Balao / Salted Baby Shrimps


I have come across several Bicolano recipes that call for “balao” (pronounced ba-la-o) and often the suggested substitute is bagoong. Balao is one of several variations of salted and slightly fermented shrimp that is a prominent feature of cuisines across Southeast Asia from Indonesia, Malaysia, The Philippines, Thailand and even Indochina. The salted fermented shrimp can range from this variety in the photos, where the individual shrimp are still totally discernable, to a pungent shrimp paste that is a bit more mushed up and preserved (almost as a solid brick) like the Malaysian blachan or the Indonesian terasi. Salted shrimp or shrimp paste in one form or the other is a rather ancient flavoring/ingredient, with one suggestion being that one of the key ingredients of Ancient Roman cooking called garum was really a derivative of fermented fish or seafood…


The balao in these photos are not as salty nor as fermented as other versions of bagoong we have elsewhere in the country. This version imparts a flavorful “shrimpiness” but without the intense salt hit that a small bit of bagoong provides. Apparently balao is added to sautes, to coconut milk/cream dishes and some stews. I was just happy to take some photos…


For the first time ever, it has just struck me how many trillions of baby shrimp the world has consumed since humans figured out it tasted so good salted and slightly rotten… If you figure that since birth a person consumes say 2,000 baby shrimp per capita per year (not much if you like bagoong or eat a lot of pinoy dishes) and lives 60 years on average, a million Filipinos will go through 120 billion little shrimp! As a nation, we have depleted the seas by say 15-18+ trillion little shrimp since Lapu-Lapu whacked Magellan on the shores of Mactan! But then again, how many krill or small shrimp does a single whale consume at lunch??? :)


21 Responses

  1. My grandfather likes to sprinkle “hibi” (or dried baby shrimp) on fried rice and “hibi” also known as ba-la-o in Bicol?

  2. I think it is actually krill, rather than baby shrimp, because they don’t grow any bigger. But I am not a taxonomist.

    In Iloilo, we use this in pasty form for ginisa na monggo (among others), where it imparts a very mouth-watering seafood taste.

  3. I remember balao being used in almost all Bicolano vegetable dishes with coconut milk. The bigger variety is used for Bicol Express.Deedee, hibi is also called the same in Bicol. Mabalos, MM for this post.

  4. MM,

    Sayang you don’t have a photo of the balao brick. My lola and aunties used to cook that with gata (coconut milk) and some green chili and that was one great appetizer or side dish. Of course your usual consumption of one cup of rice suddenly becomes two. Brings back memories…


  5. Cumin, no, I don’t think it is the same, I think the balao-balao is fermented rice and shrimp… if I am not mistaken… and possibly even pronounced balaw-balaw, perhaps?

  6. The pungent the fermented shrimp is the tastier it is. Love the natural color of the balao the lighter ones rather than the pinkish ones. Could be the secret ingredient of the Bicol region for a good laing and other coconut stewed foods?

  7. To Maria Clara: No, the secret ingredient to Bicol’s laing is “dinaelan”(spell?). It is a fermented baby shrimps that is paste-like and rolled into a log.Dinaelan can be broiled under a spoon as well. It stinks like hell, but it tastes like heaven with lots of chopped tomatoes. :)

  8. I read somewhere that the anchovies and small shrimps that are processed to become bagoong in Pangasinan come from Bicol region. I still prefer the fresh or processed small shrimps from the provinces than those from Malabon or commercial shrimp paste. Fresh krill for torta or halabos with calamansi & patis, or good shrimp paste for green mango & kare-kare, hehe.

  9. Now I know why whale-sharks/butanding frequent the sea near bicol/sorsogon area, it’s teeming with krills.

  10. I know this, and that block of fermented shrimp you wrote about.. I saw that in the Daet Market when I went there about 8 years ago..

    The baby shrimps are good with that Bicolano Santol dish..

  11. In Mauban Quezon, when we cooked balao, we add SANTOL meat. I forgot how the process was. Pero wow and sarap.

  12. That is “uyap”. Ferment it with salt then it becomes our ginamos “hipon” in cebuano! Rather than drying, which takes sometime, aside from it being a treat for flies when drying, try preparing it this way:
    Place in a sieve or colander and wash it under running water.
    Drain very well and season or mix with salt,a little brown sugar, minced or pounded garlic and fry in hot oil until crisp. Watch closely as it burns easily. Drain and store. This is good to mix with rice or sinangag. It keeps indefinitely, if stored in the fridge.

  13. Cumin, MM is exactly right. Balao-balao (stress on the first syllable) is burong hipon. It looks like a thick congee.

    As for the krill, my mom likes it torta, or sauteed with onions, garlic, salt and chopped kamias. With steaming white rice, of course.

  14. Your topic on balao is really informative! Thanks for such a useful article! Balao is used in Camalig, Albay as a flavoring for their pinangat. :)

  15. hi! I also have tried that balao with santol in Mauban,Quezon but I cannot remember if it had coconut milk. It was unforgetable, really went well with fried fish. Could I get a recipe please????

  16. hi ayu it is called sinantulan , inalamangan or simply ginataang santol at alamang it is a very popular appetizer in batangas laguna and quezon…

    i can hand you down the recipe if u want….



    4 cups grated santol pupl saoked in brine then squeezed
    2 cups alamang or balao
    6 pcs coconuts grated
    -kakang gata =squeezed without water
    -segunda gata=squeezed with cups water
    3 tbs sugar
    1 pc siling labuyo or cayene pepper
    2pcs sili pansigang
    1 pc bell pepper cut into strips
    1 head of garlic crushedh
    1 pc onion diced
    cooking oil
    black pepper

    saute garlic onion and shrimp
    add the grated santol and simmer
    add the 2nd gata and the other ingridients
    constantly stir to avoid burning and caramelization
    when the mixture is reduced add the kakang gata or the first squeeze
    let it simmer till it thicken and reduces and till the coco oil comes out…




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