Balayan Bagoong

I was looking forward to attending the feast of San Juan Bautista this year but missed it. I could just imagine the lechon being paraded and devoured after in the streets of Balayan. Since I failed to attend the roasted pig parade and it is only now that I finally got to visit this beautiful town – I have to settle for the bagoong.

And its not that bad really.

Having Visayan parents that savor these delicacies (Bisayan’s probably have a hundred ways of making bagoong!) I grew up with these dark fermented seafood around. Its an important cooking ingredient and of course, the all around sawsawan. For us, it’s also a form of viand (like guinamos) when there’s nothing left to cook in the fridge. I’m used to the smell and the unappetizing color like most Filipino do (Filipinos going abroad are notorious for trying to smuggle bagoong in their airport baggage’s!) – we just can’t live without them!

In Luzon, there are three provinces that have a popular variety: Ilocos, Pangasinan and Batangas. In Batangas province, Balayan is synonymous to superior bagoong. The time they start working on their bagoong is during the  few first months of the year when anchovies and galunggong are abundant. According to the vendors, the fishes are caught locally but there are times that the catch could come from as far as Tayabas (Quezon Province).

The vendor told me that the bagoong goes well with another popular Batangueño delicacy, ihaw na maliputo (heard it for years but I’ve yet to taste it). The Balayan bagoong is a remnant of their precolonial tradition. It is said that the original Balayanos (the word “balay” is Visayan word for house) were settlers that came from the southern islands.

Could the tradition in bagoong came from the Visayans that settled and established their “balay” in precolonial Balayan? Were the first Balayanos, Visayans (pintados)?

Sometimes the names of our towns and its food tradition gives us some bits and pieces to think about.

The bagoong Balayan have a distinct taste from the Visayan variety. The final product is smooth (no bones and pieces of the fermented fish). It’s like patis (fish oil), only thicker. The smell is stronger but the taste is milder compared to the Ilocanos version. The difference between Balayan’s and another Luzon variety, Bagoong Pangasinan, is that Bagoong Balayan does not have pieces (bones, flesh, head) of the fish they used. It is as if the fish melted during the fermentation process.

What set the Balayan variety is the quality of which it is made. They take pride in making and selling them – well, it carries their towns name so they should be proud.

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