My deft fingers combed through its spiny flesh, picking its bones with a skill I learned when I was little, with a precision I painstakingly mastered through the years.

The smell of vinegar, crushed garlic, and cracked black peppercorns thrilled me. I know, it sounds like a tired cliché but it brings back so many memories. So many meals, so many mornings. The clatter of spoons and forks against amber plates. The crackle of fish in hot oil in a deep kawali. My dad riffling through the morning paper with his first cup of black coffee. My mom juggling the morning chores while watching over my niece, feeding her arroz caldo and a pinch of fish for breakfast. And my sleepy self watching the morning slowly unfold, combing through the same spiny fish — bangus [bah-ngoos]; cut the same way — daing [dah-ing], which means split open; marinated the same way, cooked the same way — always tustado [too-stah-doh], fried until it is toasted golden brown.

I let go of my spoon and fork and ate with my hands like my dad always did. I saved the best for last, of course, like I always do. Its belly melted in my mouth. I licked my fingers clean and savored the taste of vinegar and spices. For me, it is one of life’s simplest pleasures.


Daing na Bangus


Daing na Bangus Recipe, makes four servings

4 medium bangus (milkfish), butterflied with skin and scales on, about 2 pounds
sea salt
1 cup white vinegar
12 whole black peppercorns, cracked
8 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 cup canola oil

Generously season both sides of the fish with sea salt. Marinate milkfish in vinegar, garlic, and black peppercorns in a sealed container or ziploc bag in the refrigerator overnight.

Before cooking fish let it rest at room temperature for over an hour. Heat oil in a wok or deep pan over medium to high heat. Slide fish down the side of the wok, skin side down, and fry until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Carefully flip fish using a flat spatula and fry the other side until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Drain fish in a plate lined with paper towels and season lightly with salt and pepper.

Serve with fried rice and a sawsawan of tomatoes and salted eggs.


Daing na Bangus


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