Bakasi a la Victor


Bakasi are small, 6-8 inch saltwater eels that are plentiful in the town of Cordova, Cebu, on the Southern part of Mactan island where there are really flat and kilometers wide coral reefs under very shallow water… I wrote about these eels here previously, but this is the first time I have watched them being cooked and eaten. Our office security guard in Cebu calls the town of Cordova home, so he brought over two small plastic bags filled with incredibly lively specimens of bakasi this morning. If you have seen National Geographic type programs with moray eels, these look almost exactly like a miniature moray eel, but they are really quite small, and I am told, don’t get much longer than a foot or so…


We put the eels in a glass flower vase to take a few photographs and they seemed quite docile at first, just swirling about in the sea water and occasionally reaching up to the surface of the water…


But before long, the bakasi got antsy and quite literally started to try and “leap” out of the vase. I was taking a photo of one fairly close up when it managed to jump or slither over the edge of the vase and nearly touched the lens of the camera, needless to say I was STARTLED enough to yell… hahaha. What is it about snakes and their ilk that freaks people out so much… Mind you, these things can bite. :(


Victor, the resident bakasi expert, was tasked with cooking the eels for lunch. He assured me that after they were removed from the sea water, and rinsed in fresh water, they would die before cooking them…


In a medium sized kawali (wok-shaped pan), victor sauteed some sliced garlic together with some onions and tomatoes in some vegetable oil. He then added the freshly washed bakasi and told me to have the cover ready. After adding the bakasi to the saute, the frigging eels jumped out of the pan like crazy while I tried to catch a shot on my camera… it was the wildest cooking scene made for a “Believe It Or Not” type episode. At least 15 eels went shooting out of the pan, some onto the counter, my pants and others to the floor! Unfortunately, I didn’t catch a photo of any flying through the air. I guess it was my fault and should have immediately covered the eels as soon as they were put in the pan.


Some salt and pepper was added, water, a bit of soy sauce and some black beans and a few minutes later, the dish was cooked and ready to eat. If you ever had visions of Medusa’s head with squirming snakes, this pan filled with jumping eels is the closest equivalent I will ever experience on this planet, hopefully. :)


And the taste? Pretty good actually. The white meat of the eels was delicate, like a fine fish. But the bones or spine was a bit of a pain. One has to stick the body of the eel in your mouth and use your clenched teeth to “scrape” off the meat. If you didn’t see the whole outrageous live jumping eels while cooking process, this dish would be just like any other seaffod with black beans type concoction. I can understand why it is considered a delicacy, and since it is plentiful in Cordova, I can see why it is a great economical source of protein. I had been warned that the meat would make my body “warm,” and I dismissed that as an old wive’s tale. However, a few minutes after eating several bakasi, I did inddeed feel “warmer” than usual… and I wonder if that was just my mind playing tricks on me or if there is a mild toxin or reaction caused by eating the eels. This is definitely something I would eat again…


55 Responses

  1. hahaha…those friggin eels…what an interesting post! mm, you made me laugh just before turning in for the night.

  2. A glimpse of photo #6 is enough to deaden any hunger pangs — a wok, full of writhing snakes. Yikes!

  3. If I were you during that time those 15 eels jumped out of the pan, I would have ran away from the room. I’m sure Victor would have found me rocking back and forth in a corner, alternately crying and shuddering in fear. =))

    I do remember my dad loves to eat igat from Bataan. Pretty scary dish since the eel’s cut into fat chunks and it has black skin and a weird looking yellow sauce. Did I mention that their spiny bones stick out from the flesh? *shudder* =P

  4. hi mm – since i dive and i’ve seen a ton of moral eels, i don’t think i’d be able to eat something like that… the taste sounds good though…

  5. mojito drinker: moral eels are a different breed, they keep the reef free from evil influences.

    i use to have a pair of freshwater eels kept in an aquarium. Lost them when the aquarium’s water level reached the brim. I learned a lesson in keeping pets. Eels go with the flow.

  6. i’m scared of live eels. my first encounter with eels was in a soup bowl in HK when i was about 6yrs old. imagine the fascination of a young foodie…heehee!

  7. i remember when i was small my lolo use to eat “inun-unan na bakasi” it’s cooked in vinegar with lots of garlic,onions, ginger and green chili… i remember eating it too but i don’t know now if i still could :-)

  8. I found a vendor at SIDCOR once, selling live ‘palos’ (I think they’re fresh water eel). I asked the vendor to filet them..which she did while whispering something about what a weirdo I was. At home, the filets were skewered, grilled and then brushed with bottled unagi glaze….a winner. I’ve tried the same method with catfish and it also works.

    I also remember trying moray eel many years ago at the old seafood market resto in Cubao. It was also cooked in black bean sauce. The texture was what I remember……delicate, sweet white fish meat (Like MM mentions above) wrapped in what tasted and had a mouth feel like bangus belly…rich and tasty!

