Growing up, I didn’t eat freshwater fish (except for milkfish). I don’t know why my mother never cooked them. I do suspect that it’s because the rivers near Tanza, Cavite are no longer clean hence the freshwater fish here simply don’t taste good. In our house we ate mainly seafood- mostly crabs, albacore tuna, and squid. Anyway, the first time I ate tilapia was when I was 16 years old, when I studied in Manila.
So it is that fresh-tasting freshwater fish are always a treat for me… every time I travel, I make sure to try the freshwater fish available there. I must also mention that I’ve had some of the best milkfish in my life at some parts of Albay (through their native delicacy called pinangat) and in Pangasinan. In South Cotabato I also had memorable fried catfish, of which the locals are justifiably proud.
But this year I discovered the best place to have freshwater fish in the Philippines, and it is Agusan Marsh in Mindanao. There were so many fish, all fat and delicious, and there were plenty of catfish, carps, gourami and eels too. It is a fish-lover’s paradise!
Manobo’s prepare it in a very basic, simple way, without a lot of spices and seasonings. Truly, with fish as delicious as these, you don’t need at all to mask the taste.
However, I found out that around 13% of the species there were introduced, with some adverse effects. Some of them compete with native species for food and habitat while others even prey on them. An example is the “kuhol” and janitor fish which destroys nets and cages. Other threats to their livelihood and way of life are: overfishing, illegal fishing, habitat degradation, and pollution from mining (mercury) in some parts of the river that are far from the lake.
Here are pictures of fishermen and freshly-caught fish there.
Here are the typical meals one can have while staying in Agusan Marsh. They are all prepared fresh (no ice bucket there!) and the ingredients mostly came from the lake, like “kangkong” or river spinach.
How to Go There:
If you want to eat these freshwater fish, all you have to do is coordinate with Agusan Marsh tourism. You can visit there even just for a day.
You may contact them here: Municipal Information Office, Loreto, Agusan del Sur Facebook page
You can also contact the Manobo Tourism Officer of Agusan Marsh directly, her name is Ms. Maritess.