Davao Kinilaw: Balancing Freshness and Flavor

Kinilaw can be found anywhere there's a fishing community in the Philippines, but Dabawenyos have their own.


A serving of Davao Kinilaw

You really haven’t visited Davao City unless you’ve tried kinilaw, the soured-fish dish that needs no fire to cook, just the action of vinegar on meat. While kinilaw can be found anywhere there’s a fishing community in the Philippines, Dabawenyos have made kinilaw their own: it takes center stage in both run-down dockside beer joints and fancy restaurants across the city.

The concept behind kinilaw is simple: use vinegar to “cook” raw fish, transforming pristine tuna or swordfish into a tangy, wholesome meal that goes great with rice or paired with beer. Simple as it is, an endless amount of innovation can be added on top.

Regional Variations

The flavor changes depending on the type of vinegar you use to “cook” the fish – while cane vinegar is often used, nothing’s stopping you from using coconut vinegar or other types. Or you can junk vinegar entirely, and use calamansi juice. Or you can introduce it later in the preparation process, by serving it on the side instead of mixing it in at the outset.

And we haven’t even started on the type of fish you use: bariles, or yellowfin tuna, is a favorite in General Santos City, while the Ilonggos swear by herring. In San Fernando, Pampanga, you can’t get anything fresher than a “jumping salad”, live river shrimp offered up with a bath of calamansi juice.

How kinilaw comes together boils down to the personal preferences of the chef. Add the fact that kinilaw goes well with beer, and you get plenty of beer drinkers tinkering with the formula to get the right mix that pleases themselves and their fellow ka-inuman.

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