Crispy, chewy, salty and pungent, fried danggit is on my top ten list of breakfast foods. I know I am supposed to be eating healthier these days after the fat and salt overdose of the recent holidays but I simply couldnâ€™t resist a freshly fried pile of dried danggit that the cook made this morning. Add some hot rice, a perfectly fried organic egg, some of my long soaking chilli vinegar and I easily consumed ten small fried fish before I succumbed to the â€œyou are too full to burpâ€ signal from my stomach. Yum and double yum. And, for some strange reason, you also burp “eau de danggit” like you do longganisa, and it has no garlic, so go figure…
Danggit is known as a rabbitfish or spinefoot in English and is part of the siganus family. Other local names include Samaral, Taragbago, Kitang, Tabago, etc. according to Genevieve Broad in her book Fishes of the Philippines. It is abundant in Philippine waters and is caught, split open, dried in the sun with salt and transported to markets to be sold to cityfolk like me. I bought freshly dried danggit at the Bohol Public Market last week for PHP430 a kilo. That sounds like a lot but less than 80 grams pre-fried weight is on the plate in these photos and that cost less than PHP35 and easily served three people. It must be a childhood thing, but I can actually put up with the goshawful smell that danggit gives off when fried though I wouldnâ€™t do it in closed quarters or a foreign kitchen. I was once visiting friends at a serviced apartment/hotel in New York City and we decided to fry up some danggit in the kitchenette and not only did the smell get into the ventilation system, the fire alarm also went off! Yikes. How embarrassing.
By the way, if you are tempted to buy dried danggit at the Cebu airport or other touristy location, what is often represented at Â¼ kilo is in fact about 200 grams and at the exhorbitant prices they charge, it effectively costs upwards of PHP800 a kilo! Just in case you wanted to know how much you were getting fleeced! For me, the perfect dried danggit just came off the drying screens a few days before. It is dry but yet still moist, there is some give to the â€œmeatyâ€ part of the fish. It should be small enough so you can eat everything, including the brains. When fried, it should be crispy but again have some chewiness and must reach your plate hot, with vinegar at the ready to dip and soak. There is nothing worse than makunat danggit for me.