Filipino fish

Daing na Bangus (Vinegar-marinated and Dried Milkfish)

Sunday, May 25, 2014Enz F

Bangus is considered a centuries-old identity of a Filipino palate
When I was in Grade School, my teacher in my Social Science classes taught us the different logos and some notable traits that epitomize the national identification of our Filipinism. We, young students at that time, were introduced and given familiarity of different symbols that signify our distinctiveness and oneness as sovereign people of the Philippines. Just like any other nations, it is not uncommon to take great pride of our own flag, language, anthem, dance, animal, food and sports, among others, speaking for our common heritage, individuality and roots. If one would take a quick glance of the world map, we are a small nation of clusters of smaller islands isolated in middle of the vast oceans. Having surrounded with these bodies of waters inhabited by diverse species of aquatic resources, we are among the very few who were blessed to include a national fish in the list. Yes, it is somehow mesmerizing - a cold-blooded limbless swimming creature doomed to breathe through a pair of gills representing a patriotic identity. 

Daing is typically a butterflied milkfish marinated in the mixture of vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper.
Chanos chanos, the only surviving specie of the Chanidae and commonly known to the world as Milkfish, is the national fish of the Philippines. It is more popular to the locals as Bangus. Bangus has brilliant silvery scales and single dorsal fin. It can grow to almost 6 feet long and usually feed on soft algae, zooplanktons and invertebrates being naturally toothless. It usually thrives in saltwater but can also survive in fresh waters and ponds. Bangus possesses the trait of adaptability or the ability to adjust itself to changing circumstances and environment – a striking characteristic that runs deep through our veins and that every diligent Filipino around the world takes pride of. This manifestation of resiliency and unfaltering dignity must be one of the defining criteria that led the strong bangus on its way to the hall of national emblems.

Our coastline is home to myriad species of fish – many are considered exotic and can only be found in the Philippine shore. Among the many known edible fishes that provide livelihood to our fisherfolks, milkfish farming is prized to be the most important section of our aquaculture being considered a traditional industry dated back some 500 years ago. In fact, the Philippines is one of today’s top exporters of bangus in the world along with Indonesia and Taiwan. Because of its adaptability, the fish is widely cultured in brackish water fish pens and marine cages. One of the most excellent sources of bangus in the country is Dagupan City in the province of Pangasinan. Years back, bangus brought fame to the city when it became a two-time title holder of the longest barbecue grill in the Guinness Book of World Records. During the town’s annual "Bangus Festival", over 100,000 people set up 2.006 km. of more than 2,000 grills and simultaneously barbecued about 25,000 pieces (around 8,000 kg.) of bangus. Recently in April, Bayambang, also a city in Pangasinan, reclaimed the title from Turkey when town folks grilled 112,000 pieces (60 tons) of freshwater fish over an 8.016 km. griller, beating the former’s 6.166 km.

Milkfish is distinct for its delicately sweet but tastier flavor compared to its fellow neutral bland white fish. It could even be enhanced with suitable cooking techniques and complemented well with finely selected ingredients. The thick belly fat of milkfish is simply drool-worthy that it commands a high premium. Bangus dishes are popular everyday table fares on Filipino dining, be it a regular home-cooked viand or a high class restaurant specialty. It can also be a star-dish on fiestas and special occasions. Among the well-loved bangus dishes that I have come across with are the quintessential pinaksiw na bangus (vinegar-stewed milkfish) and sinigang na bangus (milkfish in sour soup), and the more sophisticated party fares in the form of rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish), pinaputok na bangus (grilled milkfish bloated with onions and tomatoes), bangus sisig (sizzling minced milkfish), and bangus sa tausi (milkfish with fermented black beans). The can-processed, similar to Spanish-style sardines, has also become a sought after export delicacy. And we, Filipinos, have become so accustomed that when we talk of Daing, it is always as classic and as synonymous to butterflied milkfish soaked in the marinade mixture of vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper – a preservation method as centuries-old as the country’s flourishing history.

Deboned or not, nothing can defeat the great flavors
Despite bangus having a reputation of being notoriously bonier compared to the other edible fishes, it is not an overstatement to say that a well-seasoned fried daing is the real revelation. Its fanciness would never be defeated by the numerous filamentous tiny spines stubbornly clinging to those mouthwatering fillets that are crispy on the outside and oh-so-juicy on the inside. Deboning, in fact, remains an option and all the fuss of bobbing for fish meat between dozens of bones are just worth the pain. After all, eating them with all your bare hands is always a fun Filipino way of doing it. In most local markets, it is so common but will never fail to make you wonder how “deboning” has become a perfected skill of every bangus vendors. Just ask them nicely to do the job for you and your boneless bangus is done in almost a snap with no extra charge.

Fresh sliced tomatoes and crispy daing are wonderful soulmates
Bangus plays a very important role in every sector of Philippine society – from being a source of livelihood to our fisherfolks, fish pond owners and caretakers, fish vendors and fish processors to becoming a plateful of healthy protein-source to every Filipino household. Hence, it is only worthwhile to highly recognize this prominent and well-respected fraction of Filipino identity.

Daing na Bangus (Vinegar-marinated and Dried Milkfish)
Number of Servings: 5

(Printer-friendly recipe)

  • 4-5 pcs. (around 2 lbs.) medium-sized fresh bangus, butterflied and guts removed with scales on 
  • 1 cup coconut or cane vinegar 
  • 8 cloves garlic, crushed with skin on 
  • 1 tbsp. peppercorns, crushed 
  • 2 tbsps. salt 
  • cooking oil 

  1. Split the bangus into butterfly fillet by carefully slashing a sharp knife along the dorsal side starting from the tail to the head. Remove the gills, guts and innards of the fish. Thoroughly wash under running water until no more traces of blood is visible. Pat dry with paper towel. 
  2. In a large container, combine vinegar, garlic, peppercorns and salt. 
  3. Soak the bangus in the marinade and make sure all the fish are thoroughly coated with vinegar mixture. Transfer them in an airtight container. You may use a ziplock bag and seal it. Let it stay in the refrigerator to marinate overnight. 
  4. Drain the liquid from the fish and arrange on the wire rack to dry under the scorching sun for at least 3 hours. 
  5. In a large pan, heat up the cooking oil over medium heat. Pan fry the dried marinated fish with skin-side down first, occasionally flipping until golden brown on both sides. Place on a platter lined with paper towels to drain the excess oil. 
  6. Serve with rice and sliced tomatoes on the side. Enjoy! 

  1. You may debone the fish by carefully lifting the backbone using the tip of a knife and removing the muscle spines with the aid of a forceps or tweezers. 
  2. If you lack the luxury of time to sun-dry the fish, you may skip this process. Simply drain and pat it dry with paper towel until no more liquid is dripping from the fish.

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