  9. I like “extreme” gourmet food served in less recognizable form: locust sans the wings and legs; frog sans the stuffed body (a la everybody’s cafe) as I prefer frog legs that look more like tiny chicken wings. So, I would rather eat bakasi all chopped up. I don’t even want to see how a live “unagi” looks like. Seeing snake-like creatures on my plate will freak me out.

    Those 15-or-so eels jumping out of the pan is a scene straight out of a horror movie!

  10. Maybe you can get Victor to smoke the eels over coco shells, fillet them like they have them in Japanese restaurants and serve over rice.

  11. The Chinese say that eels make you “diat”, meaning eels are high in cholesterol. And yes, they will make you warm.

  12. This is the same as unagi, isn’t it? I love unagi! But maybe the eel used in Japanese cooking is bigger? Because I’ve only ever seen it filleted and, when not chopped up, definitely bigger than these bakasi.

  13. Unagi is eel, but definitely not this type of eel. These eels apparently only grow to a foot long or so… unless they swim from the flats to the deep see and grow bigger there… so I don’t think these would get to the size needed for the unagi served in Japanese restaurants… but the flesh and taste is similar, albeit in much smaller doses…

  14. The skin seems to have a delicate texture when cooked, as seen in the photo above. I imagined it would be tough like leather. Same as the other readers, I think I can only eat this filleted. I don’t like animals that slither… much less to have a whole one on my plate!

  15. I think that that was a cruel way to cook those eels. Why didn’t you let them die or kill them first before cooking them? You would have jumped like hell, too, if you were put in a hot pan while still alive!!! I’m surprised that no one of your readers have expressed any squirmish feeling about what you did, except of course me. Yes, we do cook lobsters, crabs and shrimps alive, but I don’t think those species put up a “hellish” fight for their lives like those eels did. Not the kind of scene I would want to watch and photograph.

  16. I think MM didn’t know that was about to happen since he was assured that they’d be dead before they are cooked:

    “Victor, the resident bakasi expert, was tasked with cooking the eels for lunch. He assured me that after they were removed from the sea water, and rinsed in fresh water, they would die before cooking them…”

  17. titanos,

    You sorta tiptoe on your point of view.. if you think its cruel then it should be for all those things you mentioned.. why just eels? It’s the same cooking method. Just bec. shrimps and lobsters doesn’t put up a fight, it doesn’t mean the way we cook them is any less cruel than the cooking of those eels. Could it be desensitized by the fact that people cook more shrimps and lobsters on a daily basis?

    just a thought..

  18. Hi, Titanons.

    People have different ways of looking at food. I myself will not have any compunction about cooking those things alive if I ever will cook them. Just because you feel squirmish about jumping things on the frying pan doesn’t mean everybody does or should. The reason why live lobsters, crabs, and shrimps do not jump out of the frying pan when cooked could be because the 1) the pan is covered, 2)the dang things does not have it in them to jump 3) they are too heavy to jump. Also, just because they do not jump doesn’t mean they feel less pain than the eels. It’s like you are telling us it is okay to kill something as long as they don’t put up a fight?
    If you are avid reader of this blog, you should know that MM is for humane treatment of whatever he is cooking.

  19. there are some food that i’d rather see already cooked, and not me cooking them, like dinuguan and eels because they remind me of snakes….

  20. In pangasinan whenever they drain the bangus ponds they usually catch plenty of fresh water eels. I’d say they are fairly huge and I’ve tasted it chopped and deep fried. The skin is quite tough and the flesh is close to bangus belly. It does have plenty of fat which explains the cholesterol level. We rarely eat it so why worry of a cardiac arrest : )

  21. That was very cruel! Laughing while the eels are burning to death.
    How could all of you laugh at that pathetic sight?

  22. Hi titanons et al. Yes, I assumed they would be dead and any remnant signs of life would be a bit of twitching or muscle spasms, not jumping out of the pan. But I knew it was fresh and that I was going to kill them for lunch. I didn’t expect the jumping eels obviously. However, I know what end my food will meet… and it is NO different from cooking live lobsters, they fight like hell too when you put them into boiling water and a steamer, as I experienced many years back while cooking particularly fresh lobsters. Shrimp don’t leap? Have you cooked really live suahe? In Chinese restaurants, they coat them in liquor and LIGHT them! And yes, they dance like their pants are indeed on fire. We cook our crabs after they are JUST killed and cleaned, and despite 10-20 minutes since the lethal pierce goes into the shell, the legs still twitch with muscle spasms when they are put in the hot pan. I didn’t take particular glee from seeing the eels suffer, and I agree I too would jump out of a hot pan if put in the same situation. I would still best like my uni or urchin taken from a live specimen, sushi cut from a fish that was at most seconds dead… I really have to write the why I eat what I eat post that has been on my backburner for months, because if you guys bothered to really find out how your food is treated before it gets to your grocery, you may think several times before leaving comments about my being cruel to things I eat… And by the way, if the food chain were slightly different, and a raptor or other cool dinosaur were in my neighborhood hunting for protein, I sure as heck would figure out a way to avoid him or her, and hope he eats some of my dumber neighbors first… that’s just the way life is.

