Dried Fish – A Filipino Cuisine with a Strong Odor

August 9, 2013

While I wouldn’t be one to call dried fish (tuyo in Tagalog) a cuisine, many Filipinos would beg to differ with me.

It’s extremely salty and the odor it produces when it’s cooking is quite strong.

Many non-Filipinos can’t stand the smell or the taste.

Filipino Dried Fish in Yuma, Arizona

Prior to getting married to my wife in 1985, I’d never tasted or smelled dried fish. One day when my wife and I were living in our first apartment, she started cooking some dried fish. I don’t remember where she got it from but I think one of the other Filipinas living in our apartment complex had brought some back from San Diego, California.

Our apartment was on the second floor and the front door and picture window were next to an outdoor hallway that looked more like a sidewalk – kind of what a Motel 6 looks like. The smell of the dried fish while cooking was horrible, at least in my opinion, but tolerable. Our next-door apartment neighbors didn’t think it was even tolerable. The wife came out of her apartment, said something like “What’s that awful smell?”, ran back into her apartment and closed her window (that was just like ours).

Filipino Dried Fish in the Philippines

Between 1985 and 2006, I avoided dried fish as much as I could. I had tasted it at least once and it was way too salty to even taste the fish. Then I moved to the Philippines in 2006 and I could no longer avoid it.

While living in the Philippines, I’ve smelled dried fish regularly (while cooking and after it’s cooked) and I’ve watched relatives munching down on it as ulam (the main dish) with their rice. I can eat it now without wanting to spit it out immediately, but I still prefer not to eat it at all. The smell doesn’t bother me much anymore.

Dried Fish

I don’t know exactly what species of fish are used (and there are multiple species used), but a dried fish is a corned, sun-dried fish popular with Filipinos because it won’t spoil for weeks, even without refrigeration. The fish are very small, the size of goldfish and they’re usually eaten whole.

They’re extremely salty and most Filipinos like salty foods. I only like salt on french fries, popcorn and as a seasoning on certain foods. I like the taste of fish (if it doesn’t taste too “fishy”), not the taste of salt. I even like canned tuna better than dried fish.

(The smell of it while it’s being dried or while it’s being cooked, reminds me of the smell of stinky feet. Back when I used to be plagued by foot odor, my wife teased me that my feet smelled like dried fish. At this point, I really can’t tell you which smell is worse.)

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