When I started scouring wet markets in Makati in the early years of my marriage, I noticed how woefully small basasong were in Metro Manila. And not only that, they were priced dearly, too, for such size.
I never bought, understandably, until the family transferred to Cavite, and I learned that the fish I mistook for my childhood friend and foe was an altogether different species. I cannot be blamed, for asuhos was and still is an unknown fish in Pangasinan, but where basasong (called kalaso in Tagalog) abounds that it is commonly made into daing.
They have striking similarities, though. Porously flaky ivory flesh, silvery white outer color, long narrow bodies. Even the rich tastes are close. But whereas the basasong can grow as large as overgrown bangus, the largest asuhos I’ve seen have difficulty reaching six inches, and these are altogether rare.
Asuhos (whiting, Sillaginidae) appear in plenty in Cavite City when the rains come. They arrive in pails at the wet market, and are sold by the tumpok – heaped on small tin plates, priced anywhere from
P30 to P80, depending on the
size of the fish and the container. I’ve
never been offered it by the kilo, but I buy like three plates for a time, or
two for the big ones, and they are good for two meals already.
My kids love asuhos fried, even though it is fussy to get to the thin flesh (we always cook fish whole). It is fortunate that asuhos are not spiny, having only the central skeleton and spines along the fins. The really small ones are better deep-fried to a crunch, so we can just bite into them whole, spines and all.
I think asuhos are a Katagalugan fish, since during office lunches a colleague from Bulacan said she grew up eating them. They never fried them, though, but poached them into a dish called sinuwam, which is like tinola, or pinatisan. The asuhos are boiled and seasoned with either salt or patis (fish sauce) and topped with sili leaves.
So I cook sinuwam with asuhos, too. The resulting broth is rich from fish fat, tasting almost like tinolang manok but without the cholesterol and with the added benefit of omega-3. Since the sinuwam I know (from other colleagues from other areas in Tagalog country) contain corn kernels my sinuwam is sometimes thick with corn, preferably the white variety. And because I am a Pangasinense, I add a slice of peeled ginger, as all broth, all dishes actually, must be cooked with it.
I know it is not only Tagalogs who are chummy with asuhos, for fillets of it are what are made into kisu tempura in Japanese restaurants. And when I was in Japan battered asuhos fillets were offered for breakfast along with shredded cabbage every single day of my month-long stay. Friends who went to the Middle East found asuhos in grocery stores, so they bought them and fried them for a taste of home.
Asuhos disappear from the Cavite wet market towards the cold months and on to summer. The supply is not as abundant now as when we were just new in the area, but they still come, thankfully, and the prices are pretty much stable. So we enjoy them while we can, fully maximizing the advantage of having access to fresh fish straight from the fishermen. Asuhos fillets, as well as whole fish, are now available in supermarkets in Metro Manila, but they sell for a premium, and in what state is anybody’s guess.
Rainy Season Fare in Pangasinan I’m Missing