One of the great benefits of working for an agency with a nationwide branch network is access to the cornucopia of regional delicacies without even moving a foot out of my office workstation. Inter-branch employee swaps happen all the time, for training, seminar-workshops, audits, as well as case presentations and the like.
It is a well-acknowledged fact that my co-workers in the countryside branches are the most hospitable lot. You are treated like a celebrity when you visit the branch - toured around, taken to the best eating places and loaded with food and souvenirs to bring back home. But most importantly, you are never forgotten when it is their turn to come visit you.
I have had the luck of meeting colleagues from across the archipelago. And so I have eaten my way from Laoag to Jolo, forgive the exaggeration, by way of well-appreciated pasalubong from branch colleagues, and sometimes even from workmates returning from provincial stints.
And so before I ever set foot in Dipolog City in northwestern Mindanao, I have been enjoying for years the city's pride, Spanish style sardines made and sold under the Montaño brand.
The sardines, beheaded and cooked whole in corn oil with salt, whole peppercorns, some pickles, carrots and chilies, came in clear botttles with a green label, and were hot. Hot enough to make you forget the oiliness of the fare, but tame enough to let the fresh sweetness of the sardines shine through. I say they're sweet - no fishy hint or malansa taste, allowing me to conclude that they have been handled with the greatest care - cleaned thoroughly and processed straight from the sea, and flavored just right.
All other brands pale in comparison, and are like bilasang isda, when set beside Montaño's sardines. I stopped buying bottled and canned sardines from supermarkets, and just waited for windfall, which happened about once a year, from Dipolog. When I did get to visit the city I hoarded dozens of bottles, and that year I felt so rich to have the privilege of indulging in Montaño's bottled sardines.
Several years ago, though I have maintained good relations with co-employees in Mindanao, I have stopped relying on generosity when I found out, with a very big sigh of relief, that Rustan's supermarkets have started carrying Montaño sardines. The supply was sporadic at first, but I didn't mind, as long as I had my sardine fix at least once a year I managed to get on well with life.
And then every trip to the grocery became an excitement of sorts, because, first, there appeared sardines in tomato sauce. This variant is not hot, but still great, with tomatoes in oil, not the usual thick sarsa in canned sardines. And then there appeared Spanish style sardines in olive oil. I'm tickled pink to be anticipating other variants. And my corporate strategy training is silently applauding these developments, because one superb means for a company to stay afloat and have long-term viability is diversification, and Montaño is doing just that. I'm assured of enjoying high quality gourmet sardines for a long time yet.
The last two variants gave me the idea to top the olive oil sardines on pasta with pesto sauce, in a way replicating that great dish I once had (forgot the name) at Italian chain Cibo. The tomato sardines goes well with pasta mixed with its tomato sauce. I found this bottle of red pesto (pesto with sun-dried tomatoes) made by Philippo Berio, and I tried it with the tomato sardines, but I was disappointed with the muted pesto taste. The tomato sauce of the sardines was way better.
For this pasta dish it would be nice to use angel hair or capellini pasta. For a great way to cook your own fish Spanish style, may I refer you to fellow Filipino blogger Ting, who has perfected her own Spanish style recipe through the years.