This priest shares his recipes for a delicious fish escabeche and a meaningful life

Published April 1, 2021, 10:13 AM

by Noel Pabalate

Christians abstain from eating flesh meat for a celebratory meal during Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Fridays of Lent. Thus, fish is the best option. However, the fish dish doesn’t have to be plain fried. Adding some sauce would not be considered negating penance and sacrifice. 

So if you’re a Roman Catholic or Christian and looking for a fish recipe for Good Friday, we recommend you to check Tastetimony, a cooking and talk show where you’ll not just learn to cook, but also get inspiration in life. Hosted lively by priests Fr. Roy Bellen and Fr. Hans Magdurulang, the online and television program broadcasts under the TV Maria production.

In its latest episode, the show featured Fr. Flavie Villanueva, SVD and his fish escabeche (sweet and sour sauce), which he learned from his mother who used to have a restaurant in Old Manila, Malate in the late ‘70s. The dish only needs a few ingredients: vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, garlic, onion, carrots, bell pepper, tomato, cornstarch, and, of course, fish. “For fish, you may opt to get the cheaper maya-maya over lapu-lapu,” the guest priest suggested.

What makes this cooking show really unique and a must-watch is the testimonies of the guests. Fr. Flavie was asked to talk about the outreach program he developed as he started frying the maya-maya fish in medium heat.    

President of Arnold Janssen Kalinga Foundation Inc., Fr. Flavie Villanueva, SVD extend care to the people (Photo courtesy of AJ Kalinga Foundation)

A priest of the Society of Divine Word or Societas Verbi Divini (SVD), Fr. Flavie established the St. Arnold Janssen KALINGA center in Tayuman, Sta. Cruz Manila, which provides homeless people dignified, systematic, and holistic care. “KALINGA stands for ‘KAin LIgo NG Ayos.’ We don’t just feed them, but we also give them a venue where they can take a bath so that they can recreate their self-image,” Fr. Flavie said in Filipino.

“Also, we empower them through counseling and giving them basic education such as reading and writing, so they can reclaim their self-respect. And lastly, we give them skills training so that they can find a job, which in the process can restore their self-worth,” beams Fr. Flavie before flipping the fish to its other side. “And now, some of whom we have helped are successful and are currently beneficiary volunteers in the centers we have.”

Society of Divine Word congregation supports the feeding program of Kalinga. (Photo courtesy of AJ Kalinga Foundation)

Father Flavie removed the maya-maya from the pan when it turned golden brown and crispy. After that, he started sauteing the garlic and onion. And as he gradually added the tomatoes, carrots, and bell peppers, he told his personal life story before becoming a priest.

According to Fr. Flavie, despite having a strong Christian foundation through the influence of his religious parents and the Catholic school Don Bosco he attended, he tried different vices including illegal drugs. He confessed that when he got so addicted to drugs, he came to a point of questioning himself if it’s the life he wants to live. Eventually, he decided to do a cold turkey, a sudden and abrupt cessation of taking drugs. Consequently, he underwent rehabilitation in Tagaytay.

While Fr. Flavie stirred the sauce ingredients, he mentioned that World Youth Day in 1995 became his catalyst in his religious vocation. “At first, I doubted becoming a priest. But, I joined Philippine Catholic Lay Mission,” he said before pouring the half cup vinegar.

Fr. Flavie talks about his priestly life with Fr. Roy Bellen and Fr. Hans Magdurulang while cooking the dish

“I finished my three year term in the lay mission before deciding to enter the seminary,” continued Fr. Flavie, then he scattered two tablespoons full of sugar in the pan. 

What’s touching is that the reverend’s change of heart gave his dying father a peaceful death. “My life’s up and down is like this dish that has a sweet and sour flavor,” said Fr. Flavie.

“Not to mention, very colorful,” added the host Fr. Roy. 

KALINGA founder Rev. Fr. Flavie Villanueva celebrating mass. (Photo courtesy of AJ Kalinga Foundation)

After adding a bit of cornstarch to thicken the sauce, the cooking priest sprinkled salt and pepper to the taste. And while waiting for the viand to simmer, he shared what he significantly learned from his experience. “Ang tao, bagamat nalugmok, pwedeng umahon (People, although burdened, are capable of rising up). And our success stories are the gospel that we can share with others who want to become partners in our mission.”

Lastly, he poured the sauce to the fried fish that according to him he decided to cut in parts to set an example that we can share things to our fellowmen. 

Fr. Flavie’s fish escabeche, fried fish with sweet and sour sauce

Indeed, more than sharing good recipes, the show also shares inspiring stories like Fr. Flavie’s that Christians can ponder on not just this Holy Week. We couldn’t agree more that Tastetimony shares food not only for the body but also for the soul.