We are reaching the end of our monthly journey through Filipino cuisine with the recipe of fried dilis, this little fish no bigger than a finger, which is none other than anchovy.
One month was obviously not long enough to discover all the secrets of Filipino cuisine, which is influenced by an incredible mix of cultures.
The Tagalog verb for eating is used for five or even six meals: breakfast: merienda! Lunch: still merienda! Afternoon snack: merienda! Dinner: merienda cena! And even merienda before bedtime! Even though merienda really means “snack”, Filipinos nevertheless consider it a real meal.
But in the Philippines, there is also pulutan and you can eat pulutan as a merienda.
Pulutan, which comes from the Filipino word puluguier literally means “pick something up”. It is a term analogous to the English word finger food or Spanish tapas, referring to a snack picked up with the fingers. Originally, pulutans were a snack accompanied by alcoholic beverages or beer. They have also found their place in the Filipino cuisine as appetizers, snacks or even in some cases as main dishes.
But let’s go back to today’s dilis, which are a merienda or a pulutan, or a merienda of pulutan. You get to choose!
Dilis or anchovies are small blue fish that abound in the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans. Dilis are between 1 and 15 inches long and there are about 144 species worldwide.
They are abundantly present in the Philippines waters. They are very inexpensive and have therefore made their way in many family meals.
Dilis tend to be quite salty. They are often used in salads, meat dishes, as well as sauces.
Filipinos have discovered many ways to prepare these delicious little fish: they can be eaten raw, as in kinilaw that I served with fresh tomatoes, with the fish marinated in vinegar, or mixed with flour and eggs to form patties, or as in today’s recipe, deep-fried and crisp.
The Filipinos say you do not always have to spend a lot to serve good food to your family. Often, in their recipes, they replace expensive meat with dilis.
Indeed, this humble Filipino product is often considered a delicacy overseas. In the US and in Europe, where they are available only a few months in the year, anchovies can cost between $3 and $8 per lb. In Italy, Greece , and Spain, anchovies are also used in upscale restaurants. For example, in Spain, anchovies are savored in olive oil and vinegar or flavored with lemon juice, or rolled in flour before being fried, or simply marinated, as in the famous Spanish boquerones that I had enjoyed with a good sangria!
I prepared this recipe with sun-dried anchovies, a Filipino specialty. Dried fish are an integral part of Filipino cuisine. They are an absolute favorite despite their very intense salty and fishy flavor.
These small dried dilis can be cooked in several ways and especially in the famous Filipino ukoy way.
Ukoy features several variations. The most common is the shrimp ukoy. But some use tiny fish such as dilis or a very small fish called dulong. Ukoy is the Filipino version of shrimp fritters. Small shrimps (usually with the head and shell) are mixed in a batter and fried until crispy. It is considered a pulutan.
The Filipinos love to eat! They have the reputation of being optimistic and enjoy life without worrying about tomorrow. This is perfectly summarized in the famous Tagalog expression bahala na which means “whatever will be will be”.
The Spaniards haven’t just left their imprint with beautiful recipes but also with their famous motto que sera sera!
Good food and good times with the whole family. We are currently spending the fourth of July weekend in Palm Springs, where I made these delicious dilis as an appetizer that I enjoyed with a cold beer before a dive in the pool under a 110F weather. Que sera sera!
- ½ lb dried dilis (anchovies)
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 2 Tbsp hot sauce (e.g. Tabasco)
- 1 cup cornstarch
- 1 tsp salt (if dried anchovies are not already salted)
- Vegetable oil (for frying)
Combine the cornstarch, sugar and salt in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, mix the vinegar and the hot sauce and coat the anchovies with this mixture.
Then dip the anchovies in the mixture of cornstarch, sugar and salt.
Deep-fry the anchovies over medium heat until golden and crisp.
Drain on a plate lined with paper towel. Serve hot or warm.