Lapu-lapu / Grouper / Rock Cod

Many eons ago, my parents were at a formal reception for the Spanish Prime lapu1Minister and ornery at the late arrival of the food (think hereditary sugar lows), my father reportedly said to a member of the Spanish delegation… “my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather killed Magellan, you know, his name was Lapu-lapu” to which the quick-thinking Spaniard said “oh, he was Portuguese, anyway…” Touche, is all I can say. My grandmother was as pure a native as you can get, or so she claimed. From a small clan that grew up for generations in Mactan, Cebu, there is no evidence that they ever mixed blood with anyone other than island aeta equivalents and she was extremely proud of this fact. Being from the same square mile or so that Lapu-lapu is believed to be from, there is at least some credence to the assertion that he could be a very close if not blood relative…now if only we could unearth some of his DNA to send to some swanky test lab that can prove or disprove this claim once and for all. Needless to say, its extremely chest-puffing material to say you are related to this warrior of incredible supernatural strength who slayed the newly arrived Magellan on the shores of Mactan. More likely, the steel armor Magellan wore was so bloody heavy, probably rusted from the long voyage at sea that when he got off the boat a mile from shore due to the shallow reefs, he stepped on two sea urchins which punctured his suede boating shoes, was exhausted by the time he waded to shore and Lapu-lapu easily lopped his head off with a local bolo…

So how was Lapu-lapu rewarded for this act of bravery or was it fear of smelly lapu2visitors who hadn’t had a bath for months? With fabulous bronze sculptures that suddenly upped his chest to waist ratio from 34/30 inches to 42/30 inches without Vicky Belo’s (local celebrity plastic surgeon extraordinaire) help??? Yes, there are several bronze renderings across the archipelago, but what has really made an impression on millions of Filipinos is that a whole genus of wonderful tasting fish have been named after the dude… If you ask the average Filipino to give you the first thought that pops into their head when you say “Lapu-lapu” they will probably answer (translated from whatever dialect they answer in): fish, grilled, fried, escabeche, steamed, expensive, hero… Okay, okay, already – ENOUGH silliness Marketman. The family Serranidae has over 70 species in Philippine waters. Their more common name groupers or garoupa (believed to be mutated Portuguese name from Malayan/Indonesian kerapu) is used for all members of the family. They range from beautiful reds and oranges to delicious tasting black ones. They have distinctive spots that range from stunning blues to yellows, black, etc. They range in size from teeny tiny tots to some over two meters long and nasty mamas and papas. They are prized for their white, flaky, delicious meat that is excellent when steamed, fried or grilled. I have eaten tons of lapu-lapu in my lifetime as it was the most common fish on the table as a kid (not to mention hearing the relations story 4,000 times) and it wasn’t as expensive as it is today. I like it best when it is just minutes dead and then steamed with soy, sesame oil, green onions and ginger. This and a bowl of rice and my chest miraculously expands 6 inches without a single bench press…


37 Responses

  1. hahahaha……i love it when you’re being silly :)
    wow, lucky you to have it as a common fish on the table, i remember that we only have lapu-lapu when there’s an occassion or when there’s extra money to splurge ….that’s why i always think of it as a very expensive fish…….

  2. Once over a dinner in Hong Kong, our Chinese hosts thought he’d impress us (so typically of the custom) with the best food their wallets could afford…in came the chicken, pork, calamari, shells….finally, it came to the (supposed) piece de resistance..well, what do you know? It was steamed Lapu-lapu as how I’d it here in Manila (soy sauce, sesame oil with a touch of scallions)!

    I was, however, gastronomically impressed with the initial dishes. ;o)

  3. Mmm… looove Lapu Lapu. Grouper pala ang name niya in English. I never knew that. Anyway… we always had it steamed, with some kind of white sauce (probably just mayonnaise) and finely diced carrots & pickle relish. It was my favorite fish dish back in Manila. The soy sauce, ginger, and scallion style sounds great, too! My mom does that here in CA with sea bass.

