That princess of a fish

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/05 Sept)— It’s September and in this time of year, people flock here for the Tuna Festival, a week-long merrymaking marking the charter anniversary of this city built by a flourishing fishing industry.

General Santos City is the Philippines’ tuna capital. Where else in the country can land 500 metric tons or so of tuna daily than in this city’s fishing port complex in Tambler?

But wait. It is not all tuna on those tables at the public market or in the seafood shops here.

For most visitors who come for a fill of seafood, there’s one fish delight they would not want to miss sinking their teeth on – that succulent and creamy taste of a fish whose name sounds like royalty.

Worker at the fishport in General Santos City carries the fish named after royalty. No one knows how it got its name but residents call it by the name of a Princess. MindaNews photo by Keith Bacongco
Worker at the fishport in General Santos City carries the fish named after royalty. No one knows how it got its name but residents call it by the name of a Princess. MindaNews photo by Keith Bacongco

The fillet of this fish usually comes in slices of about an inch-thick, and the ones near the belly are really the best.

It can be served fresh as “kinilaw,” simply mouthwatering with grated ginger, onion, salt and a whisk of native vinegar as photojournalists Keith Bacongco and Rene Lumawag prefer to have it as appetizer with their favorite drink.

There are those that prefer it “sinigang” or have it pickled and cooked in ginger and small amount of vinegar, letting out an aroma that smells “paksiw” to the Tagalogs and “inun-on” to the Cebuanos.

But, nothing beats it when grilled, suggested media pals Julius Valmores and Jun Ramos, while washing down a grilled fillet with ice cold beer.

Grilling the fillet of this fish does not need an elaborate concoction of marinade as a rub of salt, ground garlic and pepper will do along with a regular basting of margarine or just plain low-calorie vegetable oil.

When grilled, the fillet draws a golden brown color. Just be sure not to burn it black. Don’t look for “sawsawan” as its firm yet succulent meat tastes like it was dipped in cream and butter.

When sliced and displayed at the market, the fish does not have the looks of much sought after seafood as it appears more like the ordinary. In fact, many local residents before would not care to take a second look.

But once your taste buds get into one, it spells quite a difference, usually driving mystified visitors to pack lots of the fish in ice to take home.

Local residents brag it is only available in this city, a place practically built by a flourishing fishing industry.

Of course, what we have been referring to here can be bought at the city public market, from various seafood shops or the many seafood restaurants in town.

The local Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources office has no data about the fish, except figures on the occasional catches listed by fishport authorities.

Dante Dimerin, who used to be head of the fisheries quarantine and inspection unit here, said the fish could be a bottom dweller that stays mainly on muddy portions of the sea floor.

Based on catches, the bright orange and dotted fish can grow to as heavy as 30 kilos and has the shape of a moonfish but much bigger and its skin similar to that of a “Samaral.” Fishermen said it is usually caught in the high seas off Celebes.

Vendors said the fish catch is seasonal, usually during the last months and early parts of the year. The Tuna Festival also provides a good chance for visitors to meet “Diana,” as the fish is called. (Rommel G. Rebollido for MindaNews)