Bakasi / Baby Eels


They call these small, 8-12 inch saltwater eels “bakasi” throughout the island of Cebu. They are particularly abundant near the town of Cordova, in the Southern part of the island, where they even have an annual festival in August to celebrate this local “delicacy.” I have never eaten them before, or even seen them in markets for sale alive. So when I ran into them in droves at the Bogo market, I was certainly intrigued. All I knew for sure was that they were eels, they were caught in the sea, and that the locals cooked and ate them. But there was a part of me that was hoping these weren’t baby moray eels. I had seen far too many enormous moray eels for sale at the Pasil market just days before, and while I understand that moray eels are not endangered and are a good source of protein, I felt they should be spared from being eaten… why morays and not lapu-lapu or talakitoks, I can’t explain, nor am I being rational about it, I agree… Plus to complicate logic, I have eaten angullas in olive oil and garlic, a Spanish delicacy, and I also love unagi, that japanese eel with a sweetish sugar and soy sauce, so what is the big deal, anyway?


Back home, I did some basic research as I always do when writing about something new, and sometimes, the cursory review of my reference books and internet sources means I spend a few minutes on a topic before writing a brief post. But occasionally, I sink deeper and deeper into an abyss and realize how little I know, and it gets so frustrating trying to find out more about a topic! After nearly 3 hours of research, I learned the following: there are over 100 species of moray eels (family murarenidae) in the earth’s seas, and in the Philippines, we may have over 40 species of Moray eels. They range in size as adults from small to frighteningly humongous, and unlike the vivid memory I have of Jaqueline Bisset, the actress, sporting a fabulous bikini, being attacked by a moray in the movie “The Deep,” moray eels are generally very placid citizens of the deep, not vicious piranha-like human eating monsters (actually, piranhas mostly attack cattle and other four legged animals and not humans, either). Some websites claim morays are poisonous and that they are inedible, yet I know for a fact that many locals eat moray eels in all sorts of dishes, and they don’t keel over soon afterwards. King Henry I of England was said to have died in 1135 after severe indigestion after eating a moray eel, see link here (this is a FASCINATING link). So what the heck is this bakasi? A baby eel, referred to as an ELVER, I just learned, or a full grown eel of some sort?

The whole baby eel/elver aspect of this inquiry led me down the path of how morays mate and have babies/eggs/offspring/descendants. Fascinating stuff sourced from several internet sites, but stated in my words… Adult morays can and often do change sexes. Cool, huh? But they can’t have sex with themselves and have babies afterwards, silly. Actually, many adult males often turn into females in their old age. There are scientific terms for all of these situations but let’s keep this light, shall we? Even more bizarre, some eels can possess both the private parts of a male and a female, simultaneously… now are you confused? The shortcut description of an hour or so of research/reading is this: large male moray(s) and large female morays open their mouths wide and bare their fangs and kiss each other, then they snuggle their bodies up tight together for several hours (and sometimes the female has two smaller males at the SAME time) and soon after, the female releases thousands of fertilized eggs to float in the ocean. The eggs hatch and these tiny live eel larvae or whatever they are called float near the ocean’s surface, hoping to statistically avoid being eaten by predators, or just humans who innocently swallow some sea water with eel larvae, and many months later they find a nice rock or stone or cave to hide under and grow into bigger eels. Obviously, that didn’t answer my question on whether bakasi are baby eels or not… but just as I was going to give up…


I found this incredible site that appears to clearly identify the bakasi as indeed a member of the muraenidae family (moray eels), but more specifically, as a species known as “Richardson’s Moray” (gymnothorax richardsoni) that according to my book on Marine Fishes of South East Asia by Gerry Allen, and I quote: “Inhabits coral reef crevices; a small speckled eel that is frequently found under rocks on shallow reef flats often in weedy areas; throughout S. E. Asia.” It also states that the adult length is only 30 centimeters or twelve inches. Bingo! These are not baby morays at all, they are small adult morays! And here are more photos from the fishbase website.


So I would conclude that these are a type of moray eel, that at full size measure roughly a foot long. They are happiest in rocky shallow waters, such as several coastal areas on the island of Cebu. They make babies by the thousands. And are food for many. Okay, so how do folks eat these eels? I am told the eels are superb cooked in the paksiw style or stewed with vinegar and salt. They are also cooked in tinowa, a vegetable and seafood soup. They can also be sauteed with fish sauce and or black beans. I will definitely have to try these the next time I get a chance. Phew, this post took a LOT longer to write than I thought it would! This final photo above, if of the EEL LADY at the market, who took immense pleasure in lifting up her live eels for buyers and Marketman in particular. She was so frisky that the eels splattered my camera with water and many of my succeeding photos had huge blurry patches from the liquid on the lens! :)


26 Responses

  1. Do you have a smoker, MM?…I mean a FISH SMOKER!!! It would be good smoked much like the Smoked Black Cod….could be another cottage industry…don’t you think so?