  4. Yep, Spaniards who know would pointedly correct you about the precise enthnicities of their hired explorers. And do’nt you ever hint that Magellan circumnavigated the globe, although he effectively did since he had been around those parts (his Malay side-kick was familiar with the area, according to Pigafetta) albeit from another direction. It was the Spaniard Sebastian de el Cano that did it first they claim. His likeness stood at the lobby of the old Ayuntamiento in Intramuros. Destroyed during liberation but we have a good pen and ink rendering of it by Fernando Amorsolo.

    I am surprised though that garoupa is a loan from Malay. The Portuguese seem to be the most maritime of all the Europeans and should have had their own proper name for that fish. My search on the Portuguese engines yielded nada.

  5. theres a twist from the usual steamed lapu lapu (or any other white meat fish) – steam it with tauso (fried, crispy soy beans), a drizzle of mirin, some grated ginger, soy sauce & wansuy. used to make my own tauso topping in Manila (you can get tauso from some tofu factories) but i found a bottled brand called Master Fried Crispy Soy Bean in oil from Taiwan (Tuong Dau Chien Don) which makes life easier – used to buy this from Hi-Top in Quezon Ave, was happy to find the same brand in an Oriental grocer here in Calgary.

    some chinese restos in Manila have been serving this dish for a while now, my favourite version is at the Szechuan House on Roxas Blvd.

  6. Edee, my dad used to fish off of Batangas for sport and he would come back with coolers of medium to large lapu-lapu in the late 60’s and early 70’s… IvanM, I understand they catch lapu-lapu alive in Palawan for export to HK, they fetch PHP1000 a kilo for fish that are almost exactly one kilo. Dead they get less than PHP100 a kilo in Palawan markets! FriedNeurons, sea bass is a good alternative in the U.S., the meat is also white, flaky and tasty. Apicio, these days there are even those who assert that Magellan’s assistant was from the Philippines, thus THAT guy was probably the first to circumnavigate the planet… Rina, the tausi sounds yummy… the saltiness of the soy brings a sharper contrast to the fish. Sounds really good!

  7. Hi MM, you little devil – you got me drooling on my keyboard!Lapu-lapu is one of my favourite dishes and steamed with yr said ingredients is one of life’s delectable luxurious dishes.I remember eating it in one of the chinese restaurants in Ongpin ( together with a very cute date ) and it was indeed a fabulous and memorable evening.
    Here in Aussie Land,this fish costs around $28.00/ Chinatown.

  8. Interesting how both pictures look like two different fishes. The bright orange ones are lovely, don’t notice the spots at all. Did you get to cook any of the fish, steamed, escabeche, grilled, etc?
    I was in Cebu last weekend and during the course of two dives, found myself in fields of long spiny black urchins. If Magellan stepped on those, he’d have been more than woozy, they had the most evil looking spines I’ve ever seen.

  9. Mila, these are market photos that I had been meaning to post so I didn’t actually buy these fish. In the second photo, to the right, that is actually a fairly rare as I understand it Barramundi grouper which seems to be a cross between apahap (barramundi for Australians) and a normal lapu-lapu. Had I known it then, I would have purchased it and cooked it for reference. Magellan was probably so sea-sick by the time he got to Mactan that the sea urchins were probably the last straw, not Lapu-lapu in the flesh…

  10. this post really is a day starter no need of cafffeine fix after howling from laughter
    well its grouper i know ( other than i love eating this i can identify this from my dive guide books)

    this fish is popular in seychelles too and they serve it whole just like our escabeche but lots of chilli. this is expensive for the locals to buy but heck with our foreign currency it was cheap for our pockets

  11. hi MM, just in reference to above comment, the tausi is different from tauso. tauso is not salty at all but has a nutty nuance. somewhat like a crunchy peanut butter but made from soybeans. hope you get to find it : )

  12. MM – i used to get this from a place called the soybean factory along Banawe St in QC, just past the corner of Amoranto St (Retiro) to your right if youre coming from Quezon Ave, theres a wealth of other soy based products there as well.