  23. My Dad, before he passed on, loved Linarang na Bakasi… and a similar situation happened to us in the kitchen. My Dad didn’t know squat about cooking eel, but he attempted the impossible… and made me his unwilling assistant.

    And of course, even before the eels landed in the pan, they were jumping out of the basin… one even slipped through the sink’s garbage disposal. But my Mom managed to save a kitchen disaster. Great memories there, MM. Those were good times…

  24. The motto on my camping trips… when there is a bear,I don’t have to be the fastest person.. just need to be slightly faster than the last guy.

  25. CA, AT WHAT POINT DOES IT CONVEY WE WERE LAUGHING AT THE SIGHT OF FRYING LIVE EELS??? ARE YOU READING THE POST BEFORE REACHING YOUR CONCLUSIONS??? If there is one thing I can’t stand more than folks just blurting/typing out comments like verbal diarrhea, it’s inventing reasons out of thin air for their indignation followed by the comment diarrhea. The only part that I wrote a “HAHAHA” was when the eel came out of the glass vase they were in while I was photographing them and I was startled and amused. At no point during the description of the cooking is there any suggestion of a laugh or even chuckle. Trust me, you wouldn’t be laughing if a live eel had vaulted onto your pants and was squirming away! Oh and CA, no need to change your name/identity every time you leave your intentionally incendiary comments (including the slanderous ones) as I can tell you are probably the same person who has left previous such comments based on your IP addresses. Duh. Start your own blog instead of taking unwarranted swipes at others. And plants have feelings too, in my opinion, so don’t tell me it’s not okay to eat animals but it’s fine to crush your romaine between your teeth while it screams silently. No need to feel superior about being a vegan, when you are murdering/consuming supposedly “innocent” plant life. Enjoy reading this from your perch in the central part of the U.S. East Coast…

  26. Ahhh, the bliss of not knowing how food gets on my table. I admit I like Unagi sushi, no clue on how they are prepped and all. Will this dissuade me from eating unagi? I shall remain in my clueless world. *laughs*

    I can’t help thinking of Flotsam and Jetsam though.

  27. I didn’t mean to sound like a hypocrite. Yes, I boil crabs while they are still alive I do feel that pang of conscience for being cruel to them and I guess because I cover the pan, I don’t see them struggling to get out of the pan. But I do hear the scratching sound they make against the pot. I think I was shocked to see those eels that you photographed so alive and then reading further on that they were tossed into the hot pan alive….my imagination just went crazy and my first reaction really, was to write down what I felt after reading your blog and the comments that were all so favorable.
    I was expecting at least one person to react differently. I’m glad there were at least two others who did feel the same way I did, but you shouldn’t feel too indignant when some people have some reactions that are not favorable to you. This is a blog and its success is measured by how many respond to your articles whether positive or negative. True, there maybe some people who just want to be nasty and have malicious intentions when they comment, but, I think that’s the risk you take when you open yourself to the public. I bear no ill will, just telling you people of my reaction.

  28. titanons, I didn’t think you bore any ill will at all, hence the separate response to your comment. And it is hypocritical to criticize my cooking live eels when you yourself cook live crabs. As for CA, there have been a half dozen comments which, for the most part, were simply incendiary, not necessarily genuine, occasionally slanderous, hence the separate and much stronger reaction to that. Only two of CA’s comments of this nature have been allowed through. I am glad there were different types of reactions, but the “success” of this blog is not so much in the reactions people write (though often the comments are more interesting than the post), positive or negative, but the steadily growing readership of the blog, which now numbers some 15,000+ page views a day. And only less than 3% of the readers have ever left a comment, so I do take it upon myself to moderate the most nasty, malicious or irrelevant ones (in my opinion, of course, as it is MY blog). This blog is written on my efforts and those of my crew, on my expense and without any remuneration nor advertising, so I think readers can just skip posts they don’t like, rather than make nasty or malicious comments they can’t defend once they are challenged to do so. I don’t mind credible debates at all, what I do mind are one shot judgmental comments that don’t hold up under further scrutiny.

  29. No thank you to eels, except in sushi – unagi. The pictures of eels you have posted just look like snakes, and aren’t very appetizing. Yuk!

