 tsp. salt. (you may add more salt if nexessary after cooking. make sure the liquid covers the fish, and add more oil if necessary.

    cook on the pressure cooker and watch the pressure indicator closely. when it starts to move. , turn the heat to low and cook for an hour. check for doneness after an hour (when the bones are soft, it is done), and cook for another 10 minutes if the bones are still hard.

    i cook these for home consumption and do not bottle them for storage so i do not know the procedures for sterilized, long-term preservation.

  24. oh, i forgot, you need to put a few pieces of siling labuyo. once you have the recipe down pat, you may experiment with other spices and aromatics, such as garlic (chopped or sliced), or soysauce, knorr seasoning, black beans, tomato sauce, etc.

  25. millet, thanks, I will have to try that the next time I have access to really fresh sardines… and I need to get me a pressure cooker! Toping, they could very well be different fish… I can’t be sure based on the photos. One was taken in outdoor conditions at the dock, hence the clear natural light. The other photos are taken indoors with incandescent or flourescent lighting. So they could be different fish…

  26. I LOVE tuyo. We don’t get the fresh kind here in Utah, and have to settle for frozen, but I love it nonetheless. With suka and kamatis, mmm. Only thing is it takes me days to air out the smell. With nicer days, I can cook outside.

  27. MM….”Never have I ran across a stunning provincial beauty, whose looks alone would probably up the price of the fish.”

    LOL, all those beauties have immigrated to Western countries.

    We have a recipe for pickled dried fish, but we use Shark, Stingrays, Tanguegue, Mackerels, and other Dried fish, but I have never come across dried Sardines, maybe they don’t dry too well. Gotta try it with Deep Fried crisp to the bone Sardines and then pickle them.

    Here’s the recipe for those interested : https://www.goaholidayhomes.com/recipes/42/fish-pickle/

  28. Tuyo and garlic sinangag are a once in a while treat for me and the Missus these days. Who would have thought this lowly staple back home we now consider as a gourmet treat?

    On another note, with regards to the Malaya article, hmmm… MM your silence from the previous comments could just mean it is a possibility that you’ll step up to the challenge if offered that post. DOT Secretary, that sure sounds like a perfect addition to your resume.

    The article itself although not a novel idea, has merits in that it is timely and offers a template of what types of cabinet members Noynoy should select. Not to make you blush or anything, but your personality, intelligence, industriousness and best of all your creativity all manifests themselves just from your work on this blog. I’m sure there’s a lot more on offer given a chance to serve your nation. To this I say, at a minimum, use Market Man as a template for our next batch of executives in the goverment. Cheers!

  29. Few people will take exemption from the claim that the bulk of sardines consumed in the Philippines is dried. Unmodified tuyo means dried sardines. Even Rizal called them sardinas secas. Usually served with fried rice for breakfast, it can migrate to lunch and and even supper with advancing poverty. Thus, Sisa, the mother driven mad with the abuse of her two sons by the town friar and his minion, grilled her last three remaining tuyo, one and a half-each, she rightly calculated, for supper to await her sons’ return.

  30. My mom always make homemade sardines, though we dont bottle it, it’s really good because it’s homemade. . . and I experimented making different kinds of variations of the sardines. I just add in all the flavors that i want, diff. kinds of herbs etc., salt and pepper ofcourse, onion and garlic, chili to give it a kick, ample amount of water and olive oil, then cook it in a pressure cooker. Do experiment on the timing if you want the bones to get softer, i just cook mine for like 15-20 min. . . you can really make diff. flavors, maybe an oriental style with black beans, ginger and sesame oil, be creative. . . you can’t go wrong . . . yumm i’m making myself hungry :D

  31. Hi MM, the first photo looks beautiful. The light looks great, the photo well-composed, and with everyone doing something, it definitely tells a story. I’d print and hang that in my home if I were you. = )

  32. May I suggest using your slow cooker set at low or medium to make sardines using the recipe of Millet. I do this all the time to make bangus sardines. It takes at least 24 hours but not that much attention is needed. I like bangus but I disdain the bones—there’s just a lot of it. Add your tomato sauce towards the end of the cooking. Tomato sauce gets an ugly dark color when cooked very long.

    On another note, eating fishbones is also good because it is loaded with calcium.

  33. MM – aray naman! why the need to use a derogatory adjective to describe the female auctioneer? i know there is no malice intended from your part, pero imagine how she would feel had she read how you described her. pwede rin namang maging PC in your description, di ba? (let me just be clear that i didn’t feel slighted because i am heavy-set dahil i am not pero siguro e i am just sensitive on how people are “labeled” when there is not a need for it). baka naman pwedeng paki-delete na lang iyong description, MM? Thanks.

  34. netoy, I don’t consider it derogatory nor politically incorrect the way it is used in the post. In fact, I clearly state I do not MEAN it to be derogatory (or to take away from one’s capabilities or success) and as such, it is used more as a description. The lady is OVERWEIGHT for her height, but yes, I do not know whether she is INDEED a mother. If someone referred to me as a fat, overweight, portly, underheight marketman, I would not take offense at all.

  35. elo MM! way back a year ago , were feasting on the same kind quality of fish and other deafood in navotas, have u been there? MM feel free to visit the fisport of malabon and navotas and i can say u cn match the quality of catch to some seaside provinces.. i really missed those fresh catch with really affordable prices :(

  36. Your first photo of the hardworking fishermen deserves a prize. It looks more like a painting than a photograph!

  37. what is the local equivalent of the sardine in italy? is it the tamban? what do the local popular sardine companies use in their cans?

  38. iceman, tamban and a couple of other closely related and similar looking fish are our equivalent of sardines. However, I think the sardines here and those from colder waters say off of Italy and Portugal are a little bit different. I have tried whole fried sardines in Europe and their flavor wasn’t as strong as some local Pinoy ones. My next quest the next time I have access to lots of fresh tamban is to try and cook them as western sardines and see if there really is a difference… Laura, I wish I had a few more photos like the first one but closer up. I had to use a telephoto lens to get this one and it isn’t as clear as I would have liked. chreylle, no, I have not been to the fishport of malabon and navotas yet, but would love to go… Jose, :).

  39. MM, as soon as you get your pressure cooker, don’t wait for the tamban, try the recipe on small bangus (those that are about 5-7 pieces/kilo. delish! cut off the tails of the cleaned bangus, remove the scales, (although some people prefer them with scales, but they make the oil cloudy) and make sure you remove all visible blood (especially inside the belly and head) along the spine. some people like to remove the heads too. then use cold water for brining for about 30 minutes. delish!



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