This is the tambangongo, a kind of sea catfish that my college roommate told me about many years ago. He hails from Baroy, a laidback coastal municipality that overlooks Panguil Bay in the province of Lanao del Norte in Southern Philippines. He said that there is a celebratory atmosphere when their local fishermen would catch this weird-looking fish because it is quite rare to find one. From the looks of it, the frowning mouth or the staring eyes of the fish suggest that it doesn’t want to be caught at all in the first place.
Aside from that, the tambangongo‘s taste, my roommate added, would put even the lechon (roasted pig) to shame. The fish is usually grilled or made into a humba dish. He claims that it is the best dish he has tasted and that at Baroy, the fish is usually wiped off first more than any other dish especially during festive occasions. But I would never know if he was exaggerating or not, since I never tasted one before. When I visited his hometown to attend a wedding, unfortunately, there was no tambangongo that was served during the reception.But what intrigued me all this years was the way that the fish was prepared. They would often use sand just to wash off its strong odor. The bark of the sinigwelas (Spanish plum) tree may also be used. This unusual preparation may qualify the tambangongo into an episode of Andrew Zimmerman’s show or an entry in MarketManila.com. It could prove that a locally sourced produce or dish, that may be described as exotic elsewhere, would turn out to be a surprisingly worthy culinary experience.
I look forward then to the day when I would stumble upon the tambangongo at a market or a karinderya in my future travels. Or should the opportunity present itself, I’d like to be back at Baroy someday to find the right people who would catch, prepare and then cook this elusive fish. I could finally decide if Baroy’s weird-looking fish indeed lives up to its tasty reputation.
The blogger would like to thank J.Gingoyon for taking a photo of the tambangongo used in this blog entry. Her dad happens to hail from Baroy, Lanao del Norte.