Bilong-Bilong, Tursilyo & Tulingan/Moonfish, Barracuda & Tuna

The nomenclature of locally available fishes is incredibly moonfishdiverse and thus often confusing… from province to province or coast to coast, the names of fish can vary and individuals in the North don’t necessarily know what a fish is named in the South… So if it’s confusing for locals, what more for foreigners or new arrivals? I find that many foreigners are often clueless as to the English/Filipino names of fish so unless they scour the wet markets for things that look familiar, they just give up and eat chicken. Who would have thought, that the prized Australian Barramundi with white flaky and delicious meat is a close relative of our much vaunted Apahap that was once the most sought after fish in Central Luzon (caught while spawning in rivers) and which is now raised in fish ponds in Mindanao…throughout this blog I have tried to introduce different fishes with both their local and common English names so readers get to know them better. First up, an amusing looking fish called Bilong-bilong or Chabita or Kadis. A Moonfish (now isn’t that a descriptive name?) of the Family Menidae, it inhabits coastal waters, has an incredibly flat body and oval shape with low fins. Locals love to serve this paksiw style with ginger, vinegar and onions, or deep fried where if small enough, everything is munched on, I am told.

Next, are baby Barracudas or Tursilyo, Bikuda, Asusud, Babayote, Titso, etc. barraOf the Family Spyraenidae, there are approximately 10 species of this fish in Philippine waters. With a large mouth and menacing teeth, these are feared when they get to a bigger size. Apparently, Barracudas like to watch people that are underwater, curious what they are up to. They travel in large schools and I imagine they can make mince meat or mince fish out of a hapless denizen of the sea… Barracudas immediately conjure up a dark alley and they are the muggers while little Red Riding Hood would be the muggee. They are commonly seen at the edge of reefs, traveling in large schools and they have been known to attack humans in the Atlantic… not sure if the Pacific Barracudas are as aggressive. They apparently taste great fried or paksiw. I don’t think I have ever tasted barracuda but I should.

Finally, in today’s fish tutorial, tulinganare small Tulingan or baby Skipjack Tuna or Mackerel Tuna (fish too small to tell adult markings). With smooth skins (rather than scales of other reef fish) for better mobility and efficiency in water (what is the term of aerodynamic equivalent for water – hydrodynamic?), these are long distance and power swimmers with a firm flesh that is tasty and substantial. There are several species of tuna in Philippine waters. These are the fish used in sinaing na tulingan or they are grilled or fried and eaten with different sawsawan or sauces. They have a darker, oilier meat that is a result of the fine muscle structure. Imagine eating the flesh of a thoroughbred race horse versus a pampered wagyu cow or kobe beef…


13 Responses

  1. Tulingan is quite popular in southern tagalog lalo na sa Laguna. There are many myths surrounding this fish. Kaya even within the province of Laguna tulingan is prepared different ways. Some believe that it’s got poison in it’s tail kaya tinatanggal muna bago lutuin. It’s cooked for a long time in big clay pots. Sinaing na tulingan is a good alternative to canned fish.

    Dito sa land downunder tulingan is referred to as bonito. Same in Japan i suppose.

  2. I just saw schools of the first fish in Cebu during a dive trip. We exited a tunnel and there they were.
    As for barracuda, i always like seeing the schools on a dive, they are beautiful underwater, spearing through or hovering against a strong current. Never eaten one though!

  3. Woooow! Bilong-bilong is my favorite! But I’ve never tried it done in any other style but paksiw. What I do is to have them done in paksiw, put them in the fridge for several days then take them out and deep fry them. That sends me straight to heaven!

  4. I remember our household help bringing tulingan to Manila when they came back from vactations in the provinces. All I can say is “ick”. I remember the smell, and it’s not a pleasant memory.

  5. My brother, who is an avid spearfisherman (much to the dismay of the general scuba diving community…but that’s another story) tells me he has speared barracuda before, and claims that the flesh is unlike any fish he can think of (and believe me, he knows fish). the main thing though is that barracuda is apparently unbelievably oily. You can’t over grill it as it won’t go dry (like, say, tuna, which does go dry and powdery if overdone–i hate that), and indeed the way to cook it is to grill over coals whole, skin on, like a giant bangus…

  6. I love bilong-bilong. I like mine fried with the thin part of the fish fried til crispy and crunchy.. yum!
    MM, was wondering if bilong-bilong is the same as sap-sap (Ilonggo name, I don’t know what it’s called in tagalog or english). They seem to look like the smaller version of bilong-bilong. Sap-sap, which are smaller, is what we normally use in paksiw.

  7. Christer, I believe bilong-bilong and sap-sap are two different fish. Sap-sap is a toothpony (Gazza minuta) that looks similar but isn’t as moon-shaped as the bilong-bilong which is a moonfish (Mene maculata). It seems that bilong-bilong inhabit deeper waters while sap-sap only go to 100 or so feet in coastal reef areas…

    Gonzo, will have to taste barracuda the next time I see it. Sounds pretty horrific, no?

    Fried Neurons the tulingan you speak of might be sinaing or stewed to preserve… a delicacy in some parts but I agree the smell can be off-putting.

    bugsybee, yup this fish brings back memories for some folks!

    Mila, I am not fond of the deep but I can imagine what these look like underwater…

    Kiko, thanks for that comment…gotta look up bonito. Hmm…the key to Japanese broths is bonito flakes…tulingan flakes pala!

  8. the sinaing na tulingan originated in Batangas and they are the best. MM, you can buy the sinaing na tulingan at Market! Market (batangas store) near the fastfood and it is really very delicious. It cost P100 for 2 pcs or 3pcs (if you’re lucky na you can ask for discount)

  9. The tulingan thing is not a myth. I read an article about that in one issue of COOK Magazine. If not prepared properly, tulingan can cause poisoning or at the worst brain damage.Tulingan is akin to the Japanese death defying delicacy of “butete” or puffer fish.

  10. The tulingan is quite popular in Batangas… typically grilled, fried or “pinais”. Just a word of caution… make sure the fish is fresh. I found (to my detriment) that I had a really bad allergic reaction to tulingan that was frozen for several days before being served.

  11. MM, ‘yong bonito looks a bit different from the common Pinoy tulingan. But flavourwise very similar sila. You don’t see bonito a lot in Manila kaya a bit pricier.



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