Inun-unan a la Victor


I always thought a Cebuano “inun-unan” was a simple fish stew made with vinegar and ginger. My grandmother used to use smaller types of fish, like the really flat ones they sometimes call sap-sap or bilong-bilong. My wife’s family cook also used to make a version similar to this… some water, lots of ginger, vinegar, peppercorns and possibly some garlic or onions. The taste was an acquired one. I don’t think too many people could plunge into a pot of this in their adult years without some difficulty. Sour, watery and redolent with fish stock essence, this is a simple yet incredibly satisfying dish. In our home, sometimes this was considered back of the house food, but my mom was a great fan of inun-unan, and that is how it made it to our luncheon meals. I wasn’t terribly fond of this dish growing up, and now I think it wasn’t the sourness (I love sour) but rather, it was working around the bones…


I am in Cebu at the moment, and we decided to make some inun-unan, and Victor was tasked with cooking it his way… The inspiration? Some palayoks we found in the market that we had just seasoned… The BEST way to make an intensely flavored inun-unan is in a clay pot… Into the pot Victor threw in some onions, lots of garlic, long green chillies (darker than the siling pangsigang), salt, a touch of vetsin, vinegar, black peppercorns and some water. Surprisingly, he used no ginger, and when asked said he didn’t like the taste of inun-unan with ginger… Apparently, there are several places in Cebu that make this dish without ginger, and that fact was a suprise to me as I had always assumed inun-unan had ginger.


To jazz things up a bit, Victor added a touch of vetsin, some sliced talong, sliced ampalaya and a few more chillies and this went on a hot wooden fire for about 20 minutes, until the fish was just perfectly cooked. The broth had taken on the fish essence and had just slightly thickened, redolent with flavor in such a brief cooking period. Served with lots of steamed rice, this was excellent eating. Exactly the taste I remember, except it was missing the ginger I personally associate with the term inun-unan. Maybe next time, I will try my hand at a simpler version with just ginger, vinegar, water, black peppercorns and salt. This was definitely soul food. Comfort food. Yum.


55 Responses

  1. i use knorr sinigang sampalok mix for this menu.i don”t use vinegar.we call it pinamalhan in iloilo.

    mm am i included in your lechon eyeball? coz am anxious of hotel booking. also i want to put out my maleta already and start packing , i might forget something.he he he.

  2. love this fish dish. i add a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil and some young okra and couple of whole tomatoes on top. before starting the meal, squeeze the tomatoes and sili with patis to make a sawsawan for the fish and the veggies. yummy, you will need a lot of rice to go with this dish.

  3. Definitely comfort food. My mother used to call me Miss Inun-unan when I was a child. I have to say though that I was a bit surprised to see vetsin in your dish.

  4. cumin, I wouldn’t normally put vetsin in anything, but this was Victor’s concoction. Myra, yes, paksiw na isda under a tongue-twisting name! marygrace, I like the tomatoes and okra version! John Paul, no one has cancelled out yet. But I will check on everyone by end of next week and do an eyeball update post then… thanks!

  5. isn’t this paksiw in tagalog? also, what’s wrong with msg? us & euro health studies haven’t proven anything wrong with it thus it’s use isn’t regulated. but i do remember some kind of reaction when i used to eat chinese food in hong kong, where they use loads of it.

  6. Like Mikel, don’t have any aversion to msg. as long as it is used in minimal amounts because it does make food more flavorful. Inun-unan in Cebu, paksiw in Luzon, in this parts the term is “pinug-unan”. Nice breakfast food or if you just want something simple for a meal. ‘Never miss to include ginger and a little pork fat.

  7. with or without ginger, is just fine with me. same as with mary grace, i like to finish off the inun-unan (or paksiw to us tagalogs) with some vegetable oil. a version i learned from a friend is to season the inun-unan partly with knorr chicken cube.

  8. I love this…I think we just refer to it as paksiw na isda in our place. I can smell it a mile a way and can spend a good amount of time happily picking at the fish and bones with my hands! Heaven :)

    I am so excited to see it cooked in a clay pot because i just started using mine! I made pinakbet and your post on oinakbet sa palayok was definitely one of my inspirations!

