Swaki / Sea Urchin Roe


What the heck are these strange looking creatures, you ask? Swaki, I am told. Not actually sure if that is spelled right or it could be suaki, I suppose. These kinder and gentler sea urchins are a delicacy and their roe? are eaten soon after they are plucked from clean and hospitable sea waters. Unlike their nightmare causing cousins, the black sea urchins with sharp needle-like spines that can be 8-10 inches long, these softer sea urchins are less painful to look at and for some, better eating. Actually, I noticed they are actually quite stunning on closer inspection as the natural intensity of their colored spines is something you only see in really natural creatures or things…

I am currently out of town, and swamped with work (he’s retired???), hence the lack of posts these past few days. In the middle of a hectic schedule, I jumped into a banca swaki2on Alona Beach in Panglao, Bohol and zipped over to this fantastic little island called Pungtod that is about 1,000 square meters of land and hundreds of meters if not a kilometer of sandbar. Spectacular! What a nice diversion for an hour or so. I had been there once before and wanted to revisit. It was nicer than I remembered it. While futzing around on the island, and slowly getting attacked by sand fleas whose bites only emerge a day later, I noticed the boatmen collecting these sea urchins.

In just half an hour they had filled several white plastic bags with about 8 dozen swaki gathered from the shallow waters around the sand bar. They kindly split one open for me to try. swaki3You basically scoop the soft edible portion from the inside of the shell with your fingertips and pop it into your mouth. It has a definite clean taste of the sea, but oddly sweet when you expect a seriously salty flavor. It was very good. Probably an acquired taste for most, this swaki is perhaps the equivalent of say caviar for those on the banks of the Caspian sea… It was unlike the uni or sea urchin that you eat at top flight Japanese restaurants…I’m told that is because it is a different variety of sea urchin.


37 Responses

  1. in the province of my Ninang in Romblon, they call this “tirik”. The fisherman in the their island once ask me to try it and it was like a extra challenge type of thing that i should taste it. It taste sweet and salty, just like what you have said, it has an acquired taste. I asked some kids who are getting this at the shoreline and they mention that they will cook this with egg (like omelet type) for their dinner.

  2. cooking suggestions? parang sayang to fry it up in an omelette. maybe make a light pasta sauce?

  3. Wow. I remember seeing two foreigners howling with pain when they stepped on these urchins in Bohol. Meanwhile, the locals had large plastic baskets when they waded in th water, skilfully picking up these urchins as they went along. Then pinapagpag lang nila yung basket so that the matanggal ang mga tinik. I remember tasting this and thinking it tastes too much of the sea.

  4. I was once had a vacation in Malapascua island when i was young and i remembered my uncle used to get up in the morning just to cacth some of those creatures but one thing i vividly remembered was when he cracked the shells and scooped up the meat inside and eat it raw. To me as a young girl, it was revolting!! I wonder if i can find it tasty now? woh!! it give me shiver!

  5. I’ve seen thousands of these in many striking colors congregating at the base of black cliffs surrounding Malapascua Island while on an early morning island trek. So I had been right in thinking they are edible. The sea urchins I saw while snorkeling near Balicasag Island are the frightening, long-spinded ones you describe.

  6. We call this mari-tang-tang in the Ilocos region and I was fortunate enough to have some when I was there. I remember here in Melbourne, fish mongers used to throw or give these away years ago. Now, they’ve acquired gourmet status and can hardly get hold of them or they charge almost $30 a kilo if you see them in the market! Much too expensive in my opinion. I have to wait until I get back to Phils. for another bout of indulgence…hehehe

  7. wow ang sarap! we would always have that in malapascua. when i’ve scooped enough flesh into a bowl, i just dive right in after adding a little calamansi. it’s also good heaped on a bowlful of hot steaming rice and you splash on a little kikkoman. that island is surrounded by seafood galore. that’s the only place where i had scallop sashimi. once i had this kind of tuna sashimi that almost tasted like hamachi but was a local variety caught by the fishermen there. there are diff. varieties of shells they call lipti,tacobo,etc. and the alimasag there are HUGE and super sweet! :-) So when in malapascua, make sure you bring kikkoman and wasabi…yummmm

  8. Discovery Channel featured fisherfolk harvesting sea urchins. Kids armed with a warm baguette wiped the sea urchin off the shell and ate it! Man, what a rush!

  9. Hello, just to share how they call it here in France as “OURSIN DE MER” .. sea urchins. The french loves it raw as you said the sea taste. Which gives the natural fresh flavor of this sea shells. I personally have not tasted but like Fabian said it is mostly used to make sauces.. usually with white wine.
    I think i better try that once i can see in the market!
    Thanks for sharing.. i did’nt know we can find that in the Philippines sea.

  10. And there I was thinking that these sea urchins were my beloved uni! Do they taste all that different? I adore sea urchin, and it’s the first thing I look for when I’m in a Japanese restaurant. I agree with Fabian that these swaki would be terrific in an omelette or pasta with just a touch of cream sauce. Ooh la la!

  11. The boatmen on my banca swear swaki taste much better than the stuff that comes out of the spiny black sea urchins. Not sure what the uni in Japanese restaurants comes out of. To me the main difference would be consistency and density…but then again that may be because of freshness. These were so fresh you could hear the urchin screaming! I like the concept of trolling the sandbar with a hot baguette and scooping out the urchin roe…so bloody decadent in a way! A little calamansi or dayap sounds like a nice addition and yes, this does sound good on rice. Also, when these die naturally (and not ruthlessly split open by hungry boatmen) they result in those classic sea urchin shells that look like they landed from another planet!

