Raise your hand if you thought we’d be out of this quarantine by now. Okay, I see some hands. That, of course, couldn’t be any further from our reality now almost six months in.
Our travel bucket lists had to take a back seat. Gone were the planned trips abroad and the summer getaways we diligently filed for against our paid leaves. But if anything can take us away out of this isolation and somewhere better—if only by taste—that would be food.
Taste transports. Or is it memory associated with taste? Either way, how else will you explain why certain meals evoke fond memories, past experiences—like a Japanese meal of a trip to the land of the rising sun many moons ago?
The Visayan region known for its white sand beaches also has an enviable repertoire of seafood dishes that take our palate into a sort of island getaway. One of these dishes—although most regions have their own takes on it—is kinilaw, a way of preparing raw fish with vinegar and/or citrus.
Food writer Doreen Fernandez describes the magic that vinegar ascribes into this dish in an essay:
“Kinilaw is generally made with vinegar (although it may have lime juice), because its glory is the transformation from rawness through brief contact with sourness, from translucent to almost opaque, to that stage when it is no longer uncooked, but the freshness is kept primal.”
Of course, the choice of condiments and spices—outside of vinegar—varies per region.
Where Metronome chef Miko Calo grew up in Butuan City, Agusan del Norte, kinilaw is prepared with another source of acidity aside from suka: a small citrus called kabayawa.
In an episode of Comfort Kitchen, she shares how she makes a Butuanon kinilaw na tuna. In the absence of kabayawa, Miko recommends using lime or dayap. And along with vinegar, other spices such as tomato, onion, ginger and chili also play a vital role in flavoring the raw fish.
The sourness of vinegar is also tamed—if only slightly—by incorporating it with coconut milk, which she makes from scratch, as in grated mature coconut meat soaked in vinegar instead of water and painstakingly squeezed by hand.
The curing concoction is then made by mixing together the vinegared coconut milk and the rest of the fresh ingredients seasoned with salt and pepper. To properly infuse all the flavors, Miko keeps it in the fridge for a few minutes before dousing the tuna cubes in it.
Kinilaw is already a treat by itself. But according to Miko, you can also add inihaw na baboy into the mix to make a dish known as sinuglaw.
Butuanon kinilaw na tuna recipe
Raw tuna, cubed
Grated coconut soaked in vinegar (1 whole coconut = 350 to 400 ml vinegar)
1 pc red onion, julienned
2 pc tomato, julienned
50 g ginger, julienned
2 pcs kabayawa, sliced thinly
Chili pepper or pepperoncino, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
- Keep the raw tuna chilled while you mix the rest of the ingredients to ensure its freshness
- Using a muslin cloth, squeeze out the milk from the grated coconut into a bowl
- Put the rest of the ingredients in the same bowl and season accordingly. Cover and chill in the fridge for a few minutes
- To assemble, layer the tuna in a bowl with the sauce including the pieces of spices and kabayawa
Comfort Kitchen comes out Monday and Thursday nights on our IGTV.
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Writer: CHRISTIAN SAN JOSE
ART LEVENSPEIL SANGALANG