Saturday, August 26, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Milkfish

     Recently I learned that the town that I'm currently staying in, Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, has a Filipino grocery (thanks, Tracey, for the tip).  I picked up a bunch of things from there, so you'll probably be hearing more about this supermarket in the coming weeks and months.  Anyway, one of the foods I bought was a new-to-me sea creature called the milkfish.
     As if it were an Italian zombie movie, milkfish goes by many names.  It's called "awa" in Hawaii, "bangus" in the Philippines, "ibiya" in Nauru, and "bolu" or "bandeng" in Indonesia.  Also, I couldn't get an exact reason for its "milfish" moniker.  Some sources reported it was because its cooked flesh looks like milk, others because this flesh had a creamy, milk-ish flavor, and still others claimed it's because the fish is often cooked in milk.  Whatever the reason, this fish lives in tropical portions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, often in offshore waters around coastlines and islands.  The average adult size is about 1 meter (or 3 feet, 3 inches), but some individuals have grown up to 1.8 meters (5 feet, 11 inches) long.  They can reach weights of up to 14 kilograms (about 31 pounds), and are mostly an olive green color with silver markings.  This school-attending fish lives on algae, cynobacteria, and small invertebrates.  Milkfish seem to be the anti-salmon in that their young quickly leave the ocean waters they're born in to move to mangrove swamps, estuaries, and rivers.  They later return to the ocean when they're mature, to mate.  They can live up to 15 years.
     Milkfish have a long history of being eaten by humans.  They've been farmed for at least 800 years, in the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, and many Pacific islands.  Typically this involves capturing the young (called "fry") and putting them into saline ponds (or in modern times, cement tanks and sea cages) until they're mature, and more fit for consumption.  They're known as being bonier than most fish of their size, but clearly many folks think they're worth the trouble.  They're actually the national fish of the Philippines, too.
     The milkfish I got was prepared in one of the Philippines' signature cooking styles--adobo.  (Not surprisingly, given the country's history, adobo is also a Spanish cooking style, with some variants.)  This style, usually used with meat, seafood, and some vegetables, involves marinating the base food in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, and then browning the result in oil, and then simmering that in the marinade.  I bought the 7.8 ounce (220 gram) jar, made by Manila's Best in the Philippines, and imported by Golden Country Oriental Foods out of Chicago, IL.  I couldn't find out anything about Manila's Best online, but GCOF does have a website.  Among other things they make other flavors of bangus in corn oil, smoked, in olive oil, soy sauce, and/or hot versions of all of these, etc.  They also import foods from many foreign countries, including many Asian, and African nations.  Anyway, inside the glass jar was cut up chunks of brownish-pink fish flesh.  I found the fish itself to be good.  There was also a happy medium of spiciness to it--not so much that all I tasted was fire and heat, but enough to give it some nice "bite," and not be bland.  All in all then, a solid meal.  I'm big fan of canned/tinned fish, which are usually herring or sardines, and this stacked up well against the best of these.  I think I will pick up some more, and try any alternate flavors I can locate.

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