  12. hmm, i’ve got to get my ass down to malapascua island. heard about it for years but never found the time to check it out. sounds like a great place for seafood. haven’t been to bohol either…whats wrong with me??

  13. Hi there y’all!
    This brings back memories of sultry Camiguin nights! On my days off as a rural physician, I would join the kids scouring for these supersarap delicacy. we usually put them inside a “lapad” with “surangbahal” from the coconut. Nights are spent on the White Island beach with lots of cold San Mig, lots of “kinilaw” and of course, this highly prized swaki! Sarap talaga with the beer!

  14. A good way of using raw sea urchin is in a Bonito soup, raw egg yolk and a few drops of saki. It has a very calming effect. Just what you need on a cold winter night.

  15. Suaki should be eaten in its natural form, or just squeeze a tiny bit of kalamansi and you got your proteins for the day! The fisher folks in Palawan eat them with boiled sweet potatoes—yummy!
    Also had those in Malapasqua, a woman picked them right out of the water and was opening them and putting them in an empty rum bottle. well, i just couldn’t resist and had her open one for my mouth! :)

  16. hey we dont have this kind of sea urchin here
    we have the black one with those nasty spines

    i was once snorkelling when i saw a greek couple with a knife, bag and i followed them
    i realized they were collecting the sea urchins

    they were kind enough to share me their bounty straight from the sea.

    just came back from Germany and I spent the day for my lard quest….

  17. Got those black spines on my foot already! Ouch ouch ouch! But I love uni!!!! I’ve tried fresh ones (while on a surface interval during a dive at an island off Batangas) but they also tasted too much of the sea. Must have been a wrong variety!

  18. The best way to eat these is to squeeze lemon onto the ‘roe’ before you scoop it out. Sea urchin definitely tastes better fresh from the sea this way.

  19. I love uni but sometimes wonder how fresh it is especially in restaurants here in manila.

    Just a question to Maddie, if you still read this comment later, “tasted too much of the sea” was used above several times. What exactly do you mean? Too salty, malansa or just too heady?

    When people say something tastes of the sea, it conjures memories of sweet briny flavours that are quite pleasant. It’s interesting that adding two words- too much- would make me think of something thoroughly unpleasant! heheh

  20. as far as i know, the uni that is served in restaurants is locally known as tihi-tihi in the visayas. anyone have more information on this?

  21. hate to answer my own query, but a quick text message to a cousin in cebu reveals that tihi-tihi is actually the meat of the swaki! they are bottled fresh or fermented, in rum bottles. so there.

  22. Did you know that there is an Uni & Abalone farm set up near dumaguete culturing uni, with 26,000. urchins in cages. This project is set up to create sustainable livelihood for the marginal fisherfolk, get their kids in school, and provide funding to preserve the reefs. the proponent is seeking funding and/or partners, the project now is in its 3rd year and can be replicated wherever there are urchins. The principal is an environmental scientist has funded all R&D personally, no assistance from anyone.

  23. Michael, that sounds like an interesting project…I hope others around the country think up ways to provide employment in intelligent, locally based and environmentally friendly endeavors! Kudos for the principal of the project you describe… perhpas Bohol is a nice place to replicate the project!

  24. yup, that definetely looks like Uni in japanese restaurants. hmmmmm, I’m actually salivating thinking about fresh uni dipped in soy sauce and wasabe . . … hmmmmmm, yum yum. I saw two old ladies in bohol beach club catching these creatures, tapus they went to the beach, chopped off the spines with an itak, and scooped the flesh into a bottle. probably to be sold to the japanese restuarants. .

  25. hi marketman! i’m sure you got several ideas about where these sea urchins in japanese restos in manila come from… can you please share me some? i’m just too curious to know about these things… to know exactly how it looks like and how fisherfolks prepare these creatures in particular. thank you.

  26. hi fEL, actually, I have no idea where the restaurants source their sea urchins… the ones I got here were straight from the sea…

  27. thank you mr. marketman! is there any difference of its quality (taste, firmness, color and texture) from different sources in the philippines based on your experiences? from what areas have you gotten your urchins, tripneustes gratilla sp.?

  28. hi michael! where in dumaguete do these concerned people are culturing uni and abalone? is it convenient to visit the area?

  29. hi…i am a 4th year college student from bohol..i am making a research study on swaki…i want to know more on how to cook swaki..and also their benefits and uses…i hope you can help me..thank you

  30. Back in Bicol, if its lowtide, my lolo and lola will take me with them and we will collect these stuff. My lola always bring a spoon and we will eat them right there. Its very healthy according to them but I think you shld limit youself to just one shell.

    One should be careful eating this stuff. There are portions inside the shell or part of the meat that is not edible. Recently, we went island hopping in Bantayan island and our boatman started collecting these swakis. He opened one for me, wash the inside very well with seawater, washed away those dark looking meat inside and said that I should only eat those yellowish part. When I asked why, he let me eat a very small amount of those dark looking meat and it tasted rotten! Awful!!! so be careful….

  31. marketman…it’s okay if your information on swaki is only limited…i still would like to thank you for writing stuffs about swaki..this site is surely a great help on my study..thanks again..best wishes!

  32. they said ” tihi-tihi” is the flesh of suaki… i may agree on this kay i’ve been to bantayan island before and i’ve eaten the fresh from the sea, just opened suaki and the sweet stuff inside the suaki tasted the same as with the ‘tihi-tihi’…

  33. are Diadema antillarum edible to eat by humans??
    A sea Urchin that has long black spine…. does it taste good or poisonous??



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