COTANGENT – By Daphne Cardillo
Marasa it kinilaw na turingan. And if you squirm at the thought of eating kinilaw na turingan in Tacloban, it may be because that kind of fish is not simply caught here and does not come by fresh and fit for a kinilaw. When I first came to Tacloban in the mid-seventies, turingan had the notoriety of knocking you down with skin allergy at the least or food poisoning at the most. The fish easily gets toxic and does not stay fresh for long. So kinilaw na turingan is not simply prepared here.
But not in Consolacion or the neighboring coastal areas in Sogod, Southern Leyte. There we could eat kinilaw na turingan even for supper and even without coconut milk. The barest of condiments like ginger, tomatoes, and spring onions are enough and blended in coco vinegar and salt. Add a few pieces of siling labuyo to give a dash of that hot spicy taste. And the fresh fillets of turingan are mixed with the vinegar sauce only a few minutes before serving so as to retain the sweet taste of the fish.
In Cebuano, turingan is called tulingan while in our place the fish is generally called mangko. We used to harvest this kind of fish in our village by the thousands, five thousand at the least to fifty thousand at the most. They flock during the spawning season to the fish cages not far from the shore and built by our village folks. And while they can be caught in a few other months of the year, they are usually most abundant in the month of May which is also the harvest season for rice.
Before the fish dealers from Abuyog and other far away towns came in jeepneys in the middle of the night to claim our catch, the nets of fresh turingan were all for our own village consumption though some would be sold in the nearby areas especially the mountain villages. We had the turingan in abundance and cooked them in different ways. Turingan is one fish that tastes good in whatever way you prepare it; smoked (tinapa), grilled, fried, with sauce like escabeche, tinola, paksiw, and our usual fare of kinilaw.
In the years before the eighties when electricity was not yet connected from the town of Sogod to the nearby barrios, turingan were mostly preserved in barrels and buried with plenty of salt. The process is called tabal wherein the fish is cut along the backbone, split open and cleared of gills and intestines, the two sides slit lengthwise in the middle, the eyes pierced to take out moisture, and the whole thing drained then stuffed with a lot of rock salt. The salted turingan are then piled and layered with more salt in big barrels and clay jars to be stored and used later in the lean months of August towards November.
Other ways of preserving the fish on a shorter term were cooking the turingan in oil, salt and water in big tin cans; in vinegar, salt and water in earthen wares or big cooking pots; or smoking them over smoldering coals (tinapa). My grandmother used to cook turingan like sardines in big tin cans for that kind of preparation preserves the fish for long. Smoked fish could last for days or a week. And if you find sinugba na turingan delicious, you’ll be amazed to discover that tinapa na turingan is more delicious.
It’s been years also that I’ve eaten kinilaw na turingan. The only time where I can enjoy a real fish kinilaw is when I go to Maasin where a variety of fresh sea foods is in abundance. Our usual fare there would be marang or any of the big fish that can be bought in slices. Turingan is also becoming scarce for mass consumption in my hometown as this variety is being sold in bulk to fish dealers from other places. Capitalism has crept in… But if you chance to be in a place where turingan is freshly caught, try to eat the kinilaw and savor the sweet taste of the fish.