I’ll be a granduncle soon. Yes, you heard right. I’ll be a very young granduncle soon. The news actually didn’t make me feel old. Okay, maybe it did. Just a little. But it certainly felt strange to acknowledge the fact that time has slipped by so quickly. It seemed like only yesterday when everyone in the family was doting over Isabel, my niece, all dressed in yellow, her mom’s favorite color. She’s now all grown up with a good head on her shoulders and ready to start a family of her own.

“Isabel’s due the first week of March,” my mom said. “It’s going to be a girl.”

“Wow! You must be thrilled,” I told her. “She’ll be your first great granddaughter. That’s a fine accomplishment!”

“I know. Time flies. I’m sure your dad would be proud of his great granddaughter, too, if he were still alive,” she said with a tinge of nostalgia. “I’m sure he would,” I replied, echoing her bittersweet sentiment.

I was ten when my niece was born and I remember how proud my parents were of their very first grandchild. They had always been very generous in helping take care of their grandchildren — all ten of them. My mom, who raised five daughters and a son, helped in every way she could like the time when Isabel was born. My brother-in-law was in Germany to attend graduate school and so my sister and niece had to stay with us for a while. My mom pitched in and looked after Isabel while my sister went to work. I remember looking forward to coming home from school because it meant spending the rest of the afternoon with my niece. She was like my little sister and I adored her.

Last weekend, I made my mom’s pesa [peh-sà], boiled fish and vegetables in a simple ginger broth. Pesa reminds me a lot about home with my nieces and nephews. I remember sitting next to my mom in the kitchen table with my niece on her lap. We would have rice and pesa or tinola, boiled chicken soup, for dinner while we waited for my sister to come home from work. The soup has a mild ginger flavor. Water that is used to wash uncooked rice before it is steamed is used to boil the fish and vegetables. Fish sauce spiked with calamansi or miso, fermented soy bean paste, sautéed with garlic, onions and tomatoes is typically served with the soup as a dipping sauce.


Rockfish Pesa


Making Pesa, Boiled Fish and Vegetables in Ginger Broth, makes 4 servings

4 to 6 cups rice-water, water used for rinsing uncooked rice
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 inch knob of ginger, around 1 tablespoon finely chopped
1 leek, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large rockfish, 1-1/2 to 2 pounds, cleaned, scaled and cut into 3 to 4 portions
1/2 small head of cabbage, cut into 2-inch pieces
4 to 6 pieces young bok choy
fish sauce and calamansi or sautéed miso

Combine rice-water, salt, black peppercorns, ginger, and leeks in a soup pot. When the water starts to boil, add the fish and cabbage. Cover and let the fish cook through, around 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the bok choy, place the lid back, and let the vegetables cook through, around 2 minutes.

Serve with fish sauce and calamansi or sautéed miso.


Cooking Notes:

1. I used whole rockfish but my mom loves to cook with whole red snapper (maya-maya), grouper (lapu-lapu) and tilapia. Always make sure that the fish you cook with was sustainably caught. The Monterey Bay Aquarium has an excellent guide on sustainable fishing. Check the latest information from their website here.

2. Do not overcook the fish and vegetables. Young bok choy cooks very quickly. Add them towards the end and let it boil for just a few minutes.

3. The origin of the dish is Chinese. According to Filipino food writer Doreen Fernandez, the original term in Chinese is peq sa hi, which means plain boiled fish. Filipinos have extended the technique to cooking with chicken. Pesang isda is boiled fish while pesang manok is boiled chicken.


Making Sautéed Miso

1/2 tablespoon canola oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped, around 1/3 cup
1 small tomato, chopped, around 1/3 cup
1/3 cup miso
water, optional

Sauté garlic, onions and tomato in hot oil in a pan over medium to high heat. Once onions have turned translucent, around a few minutes, add miso and sauté for a few minutes more. Add water to make the miso sauce thinner.


Rockfish Pesa

  • http://twitter.com/thedailypalette The Daily Palette

    Congratulations, Jun! Isabel/Isabella is my favorite girl’s name. A baby is such a blessing!

    Oh, and this PESA, I will sure be making it. I’ve been thinking of dishes I will eat the duration of Lent since I totally skip meat the entire Lenten season. Ninang is NOT very religious but it’s a good time to cut down before bikini season, LOL.

