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Tuna: A great catch in Davao  

By Norma Olizon-Chikiamco, The Philippine STAR Published Aug 18, 2022 5:00 am

There’s more to Davao than just being the Durian Capital of the Philippines, said a post from Maya Kitchen. 

Indeed, there’s so much more to this Mindanao province than the prickly fruit known for its acrid smell and luscious taste. Davao, after all, is surrounded by bodies of water and thereby has easy access to the best resources from the sea.

Always a great catch in Davao is the tuna. Called bariles by the natives, tuna is exported to various countries but is also the main attraction in many of the seafood restaurants in Davao.

It’s said that the best place to eat fresh tuna is in Davao. After all, how much fresher can a fish get if it has just been caught in the sea and hauled to the shore by some industrious fishermen? 

The Davaoeños have many ways of preparing tuna: as paksiw, kinilaw, sinigang, sushi, sashimi, and grilled over smoldering charcoal. Its prized parts are the belly, the panga, or tuna jaw, and the tail. When deep-fried, the tail tastes almost like crispy pata, with its gelatinous flesh and juicy, tender meat. 

In tribute to the many culinary treasures of Davao, Maya Kitchen’s fourth Philippine Food Tour featured chef Datu Shariff Pendatun and his recipes for three of the province’s most popular dishes: balbacua, tuna buntot “pakfry” and kinilaw na tuna.

Kinilaw na Tuna, as prepared by Chef Pendatun (photo courtesy of Maya Kitchen)

In tribute to the many culinary treasures of Davao, Maya Kitchen’s fourth Philippine Food Tour featured chef Datu Shariff Pendatun and his recipes for three of the province’s most popular dishes: balbacua, tuna buntotpakfry” and kinilaw na tuna. With him in the kitchen was culinary historian Pia Lim Castillo.

“In Davao, balbacoa is eaten at all hours of the day,” said Pendatun, “even for breakfast.” Served in carinderias, eateries and markets all over the province, it’s a savory stew made with ox trotters seasoned with lemongrass, vinegar, and ginger, and spiked with bird’s-eye chilies. Some people take it in the morning after a night of stupor to regain their senses, Pendatun adds.

The tuna tail, on the other hand, is simmered into tenderness then dried and deep-fried until a dark golden brown. “It’s a less sinful version of crispy pata,” said Castillo, “because it’s fish rather than pork.”

Chef Datu Pendatun and culinary historian Pia Lim Castillo at the Maya Kitchen

The tuna tail is eaten with various condiments. In Davao, restaurants put cruets of chili, soy sauce and calamansi on the table so customers can season their food as they wish, said Pendatun. “It’s part of Mindanao gastronomy.” 

And then there’s the kinilaw na tuna. “Kinilaw is not meant to be elaborate,” said Pendatun. Its popularity from North to South of the Philippines stems from the Filipinos’ penchant for sour dishes. Kinilaw has its counterparts in other parts of the world too — in South America and Mexico, it’s known as ceviche.

The vinegar in which the tuna is marinated does not “cook” it, Pendatun clarifies. Rather, the process of steeping the tuna in vinegar and other seasonings denatures it.

It’s important that the kinilaw is consumed immediately. Keeping it for a day or two longer will turn it into paksiw, said Castillo.

Moreover, since the fish is not cooked the conventional way, make sure that the tuna you use is very fresh. It’s important therefore to buy it from a reliable source.

Here’s a recipe for kinilaw na tuna, based on Pendatun’s cooking demo in the Maya Kitchen. 

Kinilaw na Tuna 

(Based on the recipe of Chef Shariff Pendatun)

Kinilaw na Tuna (styling by Norma Chikiamco)

1 kilo fresh yellow-fin tuna loin or blue-fin tuna or big-eye tuna loin
1/3 cup rock salt or flaky salt
1 cup white vinegar (use neutral-flavored vinegar)
1/2 cup freshly squeezed calamansi juice
1/2 cup thinly sliced white radish (labanos)
2 red, white or yellow onions, thinly sliced
4 - 6 bird’s-eye chilies (siling labuyo), cut into small pieces (use more if desired)
1/4 cup peeled and grated ginger

Remove the skin from the tuna. Slice the tuna into 1” x 1” x 1”cubes. Rub with salt and let sit for 10 minutes. 

In a bowl combine the vinegar, calamansi juice, radish, onions, chilies and ginger. Pour into the tuna and mix well. The tuna should be completely immersed in the liquid. Let the tuna steep in the mixture for at least 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Cook’s tip: For a less spicy dish, remove the seeds of the chilies before adding the chilies to the vinegar mixture.