  9. i love inun-unan, even as a kid! Great with hot steamed rice, some scrambled eggs, and with some of the broth sprinkled on rice. Our family cooks this using the large dilis wrapped in leaves! Lots of garlic and some ginger.

  10. i cook bangus with exactly the same ingredients, but of course, i add a lot of sliced ginger and a splash of oil. it’s called paksiw where i come from. whenever i cook this, it’s like a comfort food for me…sweet memories from home and my mother’s cooking…

  11. Marketman, I remember Lola’s had a tablespoon of rendered pork fat, vinegar, ginger, garlic, and salt and pepper. NO MSG, she was categorically opposed to food enhancers. MSG is only problematical when misused, which is often. The recommended dose is 1 tsp. per gallon of food but most cooks don’t know that. MSG only enhances protein. People who are sensitive to MSG can have cold sweats, and pass out into a deep sleep and have technicolor dreams.In conjunction with an overload of salt it can be overwhelming.

  12. My mother prefers to cook inun-unan in the ‘kulon’ and also adds sliced eggplant and bitter melon. Aside from the common ingredients- ginger, vinegar or sampalok mix, one or two ‘siling kulikot’ or ‘siling espada’ and peppercorn she adds in a teaspoon of sugar or one cube of palm sugar. She lowers the fire when the broth boils and the ‘mantika sa baboy’ is added when the fire is turned off. oppsss this is a family secret…..

    Inun-unan has always been a part of our diet …. our constant dose of Omega 3.

  13. The very same dish favored by the “sastres” of Cebu! Which is why when you get your clothes back after having them repaired, they still have the pungent aroma of “Inun-unan” embedded into the cloth as a bonus! hehehe!

  14. PanchoA, the moral of the story is to pick up your clothes before lunch or dinner time. he!he!he! I prefer the inun-unan smell than the sardinas smell.

  15. Gingered paksiw na banak ( mullet) paired with ginisang monggo with squash blossoms topped with crushed cicharon and served with garlic rice, perked with dipping patis on the side………yummm. Who says Filipino food ain’t got soul?

  16. Oww gosh, I love this dish. Especially with the sapsap, which I don’t find in my neck of the woods. I substituted Pompano, pero iba pa rin. And somehow, the “workings” into the bones is part of the game. I mean, I even learned fro my tiya how to “sipsip” the ulo. And yes we do add “galangal” and eggplant (in Quezon). You reminded me of the 2 palayok that I purchased in Batangas City market 2 years ago (in my annual mission trip there). It was colored black and coated-cooked-sealed inside so that it can be safe for cooking. I wrapped it myself and placed them in my balikbayan box. I cried because they were broken into pieces when I opened them here in Houston. How I love to have some of our native palayok in my kitchen. The Vietnamese type are just not the same.

  17. growing up i wasn’t fond of inun-unan…to me there was something about the smell that didn’t resonate well with my nostrils. i haven’t had it in a while and i really think i need to give it a try again. thanks for jogging my memory MM.

  18. i’m a purist when it comes to the vinegar for paksiw na isda – it has to be sukang tuba. have you tried paksiw na bangus with gata and kangkong? it’s super–takes the inun-unan several notches higher, especially if you have very fat bangus.

  19. I bought King fish head and tail yesterday and cook it paksiw with ginger and siling kulot. I cancelled all appointments for lunch and right now I am thinking of feasting with it for lunch.

  20. My mother cooks a very dry version of this using small dilis (bolinaw in Cebuano, heads removed). The cooking method is called ‘pinahubsan’, from the root word ‘hubas’ meaning to let all the water/juice evaporate or, in this case, seep into the fish. The inun-unan flavor is somehow concentrated because the fish absorbs all the vinegar, garlic, ginger, and sili essence. My mother puts very little oil, so the resulting dish is virtually grease-free. I like it best when some of the fish sticks to the pot and turns a bit brownish–the intense combination of salty and sour requires more helpings of steaming hot rice than usual. Guilt-free breakfast /lunch fare.

