Davao Kinilaw: Balancing Freshness and Flavor

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

Supporting Players

The malasugi forms the foundation for the kinilaw, upon which Momong builds with a number of other ingredients. Long ago, Momong settled on a basic formula that has never changed over the years - "suka, toyo, and calamansi" – and added a number of new twists along the way.

“Whenever we go to a different place, like Cebu, or Cagayan, we order kinilaw, and I pick up bits and pieces of information,” explains Momong. “Kinilaw goes with a lot of variations, e. It can go with tausi, it can go with peanut butter. I also tried mayonnaise!”

Momong prefers to use siling labuyo in his kinilaw recipe, but he tries to moderate the heat using other ingredients. “I was really looking for a formula that could somehow counter the hot chili, kasi kinilaw is not worth its salt without the tang and the bite of the pepper e,” Momong explains. “Some people can't eat it hot. I found that in the pork belly and the coconut milk, the gata.”

Putting Everything Together

For the vinegar, Momong prefers to just wash the fish in the vinegar, instead of letting it soak. “I use vinegar, not only for the taste, but to ensure that the fish is germ-free,” he says. But fish left too long in vinegar “hardens the fish, so I really don't go for the vinegar,” explains Momong.

Putting the ingredients together, says Momong, is “a matter of balance,” as he puts it. Momong balances his kinilaw on a number of knife edges – his friends’ preference for saltiness in their kinilaw, of sourness, of the different textures contributed by the ingredients.

“You develop your own style, don't worry about their taste buds,” Momong advises the budding kinilaw maker. “That's your style e! Either they hate it or like it. Eventually you'll find the right balance.”


For a recipe of Davao Kinilaw, click here.
To learn how to prepare Tuna Kinilaw, find the lesson here.

Photography by Mike Aquino

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