  13. hi rina i’ve tried that steamed lapulapu with tauso in a resto and it is indeed awesome! will try to buy some also and try it out at home. is that soybean factory the same one that sells diff. kinds of tofu also? i hope that’s the one cos i know more or less where that is. the chinese name you wrote in parenthesis, is that the name i should ask them for? I’m excited na. thanks for the tip.. :-)

  14. hi molly, yes it is the place that sells different kinds of tofu, if thats where youre going, ask for tauso. the chinese name was on the label of the bottled product I used to buy in Hi-top Grocery, which is loads easier to use because you dont have to saute and season the tauso anymore. if you want to look for it in Hi-top its in the aisle where all the seasonings and salsas are, near the refrigerated dairy section. the bottle has the dimensions of a mayo bottle and it has a red cap, it has a photo on the label of white fish fillets topped with the crushed soy beans. the last time i bought this in Manila it was around Php125 a bottle, youre lucky coz here in Calgary I bought the same product for almost C$6!

  15. I love tauso too and it is very hard to find here in Manila.
    If Hi Top doesen’t have it you can try out Wei Wang on Wilson St. in Greenhills or The Little Store on J. Abad near Mann Hann off of Wilson. Harbour City on Wilson also makes a pretty mean steamed lapu lapu with tauso!

  16. hi i’m new aropund here… alicia, i wonder if this harbour city is the same one as the one in cebu? marketman? would you know? i love their rice & dimsum over there (the HC in cebu). on lapu-lapu, my dad would steam it like usual (soy sauce, etc) but he would lay strips of chicken fat on the fish (bad, i know, but delicious!!).

  17. Here in Saudi Arabia, they call it Hamour. I used to be an active scuba diver and spear fisher and in my early years here, we used to get 3-6 Hamours (each weighing 10-18 kilos!). But for steamed Hamour, I like the medium ones (2 kilos) that fits my steamer. Steam, sprinkle with green onions, ginger, fried garlic, Kikkoman soy sauce; then pour over a hot sesame oil and Walla a dish to die for.

    We have here the spotted Hamour and the taste is much better than the red or other variety we have in PI which are basically the reef varieties.

    Regards from Dhahran

  18. Rob, hello to you in Dhahran…how fascinating, I didn’t know they had groupers in your waters… now I know. Mandy, chicken fat on fish… another thing I learned just now. Gotta get me some of this tauso stuff soon…

  19. In Malabon, it’s never the red lapu lapu. It has to be the brown spotted ones, much tastier! And always as pesa, and always with Taure sauce ( fermented soybean curd sauted in tomatoes). Yummm. I only begun eating the steamed fish in Chinese restos but its not lapu lapu, isnt it supposed to be cod?

  20. hi Rina and Molly I think the soybean factory along Banawe that you are talking about is Banawe Soybean Curd or something like that, they sell hard to find foods indeed!! i used to buy taoso there also! but its out of stock for quite some time already, but their tofu is just great! always fresh and no sour after taste, and they sell different kinds of tofu for different types of cooking, its a health haven!

  21. fiona, thanks for the tip…it’s info like that shared among readers that really adds interest to the blog…thanks.

  22. Yes, I knew that. But I think you meant a Filipino scientist has figured out a way to put the fish to “sleep” for 24 hours. Not that it went to sleep after 24 hours…

  23. greetings from dhahran! Lapu-lapu or Hamour is “excelente” in soup too. try this yummy fish soup, they call in Thai resto “tom yang”. i’ve done “home-mades” & friends loved it. anyone wants to try cooking, just email me & i’ll send you the recipe.