  30. Ah but Gilda, looks can be deceiving, no? Perhaps if you get to taste them you might actually like them… :) After all, unagi are eels as well. Personally, I tried to look at them as I might a whole fried fish. Just because I have seen more of the latter shouldn’t bias me against the former… but that is just me. As for eel, would many of the readers here also immediately discount the delicious Angulas that are a spanish delicacy, link to one photo here? Or anchovy fillets, tuyo fillets… etc.? I’d hope people are able to overcome their personal food biases as I am trying to do without dismissing various foods without at least tasting them a couple of times…

  31. I actually think those eels are better than the unagi type eels. The sizes of the eels and from the outcome pics suggest that their meat would be much more tender. Am sure cook terriyaki style. chopped the head maybe.. and alot of nay sayers will probably like it.

    MM, on a way off topic.. you haven’t done anything with sweetbreads? I did a search and only found the glorious offal entry, which btw was awesome pics of the lamb’s head. It inspires me to cook capozelle? roasted lamb’s head, but wary on how many of my friends will be adventurous enough…I figure I’ll start slow and work my way to capozelle? and or hagis.

  32. Make your body “warm”? Does it mean that these eels are aprhodisiacs…Maybe i should eat a lot of these then,,,hehehe.

  33. Our bakasi recipe was always boiled like a tinola with lots of tomatoes, green onions and either sampaloc leaves or eba. I was taught to run your teeth thru the backside of the eel with accompanying sucking of the flesh from head to tail much like playing the selindron (harmonica).I don’t remember if they ate the front part, I didn’t. I did it not for the taste, I remembered it was bland but just to answer a dare from my brother that i couldn’t do it.

    I think they handled the slippery issue by applying ash first. I was too small to notice whether that killed the bakasi before they were plunged into the boiling soup.

    My daughter loves the sweet/salty, smoked, filleted eels ( a japanese product) that they sell frozen or served at a sushi place but I don’t really care for it.

  34. socky, i agree with you about liking some gourmet food being served in less recognizable form. i am going home in february and i look forward to dining at everybody’s restaurant again… after more than 20 years!! i remember that they’re located along consunji st., right? i used to eat there since i was in grade school and just loved their mami, halo halo and other dishes. i didn’t really like the camaru and stuffed frogs.

  35. MM, when the crabs twist and turn while they’re being steamed, their claws tend to twist off and they lose a lot of moisture that way. a chinese cook taught me to kill a crab efficiently just before cooking – just drive an icepick straight to its heart – apparently, it is exactly at the spot in the backside, right at the tip of the flap. one quick blow does it. so then you’re able to clean and cook them without losing any of the juices.

  36. Down here in Siargao Island, bakasi seems to be a common name for all moray eels, but used generally for smaller ones, like yours. Bigger ones are called hagmang, and the biggest pananglitan.

    Fishbase, at:
    lists 18 different species of moray eel under bakasi, mostly from the Visayas.

    At low tide here, people catch the small ones a-plenty from under rocks at low tide.

    Get yourself a lid for your kawali!

  37. PS Bakasi are wonderful smoked, as are freshwater eels. I smoke them myself in a sort of wooden cupboard over coconut husks, hanging them with a hook through the gills. I’ve never tried either the very small ones or the very big ones – I would think that would have to be filleted first.

  38. Sorry for the late post and missed the lively discussion on eels, etc….. Ted, yes they are known to be an aphrodisiac that heighten men’s libido? At least in these parts that is what people say, I wonder what is MM’s say on this? Hehehe!

  39. Oh, so this is what a bakasi is! I remember singing a Cebuano line when I was a kid to the tune of The Star-Spangled Banner:

    Si Jose bakasi, tadtaron mu liksi

    (Jose the bakasi jumps when chopped.)

  40. You probably need a scalpel to filet these! I wonder if you use oishin or any sweet, peppery, gingery sauce in lieu of the black beans. This must be good with steamed, bittery leafy veggie say pechay as sides – better yet, burong mustasa with scrambled eggs – on a heaping bed of steamed white rice.

  41. i’m gonna pass on this one haha! this would be perfect for fear factor. some boiled bakasi would be nice with all the parts intact save for the entrails of course heehee!

  42. i remember seeing my mom cook bakasi and remembered her coating them with ash first and then water.i think this is done repeatedly to remove the slime. then she boiled them. some were still alive while others died in the process of washing. she cooked in differently, i think as a soup. i dont remember because i was too freaked out eating what looks like snakes and live ones at that! hahaha

  43. there are things that are best eaten seconds after it’s been killed. fish is best when super duper fresh…as most seafood. there is thing thing called the food chain and the last time i checked humans are on top of it. by natural law, we are supposed to eat everything in the food chain below us (vegetation AND animals) because that’s just the way things are. there really is NO way of preparing food (meats, veg) humanely. We just prepare them in a way that suits us.



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