  21. Funny, I just had this for dinner last night. It’s paksiw in Tagalog. I love to use white perch–my version has lots of garlic, ginger onions and all the trimmings on top of the fish(okra, baby fingersize eggplant, bittermelon, cherry tomatoes and sweet pepper). Then I add a few drops of olive olive oil. Definitely no MSG. It can’t get any healthier than this!

  22. Ma’s version of inun-unan has a not-so-clear soup (maybe from the sinigang mix she uses), lots of peppercorns and ginger. I can’t remember if she omits the chilies because it has been a very long while since I had this dish.

  23. ebbamyra, i have a friend who uses pampano also for this paksiw and adds tons of garlic and slice ginger. she uses balsamic vinegar which turns the paksiw really good. it tastes more like pickled fish…

  24. superb post mm. this kind of fish is great for inun-unan! thanks for this post. Can i copy paste this picture for my personal food folder file?

  25. I find mackerel and salmon good for this dish as they are already oily and need no additional oil but I agree that the addition of pork lard would make it taste much better. We remedy it by eating chicharon with it.

    There are people who get severe reactions to MSG that’s why it’s use should be posted in any food establishment but other than that i have no qualms in using it in small amounts as a seasoning.

    Gina, pinahubsan bolinao was one of my favorites especially the bottom ones which becomes partially fried. It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten that, there’s no bolinao here where I live.

  26. :) “pinaksiw” for ilonggos. *yummy* i’m happy with the ‘sabaw’ and rice alone, (or my dad de-bones the sap-sap for me) “namit gid!”

  27. Gina, my mama cooks ‘bolinaw pinahubsan’ too but she wraps it with mango leaves ala Greek Dolmades – mango leaves stuffed with bolinaw and then rolled. Yes…. with a plateful of maiz, please.

  28. paksiw and sometimes they call it pinangat. sarap specially if you can use your hands to eat.

  29. I am sorry but how do you season a palayok? My staff gave it to me but until now haven’t used it because I don’t know how to season. You think there are no bad chemicals in a palayok?

  30. this truly makes me homesick..:( this is how we cook inun-unan back home too, plus ginger, and if it’s inun-unan na matang-baka or tulingan we sometimes add oil or lard..yumyum!

  31. You can also do the same with “ayungin”, a type of small fish from Laguna de Bay. I love paksiw na isda but just hate the stench of cooking with vinegar. Some cooks substitute calamansi juice especially for “sapsap”.

  32. lojet, so that’s why my mom always served paksiw na isda with chicharon on the side. there would even be a dipping sauce for the chicharon – chopped tomatoes, cilantro and patis.

    diday, my husband’s aunt wraps small fish either in banana leaves, young mango leaves or the leaves of the turmeric so they don’t get all mushed up when she cooks them into paksiw. i love the flavor and aroma they impart, and i love the one with turmeric (dilao) leaves the best.

  33. In Cebu, I remember there was a tree called Kulis (I am just spelling this phonetically) that has large soft leaves and used it to wrap bolinao also just like the greeks wrapping their dish with grape leaves. Bolinao wrapped in banana leaves are usually grilled.

  34. Michael:…that’s the name of the fish I was searching for all morning! Every Sunday, I would go with my mom to Batanggas and she would buy this AYUNGIN and my aunt would cook it for “take home” along with tamales, BIYA cooked with coconut milk(MY FAVORITE!), adobong tulingan…ahhhh, memories, MM…this is what I like about your blog… NOSTALGIA GALORE!!!!

    Since I can’t get ayungin or biya here, I just have to content myself with using the SALMON COLLAR, BELLY, and the tail end of the fish to make paksiw…rest of the salmon is saved to make smoked salmon and Indian Candy!!!..

