Filipino Icon: Bagoong
Bagoong, also known as fish paste or shrimp paste, is a popular condiment that is made from fermented fish or shrimp and salt. The fermentation process also yields patis, or fish sauce, another popular condiment.
Bagoong ranges from pink to reddish to brown and is sometimes mixed with food colouring make its appearance consistent. It has a pungent smell and a salty taste. However, sweet, sour and spicy brands are also available. It is a vital ingredient in Ilocano cuisine, but around the country it is very popularly paired with green mangoes and eaten as is.
Bagoong is a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine. What makes it special is its ability to add a fishy but earthy flavour to food, giving dishes rich textures in taste. It is an icon in the Philippines because it is essential in some of the most popular Philippine dishes like pinakbet and kare-kare. Its being ‘married’ to the national fruit, mango, also makes it an icon.
The exact origin of the bagoong in the Philippines, or the shrimp paste in the Southeast Asian region, is not known. However, one theory suggests it stemmed from the ancient practice of adding salt to fish or shrimp to preserve them. Another theory says that it was specifically made so that very tiny and unmarketable shrimp and fish could be sold.
In the Philippines, the bagoong industry is found around the country. But the most popular bagoong products come from the thriving industry in Lingayen, Pangasinan. The province is actually synonymous to bagoong: it is said that the salinity and humidity in Pangasinan makes it the perfect place to create bagoong. The fish that is used to fuel the industry is mainly from the Lingayen Gulf, Bicol region and Quezon province.
Types of bagoong
There are many types of bagoong depending on the main sea ingredient used to make them:
Bagoong isda. A type of bagoong made from fish. This type of bagoong is actually an umbrella term that encompasses all types of bagoong made from fish. More specific bagoong types under this term include bagoong monamon (anchovies) and bagoong terong (bonnetmouth fish). The name of the bagoong could also be derived from the place it was made, like bagoong balayan (anchovy bagoong from Balayan, Batangas).
The most common types of fish used for bagoong isda are: anchovies (dilis), round scads (galunggong), bonnetmouths (terong), herring, silver perch (ayungin), ponyfish (sapsap), rabbitfish (padas) and bar-eyed gobies (ipon).
Bagoong alamang. A type of bagoong made from shrimp. This is also known as bagoong armang, uyap, ginamos or dayok. They are made of shrimp fry (baby shrimp).
In the Visayas, bagoong made of shellfish are also available but made rarely. There is the bagoong macaebe made from large oysters and the bagoong sisi from small clams and oysters.
How is it made?
The making of bagoong is done under very controlled conditions. This is because several steps are involved in the fermentation process: one wrong move could provoke the natural decaying process of the fish or shrimp, leading to wastage and health risks if consumed.
The factors that affect the outcome of the bagoong-making process are:
- amount of fish or shrimp vis a vis amount of salt (75-25 or 50-50 ratios are common)
- type and amount of micro-organisms used to ferment the fish or shrimp
- acidity and temperature of the environment or storage area
- presence or absence of air in the storage area
There are many ways to make bagoong. But here are the basic steps involved:
1. Clean the fish (or shrimp). Sometimes the fish is cleaned with brine (a mixture of water and salt). Sometimes they are also drained and dried then grinded for the next step.
2. Mix the fish with salt uniformly. This is usually done by hand.
3. Place the mixture inside a tightly sealed container. Traditional makers usually use covered clay jars for this purpose, but glass jars may also be used.
4. Allow the mixture to ferment. The fermentation process could take place from as short as 3 months to a year. The mixture is stirred once in a while to allow the salt to spread evenly.
5. Separate the patis. After fermentation, the mixture separates into two distinct layers: the patis (top layer) and the bagoong (bottom layer). Remove the clear, liquid patis and place the bagoong in a separate container.
Bagoong is typically placed in glass bottles or jars and can be bought straight from the manufacturers’ provincial stores. They are also available in markets and groceries in the cities. These can be stored in the refrigerator but are also safe to store in pantries.
How to eat bagoong
There are two ways to eat bagoong: by using it as a dip or by cooking it with other ingredients.
When eaten as a dip, as in mangoes, green salads or kare-kare, very small amounts are used for every bite because bagoong has a very powerful taste.
Where do Filipinos abroad buy it?
Bagoong is a popular export product because it is in-demand among Filipinos based abroad. Some of bagoong’s top international markets include America, Canada, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
Some Philippine-based bagoong manufacturers ship bottles or jars of bagoong through their online shops. But bagoong may also be found in Asian and Filipino shops all around the world.