As with any of the holidays throughout the year, our family’s celebrations always revolve around very good food. Father’s Days of previous years were celebrated eating out at any of my dad’s favorite restaurants. That could be at a popular American pork ribs place or a well loved tonkatsu restaurant.
This time, I’m choosing to feed my dad with my cooking. This is my way of keeping the whole family indoors since the pandemic’s restrictions are still in place, but also as a way of showcasing a couple of realizations I’ve recently had with our relationship with food.
The first one involves our family’s roots. Both my mom and dad have no provinces. There is no region outside Metro Manila where we trace our roots. We are natives of Mandaluyong through and through. Recently, we realized that our beloved city is not known for its edible offerings. There is no food item that is instantly attributed to our city. As much as I’d like to recreate a famous dish from Mandaluyong for my dad, there is no such thing. This prodded me to dig a little deeper and find out what our predecessors enjoyed eating. I discovered that they relied heavily on the Pasig River not only for food but also for livelihood. And so I thought of a dish that highlighted a fish our family loves and that was most likely abundant in the river just a few meters away from our home.
The other realization is that I can no longer deny that our family is not getting any younger, including myself. While I could cook a hearty feast of thick steaks and crunchy pork belly, our health and well-being have to be prioritized.
So here is the dish I am preparing for my dad, Eric, for Father’s Day. I asked other relatives about dishes we no longer serve regularly, and this was one of them. Dalag or mudfish is a household favorite for its tender and clean-tasting flesh. In recent years, we’ve always prepared it as a dish called pesa, where the fish is simply simmered with ginger. This time around, the fish will be cooked afritada-style, where it is first lightly fried then simmered in a thick sauce. I’m sure my dad will love it, and it would make him proud as it pays tribute to our Mandaleño roots.
Happy Father’s Day, dad and to all the hard-working fathers out there!
AFRITADANG DALAG RECIPE
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cooking Time 40 minutes
1 kilo dalag (mudfish), cleaned and sliced into steaks
2½ teaspoons salt, divided
Vegetable oil, for deep-frying and sauteing
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion, sliced
1 tomato, chopped
4 cups water
2½ teaspoons fish sauce
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
1 potato, peeled and cut into wedges
1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
¼ cup breadcrumbs
- Rub fish with 1 teaspoon salt.
- Heat oil in a pan for deep-frying. Fry fish just until light browned but not yet crispy, about 5 minutes per side. Set aside.
- Heat oil in a pot for sauteing. Saute garlic and onion until fragrant.
- Add tomatoes and saute until softened.
- Add water and bring to a simmer. Season with remaining salt, fish sauce, and pepper.
- Add sweet potatoes and potatoes. Cover and simmer until tender, about 10 minutes.
- Add fried fish and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add bell pepper and breadcrumbs. Stir until the sauce is thick. Turn off heat and serve immediately.