    Talk about salmon LOJET, …I find that Red Spring Salmon (again, the collar, belly and tail ) Chinook or King Salmon is the BEST SALMON to use for this dish…has that “melt in your mouth” quality of the flesh and oily at the same time…Sockeyes and Cohos are sort of dry…

  35. I was wondering if this is eaten with sinangag/garlic rice where you guys are. My mom, who is from Bulacan, always eats paksiw with sinangag. I don’t know why. And I’m really curious if this pairing is strictly from their family or is a widespread custom. I have to say I love the paksiw na talong more than the fish, hehe. And the soup/broth has to be sour enough (sukang puti) that it gives me “mukhasim” face. =)

  36. That is what you call “paksiw” in Tagalog I love it sometimes I put olive oil after cooking and it is a very good combination with fried rice.

  37. Ummm…I love paksiw na isda. Soooo good.My yaya from Leyte does it so well with talong,ampalaya,big,long sili and ginger. Love it!!! My kids however really have not acquired the “paksiw na isda” taste.So good with plain boiled rice!!!

  38. tilapia is also good with this recipe. I put knorr chicken cube and sprite in addition to the vingar, salt, pepper, ginger and gatlic. I just love eating this dish, yumm yummm!

  39. Delish… I do add a lot of garlic and onion instead of putting msg. I guess cooking it using a clay pot would really make the taste more authentic.

  40. This is one of my all time favorite dish… in bacolod it’s called pinaksiw or pinamalhan… i remeber it being cooked with bilimbi fruit or in ilonggo eba.

    I still cook this in ny, although I’ve never seen sapsap fish.. I usually substitute red snapper. i’ve also updated the recipe by incorporating diff. kind of vinegars. equal portion of apple cider, white vinegar,splash of red wine & rice wine. Olive oil and jalapeno (whole) peppers,Garlic, onions, bilimbi, and ginger.1/4 cup of water.salt n pepper to taste.
    Bring to a boil then simmer, when the fish is cooked, remove and set aside, continue to cook at med high heat for the remaining sauce till thickened. add the fish back, cover and cook for 2 mins more.

  41. isn’t that pinangat and paksiw different? Paksiw requires vinegar different from pinangat which requires water patis tomatoes and drops of oil, but just the same we use different kinds of fish on both viands sapsap, bangus ayungin and the likes. both good on plain rice but better on Garlic Fried Rice.

  42. Not all potato chips have msg. I should know, I’m the msg-police :). The stuff triggers my migraine so I always scrutinize the ingredients. Getting a migraine after eating in a particular restaurant puts that eating place in my “avoid at all costs” list. I’m just glad common migraine triggers such as cheese never seem to affect me.

  43. am a voracious consumer of chips so i can attest that those made i’ve had in the us, france, italy, germany, japan, hk etc in fact have msg. of course, exceptions would be the artisinal, all natural brands. but i don’t see the point in paying extra..

  44. mikel, I just checked our stockpile of incredibly healthy snacks in the pantry and these are the results for potato chips:
    1. V-cut potato chips with spicy barbecue flavor by Jack&Jill, has MSG
    2. Lay’s classic potato chips – NO MSG
    3. Lay’s salt & vinegar chips – NO MSG
    And for tortilla chips
    1. Tostitos Restaurant Style Chips – NO MSG

    Considering that in North America, Lay’s and Tostitos are among the largest manufacturers of chips, I would say it is safe to say that not all and possibly not even a majority of potato chips necessarily have MSG…

  45. lays is my fav brand. good to know they’re available there with no msg. so will qualify my findings to those i consume daily in the EU :-)

  46. Paksiw,pangat,inun-on or what ever you call it and with vegi oil or butter is super.I can eat like a horse so to speak

  47. Oh this is yum…I used to seldom eat this because my partner is not into fish and I am not a skilled fish deboner (nor do I have the patience). Now I just use boneless bangus for this…or fish fillets in the market. Not as tasty, but masarap na rin.

    Just a side note, in Zamboanga, my mother would call a dish paksiw if it’s just water, vinegar, ginger, onions and peppercorns and chili. It’s pinangat if it has the same components of paksiw but with vegetables like okra, ampalaya or talong. It’s un-unan if you take the components of paksiw and cook it in banana leaf pockets.

  48. Inun-unan is the best! lami-a jud ani bisan adlaw-adlaw pa… lami sad kung aslum-aslum… i can now taste it in my mouth… hahahahah…



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