A rare offering that’s almost impossible to find
The historic town of Kawit was a popular lunch destination for Manila foodies in the 1970s, when the 25-kilometer trip was pleasantly traffic-free and inexpensive even for motorists driving six-cylinder cars.
City folk could not get enough of the fresh seafood offered by two restaurants, both built in the middle of productive and fully operational real fishponds Josephine’s and Seven Sisters. Fishermen tended the fishponds, unlike today’s fish restaurants, which keep fish in glass aquariums, ice boxes, shallow water basins, and freezers.
The restaurants’ dishes were simple peasant meals: pinangat, pinaksiw, sinigang, and many kinds of shellfish harvested daily from oyster beds and shellfish bamboo farms nearby. The oysters, clams, mussel, and snails were kept alive in ponds called pabiyayan until ready to cook.
But easily the most popular item on the menu was a dish, which was still a novelty at the time—Pinaputok na Kitang. Kitang was, even then, getting rare. Today it’s nearly impossible to find. The recipe for Pinaputok now uses other types of fish, including bangus, tilapia, and some other saltwater fish.
Staff of the two restaurants told me the name Pinaputok came from the description of the fish on the dinner table. “Halos pumutok ang tiyan sa dami ng palaman (Fish belly almost bursting from too much stuffing).”
To make the dish the fish is kept whole with scales intact. The gills and guts are extracted through a cut on the fish’s back, which creates a pouch for stuffing of chopped tomatoes, onions, and grated ginger. Layers of banana leaves are wrapped around the stuffed fish, rolled tightly, and secured. The wrapped fish is grilled over wood or coconut shell charcoal until the banana leaf is almost charred.
Although Pinaputok and Pinangat use identical ingredients, they do not at all taste alike.
Pinaputok has not escaped the trend among young chefs to insist upon meddling with dishes that do not need alteration. I have seen, and refused to taste, Pinaputok with cheese and other alien ingredients.
Staff of the two restaurants told me the name Pinaputok came from the description of the fish on the dinner table. ‘Halos pumutok ang tiyan sa dami ng palaman (Fish belly almost bursting from too much stuffing).’
Some of my favorite fish for this recipe are lapu-lapu, apahap, pampano, sole, flounder, and snapper.
The concept of fishpond restaurants has now spread along highways nationwide, with some very disappointing results. I have found most of them trying to recoup their investment by charging astronomical prices for the most simple fish dishes like inihaw na hito or pritong tilapia. But most unforgivable is the frequent instances when fish served is no longer fresh, defeating the purpose of eating in the middle of a fishpond.
Pinaputok today is served almost everywhere in varying degrees of sophistication, although the dish is more often fried than broiled.
Surprisingly, a recent innovation produced one of the best Pinaputok I have ever had. The recipe called for the stuffing of chopped onions, tomatoes, garlic, and ginger to be sautéed until wilted. The mixture was cooled before stuffing into the fish which was wrapped in banana leaves and broiled (or fried) until fully done. The result was a dish that was mellow with flavors all blending harmoniously.
The possibilities are limitless with hundreds of possible combinations of oils and herbs, depending on what is available at what time of the year.