These people, in fact, recently paid homage to the once lowly bangsi (flying fish) by honoring one of the sea's abundant denizens, turning the ocean surface skimming pelagic fish species into a delicacy worth serving in everyone's plates, fine chinaware or whatever.
Yes, step aside, tuna. Here comes the mighty bangsi!
Like tuna, which nearby General Santos City was made famous for along with Manny Pacquiao, Maitum’s bangsi already has its own festival. It is probably the first and the only one of its kind in the country.
A decade ago, nobody ever thought that processing and adding value to the otherwise bland bangsi could become a culinary delight.
How dare I say culinary piece, huh? Think again. Those who are regulars of posh and upscale Japanese restaurants surely had ordered the orange colored fish roe, tobiko. A chef in a local Japanese restaurant here says it is made from eggs of the flying fish!
A few years back, word of mouth spread about how half-dried marinated bangsi were catching the attention of urbanites like us looking for something different and exotic.
The spicy, tasty and crunchy fried marinated bangsi perfectly suited our taste. In no time, it became a must to bring packs for presents to anybody who cares to have them for breakfast or on every meal along with the bagoong, which Maitum is already made famous for.
On Friday last week, I was at the opening day of the First Bangsi Festival where we were treated to another one big surprise.
Rows of processed bangsi delis in Styrofoam budget packs were on display in front of the town hall. Bangsi nuggets, patties, fishballs, siomais, embotidos and, of course, the marinated dried. Too bad, the deadline for this article fell a day before D-Day of the festival. Otherwise, we could have covered the longest marinated bangsi grill in the country!
Virtually all small fisher folks in Maitum own a pamangsihan, a fishing gear exclusively used for catching flying fish. This gear is actually a special-messed net cast by going after a school of flying fish. Catching bangsi is a no less mean feat, however, as the fish literally goes by its name – darting from the surface of the sea and literally hopping into the air for as far as twenty meters at a time.
Although it is available all-year round, peak season for catching flying fish is from September to May of the following year.
With rising costs of fuel, selling flying fishes as they are is no longer economically rewarding.
So residents in Maitum looked for creative ways of adding value to bangsi. Women would patiently split bangsi into halves (similar to the daing na bangus), marinate using vinegar and grounded peppercorn and sun dry them in front of their backyards. The whole family would feast on them in the evening for dinner.
What started as a household chore of fisher folks’ wives, soon became a thriving cottage industry. It is now common to see rows of solar dryers in fairly large backyards (still) – the town’s own version of mass production – on a sunny day in Maitum.
Along with bagoong prepared the Ilocano way, dried marinated flying fish has now become an iconic food product of the town.
It is a delicacy that did not escape the attention of local government officials in Sarangani.
The late Maitum mayor George Yabes took pains in developing the product to perfection. He sought the help of Sarangani governor Miguel ‘Migs’ Dominguez who, in turn, enlisted the expertise of the latter’s family-owned corporation Alsons Aquaculture Company in the proper processing and packaging of what is today now famous product, the Maitum marinated flying fish.
Moving to push the product to gain national prominence, new Maitum mayor Elsie Perrett last week launched the First Bangsi Festival, which opening was graced by Senator Salvador ‘Chiz’ Escudero no less.
“We envision these products to develop into exportable products in the years to come,” Mayor Perrett said during the opening ceremony of the festival.
Dominguez for his part said the local government units in Sarangani will provide technical assistance and capability building seminars and trainings to help develop the industry.
He said marinated flying fish is now the town’s major product under the one-town-one product (OTOP) program of the Department of Trade and Industry.
This augurs well for a small town with more than thousand households dependent on the industry that produces more than 400 tons a year using traditional fishing methods.
Here are some tips on how to enjoy your bangsi while in Maitum:
BANGSI WITH BUTTER
(Barangay New La Union style)
1 kl. BAngsi
Steam the bangsi in boiling water
Saute onion and garlic in butter
Mix the sweet corn, carrots and asparagus
Add steamed bangsi
Cover pot and let boil till evenly cooked
Serve with butter
GINATAANG KINILAW NA BANGSI
2 kls. Bangsi
De-bone bangsi and cut into fillets
Mixed all ingredients and serve
1 kl. bangsi (boneless/sliced)
2 pcs. carrots (sliced)
5 pcs. potatoes sliced)
pepper corn (grounded)
1 pck. soy sauce
1 pck. vinegar
1 pck. vetsin
1 pck. ginisa mix
1 pck. catsup
_ pack brown sugar
Put oil in the frying pan, and then add the garlic and union. Put the sliced flying fish, and then add the soy, grounded pepper corn, vetsin, and ginisa mix. Add 2 cups of water, wait until boil. While boiling, add vinegar and brown sugar. Put the sliced carrots and potatoes and wait until boil, and then add the red bell pepper, tomato sauce and corn starch. Wait until the vegetables are tender. Good for 10 servings.
(Barangay Old Poblacion)
1 kilo ground boneless bangsi meat
_ cup sugar
2 tbsp salt
black pepper powder
3 tbsp white wine
3tbsp pineapple juice
4tbsp garlic (mashed)
_ cup water
Mix all ingredients into ground boneless fish meat (bangsi)
Mash until all ingredients are thoroughly mixed. Deep fry in hot cooking oil. Serve Hot.
(Authors note: In addition to bangsi and bagoong, Maitum is also famous for its Pinol Cave, giant bats, rubber tubing and backpack adventures, euphorbia and exotic wild game animals that indigenous people in the town continue to hunt for food)