Pinakbet is infamous for its bitter melon and regional vegetables stewed in fish paste locally referred to as ‘bagoong’. Who loves to eat something with fish paste but Asians, right? This fish paste is well-loved by mostly Ilocanos (people who are from the Ilocos Region in the Philippines). It consists of freshly caught anchovies and/or other varieties of small fishes or fingerlings salted and fermented for 3 months.
The way Filipinos love this murky paste is comparable to how the Koreans love their Kimchi and not only that, they are almost alike in terms of the undesirable odor yet considered deliciously delectable. It’s an acquired taste (and smell), I tell you. Henceforth, Pinakbet, the Ilocano’s beloved dish is never going to be extinct even in this modern world, because wherever the Ilocano goes, so does his cravings for Pinakbet and anything edible dipped in fish paste.
* Makes 2 – 4 servings
1 cup pork (or any meat or seafood), minced or cubed*
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
¼ inch ginger root, crushed and minced
½ cup onion, chopped
2 tbs. olive oil (or butter)
1 ½ tbs. fish paste (substitute with either fish sauce or salt to taste)
¼ cup water (adjust accordingly)
½ cup bitter melon, sliced diagonally
½ cup eggplant, sliced
½ cup tomato, sliced and seeds removed
½ cup squash or Asian pumpkin, cubed
½ cup long stringed beans, cut 2” long
¼ cup okra (optional)
+ other seasonal vegetables if desired
* You may also use chicharon (chicharones or pork rind)
- Preheat pan for 1 – 2 minutes on medium heat. Add oil.
- When the oil is dancing, add garlic and sauté until light brown. Add pork and sauté until light brown. Add onion and ginger. Sauté for 1 minute. Add 1 tbs. of water and let simmer until pork is tender.
- Add tomato, squash or pumpkin and stringed beans. Let simmer until almost tender.
- Add the remaining water, adding some more as needed. Add all the other veggies with the bitter melon as the very last. Simmer for 2 minutes or until bitter melon is almost ready. Do not stir the pot (no pun intended).
- Add the fish paste (or its substitute) and adjust saltiness by adding more if desired. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for 1-2 minutes. Serve warm with rice or Quinoa (keen-wah).
Still wondering why fish paste is so enchanting? I don’t really know. Filipinos love it so much that they used to risk smuggling a small jar through the airport to bring with them abroad. With the new security measures though, this could pose a huge burden and shame on the part of the so-called smuggler, so they resort to buying them from Asian stores or online.
Thai cuisine also uses fish paste. I once had shredded green papaya with fish paste on it. It was a great appetizer. The fish paste also serves as a dip for green mangoes and other fruit. It’s really hard to explain why we can enjoy a meal or anything with this stinky fish paste. I guess it’s part of the heritage.