  2. Eels available in and around Manila bay are usually much darker than your bukasi and sometimes even just plain jet black since the sea bottom there is muddy and only turns to coral reef towards Corregidor. That probably accounts too for the lovely aquamarine spots of the skate in the first picture that presumably came from the same coral reef area. They come in graduated size from the skinniest to the fattest being igat, palos, pabuka and malibanos. The first three are great cooked as dry adobo and the last one is usually pickled with cooked rice although mother irrationally just avoided cooking igat and leaned more towards pabuka. And like the confusion of their tangled sexuality, pabuka are said to be trapped just like the fabled medieval unicorn, with the help of a virgin which is just too ribald to go into in these here pages.

  3. MM, I could tell you did your homework on this post. On a lighter note, I noticed that the EEL LADY is not only frisky, but stylish as well with her Burberry satchel ;)

  4. My folks liked bakasi and my mother could’nt resist buying them when they are still very fresh and squirming. I thought they were sea snakes. I have only eaten them as tinowa, the default way of cooking, with lots of kamatis and scallions. They are first rubbed with salt to remove the slime before cooking. I was taught by my brother who is a bakasi lover how to eat it, that is to run your teeth from one end (the head part),to the other like playing a harmonica. It never was a favorite though and I always passed on it in favor of other available ulams.

  5. Apicio….now I remember…palos! My aunt in Batanggas would cook it the way you described it..dry ADOBO…tough my mom and dad and brothers ate it with gusto, I leaned more toward the tawilis on the table!

  6. The fresh waters of Laguna Lake and the smaller bodies surrounding it, particulary in the mountain streams, teem with eel. Back in the 70’s we had a few fish cages where we raised bangus and tilapia. There were also fish traps and one of the prized catches there was the palos as betty q has mentioned. Those were about a yard and some long. My mom cooked them with coconut milk and whatever it is that makes them yellow.

  7. Tiny baby eels probably at the larva stage are a delicacy at a certain time of the year in Nvavarre, Spain. The harvest is now so meager that the price is astronomical – several hundred dollars a kilo. I have never been fortunate enough to be there at the apropriate time so I have never tried it, but now I have been told that the Japanese have invented a machine which manufactues the tiny eels out of the same material as crabsticks. People could distinguish the real thing because the artficial eels did not have eyes, but this has now been rectified with machines that produce tiny eels with eyes.

  8. In my town, they prepped these with an ash remnant from the wood/charcoal burning stove to get rid of their sliminess and cut them straight across not slanted. They cook them either adobo style with the garlic, vinegar and ground pepper trinity or lagat with the juice of the pounded luyang dilaw and young chopped alagaw leaves. Interesting about their bisexual transformation – I wonder if it is genetically or environmentally induced.

  9. In our part of the country, we cook it the same way. They are also salted and dried like “buwad”. The meat becomes firm, once cooked and it is very good.

    Here’s another thing about these, many people in the area believe in it as an aphrodisiac that increases one’s libido!!
    I would not know whether this is true.

  10. thanks for that interesting food history link :) this is my fave entry:

    1963 In a speech to the citizens of Berlin, President John F. Kennedy said ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ (I am a jelly donut) instead of what he meant to say ‘Ich bin Berliner’ (I am a citizen of Berlin).


  11. geez . . .it’s always like that. . .Strange food. . . ask the tindera how to cook it. . . the answer would be adobo or paksiw, hehe. . . dont you notice it? or if you’re lucky the’ll say cook it in gata/ coconut milk. . .

  12. making a mental note to look this up next time i visit cebu. i’ve never had this much less seen or heard of it. very intriguing.also looking forward to your post on your take on it, if you did try it. thanks!

  13. Baby eels only an inch long are delicious. I’ve only tried the ones from Spain at Bernardin cooked in olive oil and garlic. Do you think you would have similar ones about an inch or two long in Cebu?

  14. Dear MM,

    In Misamis Occidental, the bakasi meat is chopped finely like ground pork, then cooked like sisig with lots of siling labuyo—we call it “Ingos-ingos”,because your eyes turn watery and you tend to sniff because the dish is really hot. This is a dish that is made as ‘sumsuman’ by fisherfolks and barkadas on Saturday afternoons.

  15. HI MM,

    My mother in law cooks the baby eel (igat)in alagaw leaves and ginger. It is served as a soup which is very tasty.

  16. Couldn’t help but smile at this post—-an X-rated post from MM!Weird indeed are the sexual habits of these creatures!:}


  18. have you tried or know of the spanish style dish of baby eels?
    how do harvest them?

  19. it seems, i have to hie off to Cordova today to know more about this species and the supposed aphrodisiac dish prepared from it.

    thanx for this post.

  20. i love eel specially the ones from the streams of mindanao..though it’s not easy to catch them..i even thought of putting up a business on eels…i just don’t have the ample knowledge about our freshwater eels..

  21. halu!
    for those who r nterested to buy live fresh water eel u can contact me at my mobile number 09229969621 or 09297637795.

  22. hi everybody,im doing a feseability study about Eel farm at the present, this is required to every commerce student at uc, we found out that there’s really high demand on it, local and international trade, i want to materialize the business but im financailly unprepared. whats the best thing to do? what do you think?

  23. i have live baby ell for sale any person or group who are interested can contact me at my mobile no. 09206482919 or 09088885659

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