Fried Saguyon — Spectacular!!!

These highly seasonal and increasingly rare patties made of dried “saguyon”, tiny fresh water fish from Jabonga, Agusan Del Norte were a really spectacular food discovery for me… I had heard of the tiny fish before, but had never tasted them. They were simply fried up in some lard and were great for nibbling on, clearly dried fish with all the good flavors that come with that, but not bitter at all, and not too salty either. Really nice. Light, crisp and incredibly tasty. An instant favorite.

A close-up of the patties reveals the hundreds, if not thousands of fish that make up each patty. Apparently harvesting is regulated to keep stocks up, and they are only available at certain times of the year. A little googling yielded some other interesting sources of information on this delicacy from Agusan Del Norte — this website, with an extensive listing of local names for Philippines fishes, suggests that these are goby fry or ophiocara aporos, also known as ipon, see this paper, here. However, the ipon described appear to be saltwater, and from the Northern part of the Philippines. These saguyon in the photos here are from a freshwater Lake Mainit, perhaps where the fish are spawned, and I am not sure if they get bigger and head out to sea or stay in the lake… Lake Mainit is quite close to the sea, and several species of fish there do indeed spawn in the lake and eventually head back out to the sea. Another interesting paper, here, suggests that these are not exactly the same as ipon, or ophiocara aporos, but rather a jumble or mix of other goby fry, possibly bugwan or hypseleotris agilis and pijanga or glossogobius giurus. Suffice it to say they are likely from the goby family, are indeed teeny tiny fry from fresh water, and they taste really good. :)

The fish come is dried “discs” about 4 inches or so in diameter, and they are very thin, say a fish or two in thickness. I am not sure what binding agent, if any is used to keep the fish together, but they seem quite stable and are easily fried to a crisp in seconds in hot fat. They are rather addicting to eat and like potato chips or popcorn, you can’t stop after having had just one…

We happened to be experimenting with our in-house made bagoong that we were sauteeing in the kitchen and decided to pair the sauteed bagoong with bits of saguyon and we were in pinoy culinary heaven! The crew had just eaten and yet many took out fresh plates and piled on some rice to tuck into fried saguyon topped with ginisang bagoong. Simple pleasures and discoveries like these are the ones I cherish most. How I wish I got to sample something unusual (to me) from every corner of the archipelago on a daily or even weekly basis. Needless, to say, I tried to place an order for several kilos more of this delicacy, and have my fingers crossed that they will find their way to Cebu in the weeks ahead.

P.S. I tried to think of how one might describe this snack or treat in English, so how about — “Tiny freshwater goby fish fry wafers fried in leaf lard and topped with homemade salted and sauteed fermented shrimp”? :)

P.P.S. Our cook, who hails from Surigao and just now walked in from a two-week holiday at home, says… “lots of saguyon in their hometown, all fresh, cooked just hours after you catch them, into tortas or paksiw…” The things you learn with a bit of curiosity… :)

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17 Responses

  1. This looks like the typical alamang which are battered and fried as well…though this one looks yummier!

  2. this makes me crave for tortang dulong–crisp outside, soft inside–dipped in vinegar.

    thanks for the post!

  3. Are these similar to Dilis or Dulong? They seem smaller though. Looks delicious as usual…

    I think any fried food goes well with “bahaw” haha! My favorite is day-old torta with lots of ketsup eaten with old rice =)

  4. saguyon! since your last post on dulong, i’ve been wracking my brains trying to remember the name of these fish patties. am guessing these are from joan, since the first two times i had these were through some of joan’s relatives. (did joan bring back “palagsing” too?)

    a friend says these fish are somewhat endangered, although i’m not sure. MM, on the patties, did you notice the marks of the screen tray/basket on which the patties were dried?

    i do not get the “bahaw” thing, since i do not care for cold, hard rice. my husband loves it, looks for it, hoards it. as for me, a plate of freshly-cooked pandan-scented rice, a mountain of saguyon patties, and a bowl of sukang pinakurat….heaven!

  5. That bagoong/saguyon combo was an umami symphony, I’ll bet. That would be the kind of thing I’d like to have passed around at a cocktail party!

  6. One of my favorite delicacies from my mother’s hometown of Ilocos Sur is IPON. A relative of mine who is there a couple of times a year would bring us some whenever she chances upon them.

    The fisher folk say that IPON appear after counting a certain number of days from full moon in the months of August, September, October, November, January to late as the month of February.

    It could be cooked simply steamed in banana leaves, kilawin with onions, vinegar and ginger, torta with a scrambled egg for a softer texture or torta with a flour binder to make it crispy, paksiw with vinegar and salt, sinigang soup with tomatoes and ginger, adobo, or even grilled ipon wrapped in banana leaves.

    And yes Mr. Marketman, they turn the ipon into bagoong! But at 300 to 400 pesos per kilo (as of Deceber 2011) I wouldn’t dare turn my IPON into bagoong.

  7. @millet: in Jabonga (mom’s hometown) before, they gather round-shaped leaves of a certain plant, gather fresh saguyon with a little salt and spread these thinly on each leaf, then dried under the sun, hence, the disc shape. No binder. Now with increased production, they spread these on fine screens and still shape them into round discs. They are not endangered but protected which is why harvesting is limited by the Bureau of Fisheries to certain months like January to March. I wish MM was able to try the ginisang fresh saguyon, OMG, it’s better than any other fish dish I have ever tasted in my entire life!

  8. yes, joan, i first tried saguyon through your auntie daisy. i miss it, and i’ve never had the fresh ones.

  9. I’m not sure if saguyon is similar to “nylon” in Davao City but the way you cook them is pretty much the same. We usually have them “sariwa”. yummy..

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