Tabo-an Dried Fish Market, Cebu


Talk about the motherload of dried, semi-dried and fermented fish!!! The Tabo-an (Taboan, Tabuan) Market near downtown Cebu is one of the most massive and pungent dried fish markets in the South. I suppose there are many such markets in all major provincial cities but this was just impressive in scale, volume of goods and staying power of its utterly pungent aroma (it literally sticks to your clothes in the same way that Japanese food seems to do as well). I have never seen anything like it!

Humongous basket after basket filled with dried danggit, tuyo, squid, dilis, etc. were piled high with goods. tabo2Prices were really quite good with dried danggit at about PHP340 a kilo and tarorot or whole dried squid at PHP380 a kilo. Also, there were dozens of cans/vats of guinamos, bagoong and all manner of “Fear Factor” type material. I grew up eating some boiled pili nuts with guinamos whenever fresh pili was sent from Bicol, and my parents used to dip other things into their beloved guinamos. But I never saw it sold in the quantities I saw here. And the rawness of their containers and obvious continuing fermentation out in the open was at the same time intriguing and revolting.

We bought several kilos of tabo3dried fish and each vendor was equipped with the thick plastic bags and the latest electric sealer. The better to contain the smell and not irritate airline officials… overall, it was one of the most impressive markets I have seen lately and I was happy I got to see it. However, up to hours after the visit, I noticed that the pungent smell of dried fish on my clothing!


23 Responses

  1. lucky you MM for being able to go to these markets…i’ve been to Bohol, Cebu, Palawan, and almost always, the PU driver or the tourist guide would take you to these other stalls where you buy packaged dried fish, the ubiquitous dried mangoes, peanut kisses, and other “souvenirs”…had i been reading your blog before, i wouldn’t have fallen to these tourist traps…many thanks for your blog, because now, if ever i get the chance to visit any of these wonderful islands, i could always check your posts and make it a point that i do get to visit these markets…

  2. I’ve seen this market on TV! I love dried fish now! When I get tired of steak or meat and other dishes, I would have this need to eat dried fish. Yumm!

  3. one is never too old to learn something new. Didn’t know that tarorot was whole dried squid.

    tarorot tarorot, ang kabaw miburot…

    that place must teem of danggit, i remember my mom in the old days whenever she made a trip to Cebu, she’d pass by the carbon market and bring back home some of those, and guinamos which was called ‘turnus’. (sp?) pugai ug lemonsito, pagkalami!
    it’s almost midnight here, i’m getting hungry again. :)

  4. hahha you just took me home MM
    when i was studying in the city our jeepney would pass tabuan.. whahh the smell
    but last time i was home in 2000 my manilena family – whole bunch of them flew to cebu for a reunion.
    and what was part of their request?
    a trip to tabuan to buydried fish.
    mas mahal daw sa manila.

    oh how would u describe tinabal?

  5. Mr.MM, may i know what is “guinamos” ‘coz it was kind of new to my eardrums…thanks!!!!

    By the way, this site is very interesting…i now make a time to visit it everyday…keep it up!!

  6. hi mm,

    your blog just took me back to the early 90’s when i was living in Bacolod City and took frequent trips to Bantayan Island via the infamous Gretchen ferry (there were no scheduled departures, the captain and his crew played pusoy as the ferry filled up with men, women, children and huge volumes of egg cartons (bizaare, but Bantayan was also a poultry capital)- when they thought that the vessel was full enough, they’d finish their game and decide to leave. so much for the implementation of maritime safety (in the mid 90’s disaster did strike and one of the Gretchens was caught in a storm with a huge number of fatalities). but back to dried fish, if you love dried fish, go to Bantayan, spectacular white sand beaches too! another area thats off the beaten track when it comes to dried fish is Isla de Higantes off the coast of Panay. if you want to see the goods before they hit the wholesale markets, try going to these locations and you’ll be amazed at the finds : )

  7. Shirley, I don’t know what guinamos is in Cebu but Guinamos is bagoong in hiligaynon.

  8. Shirley, to me, guinamos is the fermented fish fry in the second photo above. Essentially, I think it is dilis or other small fish fry that are fermented in large vats with salt. When pressed and clarified, this can become patis. But in Bicol, or at least the Bicol my parents introduced me to, the guinamos is in bottles with the whole fish still visible but the sauce a murky salty savory taste hit. It goes well as a sawsawan to lots of things. It isn’t as salty as bagoong alamang to me and it certainly is not red…

  9. Just arrived from Cebu and the Tabo-an Market myself. I personally prefer the bite-sized pusit (P480 a kilo) to the tarorot. Tasty and crunchy, it’s perfect for breakfast with pinakurat vinegar, sikwate and scrambled eggs. Also as pulutan with ice-cold beer.

    Also bought a small bottle of guinamos for P30 (I wanted to get more, but I anticipated the furrowed brows of the missus, always warning of cholesterol and other unhappy stuff). I got to Manila at noon, unwrapped the 2 kilos of lechon I bought from Willy’s near the Lapu-Lapu Market (P250/kilo), brought out the pinakurat; squeezed some kalamansi on the guinamos, squashed some sili on it, then said a long fervent prayer with the promise that I would exercise today, and not commit this pleasurable experience in the next…week or so.

  10. Thanks for the info Mr. MM…i would like to try it sometime ‘coz i dont like salty foods much..though i really haven’t seen one and wish to taste it one of these days..

  11. I was warned about how the briny, fishy smell would stick to my skin… how true that advice was!

    PHP 340 for a kilo of danggit; was the price for salt-cured or kalamansi-cured fish?

  12. Yup you are right Mr. MM, when I went home from Tabuan my kid told me that my clothes stinks… but they enjoy eating the Lapu-lapu dried fish with mongoes, alugbati and coconut milk… Have you tried that? I hope you did… I love your recent pictures especially the utan bisaya which is my favorite… Thank you….

  13. I want some one from this market who could arrange shipment for mixed Philipino food products and dried fishes.
    Levent from : Istanbul / Turkey.

  14. have you tried dipping green, very raw mango in ginamos? the taste is absolutely out of this world. young women are always advised by thier mothers to avoid green mango coz they said it always makes the monthly period (if you knew what i mean) very painful. but i guess the taste of the green mango and ginamos is worth taking the risk coz in cebu you can most often see young women eating this combination than men. i love, love, loovvee ginamos and pusit and danggit. makes me proud to be a cebuano.

  15. MM, its good to know that you’ve also tried eating boiled pili and dip it in guinamos. I’m also from Bicol, and I love this pili and guinamos. We call it “nilanta”. Did you know that not all pili fruit can be boiled and eaten like this? There’s a different variety of these. Oh, how I miss it… together with our own version of bicol express…

  16. Opps! I am here now Marketman…I just need to know what’s the exact address of this place in Cebu and how to get there…

    Thank you…

    Dessa g.

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  18. we want to import dry fish from phill to korea.
    we sell it to asian living in korea.
    we want to some information
    and is there anyone can speak japanese!!



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