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  • Slimcaco

    Sweet story, congratulations Jun! I’m inspired by this preparation. Shh… Don’t tell my mother but yours looks much nicer. I’ll be cooking this for my next fish dinner. Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Simply beautiful and a congrats on being a grand uncle soon!

  • http://twitter.com/CharlesGT Charles G Thompson

    Beautiful post, lovely family memories. This dish looks so simple and so healthy. Congrats on being a grand uncle!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Beth! And thank you for pointing it out. High heat does kill the cultures in miso and may change the taste. As long as you don’t heat it to high temperatures (boiling when making miso soup, or high heat when sautéeing) I think it’ll be fine.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Samantha! Let me know how it goes and, yes, I won’t tell your mom!

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Charles! Yes, the fish sup is absolutely healthy. No oil and fat whatsoever (if you don’t count the sauteéd miso). It’s a very healthy dish.

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  • http://kitchen-confidante.com Liren

    Congratulations, Jun! I loved this nostalgic post, and the comfort of the pesang isda :) How you must be looking forward to meeting your grand-niece!

  • Tangled Noodle

    Congratulations on the wonderful news and many thanks for sharing such sweet memories! This is such a lovely dish, particularly in the last photograph. I have a nice whole maya-maya in the freezer – now I know exactly what I’ll do it with it! 8-)

  • chef_d

    Congratulations! Your pesang isda looks so tempting. We use maya-maya but maybe next time I will try tilapia with your recipe :)

  • http://twitter.com/StephRussell26 Stephanie Russell

    Looks absolutely stunning, Jun! Any homemade soup laden with ginger broth reminds me of my dad. I am Peruvian-Chinese, and he always instructed me to make chicken soup with ginger whenever I was feeling under the weather. “Ginger’s good for you, honey,” he would always say. :-p Congrats on the wonderful news!! So exciting!

  • Authenticsuburbangourmet

    Jun – congrats on being a “grand uncle” – you are certainly too young to be using that title. ;-) This dish sounds amazing and your photos are always so spectacular to look at.

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Thank you, Stephanie. Filipinos have a chicken soup dish that also has ginger — tinola — very similar to what you have just described and one of my favorites. Thank you for stopping by.

  • http://twitter.com/momfood Serene


  • http://gourmeted.com Joy

    Congratulations to you and your family, grand uncle Jun! I’m sure you’ll all dote on her. My mom is like your mom, too, always willing to help with my nephews.

    First of all, I can’t help but comment on the beautiful photos. Great work. Good job making me crave for pesa, too. Haha.

  • http://twitter.com/IndonesiaEats Indonesia Eats

    Congrats on being granduncle!

    I had a good memory of my maternal grandparents. When I was still lived in the same town as they were, I went to their house straight from school (our school hour was only till 12 pm). Both of my parents were working. After having a yummy lunch made by my grandma, grandpa would tell me some Indonesian folkstories before my nap time.

  • sippitysup

    Such art! I mean the food and photos, not your ability to become a grand uncle. Not that that is such a small feat either… Oh sometimes I talk to much. GREG

  • Lemonsandanchovies

    Congrats on being a soon-to-be grand uncle, Jun! I have an uncle who is only a few years older than I am and I remember how fun it was to hang out with him when I was a child. He was like my older brother, too.

    I don’t think I’ve ever had this soup before but I did a double take when you mentioned that you use the water from uncooked rice. Whenever possible, that is what I use to make my sinigang. It really does make a difference in the flavor of the soup. I like all soups with fish and I bet this is so nice and comforting. I hope you’ve had a nice weekend. :-)

  • http://psychosomaticaddictinsane.wordpress.com Iya S. Santos

    yum! sarap pag umuulan. i like this with potatoes. :)

  • http://blog.junbelen.com/ Jun Belen

    Potatoes? Like in Nilaga? My mom never added potatoes in boiled fish but it actually sounds delicious. And, yes! Perfect on a cold rainy day.

  • http://www.athoughtforfood.net Brian @ A Thought For Food

    This dish is just gorgeous… the shocking green color of the bok choy. It all looks so comforting.

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  • Anonymous

    the Pesa dish which i have tasted was from southern tagalog
    (laguna), and the fish they used was Pla-pla (Nile Tilapia = Oreochromis niloticus from Ba-e. laguna). it is bigger than the standard size of tilapia and had a lighter scale colour. The
    vegetable used was mustasa (mustard greens), a mild-bitter leafy-green