  24. though my wife’s a great cook… I’m… well, let’s just say that she’d rather have take care of the dishes, i actually happened upon this site because of a story my uncle told me, which actually was a story told to him by his Father in Law.. he said that they once caught a lapu-lapu the size of a beetle! no, i mean THE BEETLE, as in VW! so i went about the net trying to see if this actually was a possibility… imagine… a grouper swallowing a diver?! well, for now i’m just enjoying a simple escabeche, they had prepared the tomatoes in quarters, is that what you call those cuts? anyway, i just love em!

  25. Hi Rina, just had my taste of the steamed lapu-lapu you were talking about. Yet it was truly delicious. Do you have the recipe please. I want to try it at home. I simply can’t forget how it tasted. I had it at the Szechuan House on Roxas Blvd.


  26. I tasted this dish at xin tian di at crowne just yesterday. the garoupa was generously sprinkled with the tauso, utterly yummy!

  27. sarap ng lapulapu…pero meron po kaming apahp o seabass o baramundi 10000 piraso ang dami nito. pero mahihirapan kami mag benta nito siguradong paunti unti lang ang bibili nito. kaya nag hahanap pa kami ng mamimili para maga naming maubos ito. ito po para ma contact ako. 09162527866.or.

  28. mag harvest na kami s feb 25.kung me alam po kayo na namimili para mag export nito tawagan lang po nyo maki.09162527866.. sta.cruz, paombong, meron din po kami talaba na napaka dami.

  29. Hello from US. I swa the little memorial church for Megellan in Mactan while staying on Cebu. But I preferred the great statue of Lapu on the other side of the round about. Here in Florida there are four major Grouper in the Gulf of Mexico and last year the Government imposed limits for their catch due to over fishing. It is not uncommon now to see Black Grouper for $12.99 per pound. That’s a lot of Peso’s! So naturally I was very pleased to learn it’s abundance in the Philippine waters.

  30. Sadly, Banawe Soybean no longer carries tauso. Went scurrying around the metro last new year’s eve looking for a bottle, to no avail. Anyone knows where I can find it?

  31. I really, really enjoyed this write-up. It was very informative in a very funny way. Sweet and sour lapu-lapu has always been my favorite since I was a young child. Unfortunately, here in Vancouver, it’s very hard to find the Rock Cods in the market.

  32. Hi marketman. You have a very helpful website not only for balikbayans but also for entrepeneurs like me.

    We are looking for suppliers of live red suno or lapulapu from palawan to be delivered in manila airport. I hope you can refer us to some suppliers that you now of in palawan.

    We would be very grateful. Thank you and more power.


  33. Hi,
    I am Henry. I am from Lapulapu island,Cebu. I am into my start of lapulapu farm. Last two weeks ago, I have harvested ~around 500 fishes (0.5 Kilo-1 Kilo, each). I sold it in local restaurants here.

    I am into expanded fish cage now, however fishes are still small as of this time. But harvest is only 2-3 months.
    There are two types of Lapulapu (local term ‘Pugapo’), 1. Orange color and 2. Dark Brown. The Dark Brown are abundant while Orange color are also available.

    I thought we can make business together.
    I target to harvest 50 Kilos weekly.

    Pls contact me when you like my +63929-5487685


  34. whoaaa.. i love garoupa steamed fish!! bought a fresh one yesterday 1pcs is $10.00 singapore!! quite pricey i’d say!! but can’t resist to get one so i did :) What i did is rub the fish with salt then rinsed, i then slit little slices around the body about 3-4 slices i put ginger on the slit, sprinkle some cilantro, green onions, tomatoes,instead of regular soy sauce i put tempura soy sauce instead, i then added 2 brine salted plums on top of the fish and drizzle it with sesame oil. the outcome is super duper tasting fish :-D

  35. mm.. i just read your article regarding gma’s lavish dinner… whoaa a kafal naman ng mukha nang fairy dwarf na iyan!! as tiny as she is… she’s living largeeee!! here i am complaining about my 10.00 dollar fish!! nyahahaha



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