Food from The Philippines: Bolinao (stinky fish)

Dried Bolinao fish from The Philippines
Dried Bolinao fish from The Philippines (click to enlarge)

Dried Bolinao fish

Dried Bolinao is the official name, stinky fish is my nickname. There are many many types of dried fish in The Philippines. Walk into any market and you will find a section dedicated to sun-dried fish. From whole squid, to slices of the unknown. From fish heads to delicate tiny little fish it’s all here.

Real names of dried fish are hard to come by

Few people will quote the exact names to me. “Dried fish!” is what I am constantly told. But, each Filipino has their favorite, and then you will find the real name. Though, personally, I still have my doubts! Bolinao is a place in the Philippines so I imagine this particular little dried fish comes from there, hence the name.

I chose to highlight this little fish as the number one dried fish that seems to be universally liked is indeed: Bolinao. A tiny little blue silver fish no longer than a little finger. And, boy do they “collectively” stink!

Trust me when I say –

“If you want to make a Filipino happy, get them some dried bolinao”

In an open market the fish hang there. The smell is bad, but bearable. In a supermarket they are usually sealed, so only the wafts from the nearby Durian fruit will hit you.

The real smell of dried fish from The Philippines

Open a packet and the sweet salty smell hits your nasal cavity in musky sticky waves. And, it stays in the air. It will get more intense though.

Wait until you smell a pan full of these tiny little dried fish being cooked. Rancid acid mixed with scrapings from the bottom of a murky seabed is as close as I can get to a similar smell. It’s harsh, and can make your eyes water.

Dried Bolinao fish
Dried Bolinao fish, no smello vision needed!

Bolinao is a delicacy

Filipinos will tell me they are crying with happiness when cooking it. Again, I have my doubts. Strangely the number of Filipinos complaining of an upset stomach the next day is quite high too! … just saying!

No, dried fish as you may gather is not for me. Yes, I have tried. Against my will I may add. And, yes, my stomach instantly turned into liquid. Now, even the smell makes me gag.

I guess dried bolinao or dried fish must be good!

100 million Filipinos consider their dried fish a delicacy, so it must indeed be just me! Indeed hop over to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and parts of China and you will find lovers of dried fish. Northern Europe too, with many Scandinavians drooling at the thought of salted dried fish.

So yes, Bolinao or any dried fish, is not for me. But, it’s at the top of many a Filipinos must eats!

This is an additional post and one of a series highlighting Food in The Philippines

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19 Replies to “Food from The Philippines: Bolinao (stinky fish)”

  1. I like fish, but will say no to dried fish. I imagine the bacteria count must be huge!

  2. There is a good alternative in South Africa called Biltong. It is dried and spiced meat. A true delicacy and not so much an acquired taste as dried fish appears to be.

    1. I’ve heard of this! Dried meat I can handle. In fact I usually have a small supply as its a lot better for long bus trips than breads etc. And, as you say, so acquired taste needed :)

  3. But it’s so delicious! You know what would make your tummy churn even more? Ginamos! That’s a delicacy in the south made of the same small fishies kept in a brine solution for days. You can say it’s like rotten fish concoction. But we love this. We put a lot of calamansi, the Philippine lemon and eat this with a plateful of rice.

    Dare to try?

    1. Ewww. Is that also known as shrimp paste? Again, I’ve seen this. And, I want to run a mile. Not for me at all!!! I’ve seen people here store this paste like it’s gold!

      1. Shrimp paste is different because ginamos is made of fish, not shrimp. But yeah, not for the faint of heart ;-) It’s funny because the most common topic I talk about with people from different countries is: What’s the strangest food that’s native to your country? Surely nothing beats dog!

        Hope no one’s offended by that.

        1. The only thing that’s really creeped me out on my travels was “Monkey” in West Africa. Just does not seem right. Rat, is above dog too, just because it tastes bad :)

  4. It’s one types of Salted Fish, and considered as delicacy in lots of places.

    You can use it to stir-fry veggies, fried rice, steam it with pork, or cook it with curry, etc. It smells bad but taste pretty good, maybe you can give it another try? :)

    Btw, you don’t want to see how it’s being processed ;)

    1. Nope, not going to mix it into my food :) It’s happened in public eating places, and I nearly gag. I’ve seen people drying it out it the open, not too bad. It’s the digestion I can’t handle!

  5. You have to bring some for me when you fly to Manila so I can try it! I’m not really fond of dried fish as they tend to be too salty for my taste. However, vinegar and crushed garlic on the side balances the salty taste =) I have tried several dried fish but I’ve no idea whether I’ve tried the Bolinao before. I like smoked fish or tinapa better =) That was my brunch this morning =)

  6. Oh God, Bolinao!!!! I love it! Dried and soaked/ dipped in really spicy coconut vinegar, or fresh as a kinilaw, or mixed in with omelette!

    Dried fish is poor man’s food. If you can’t afford to buy meat, then dried fish is the cheapest.

    It really shows which part of the country you are in. Other regions don’t call this Bolinao. And it’s a pretty popular fish in Visayas and Mindanao, particularly in Northern Mindanao (where I grew up hearing Bolinao, Borongoy gisuroy every single day).

    I think if you are to lump all dried fishes into one category, it’s BULAD in Cebuano and DAING in Tagalog.

    1. Thanks for the translation!! Much appreciated. I was going to make the whole article about dried fish, but it would mean spending too much time surrounded by it :( Bolinao must be in Mindanao so! I think many places withing the Philippines have different names for the same things! Daing sounds familiar too, maybe I am finally grasping the linguistics here :)

  7. Haha, a good snack while hiking. I have only eaten dried fish occasionally, but since discarding my vegetarian past a long time ago, I have really loved eating the heads off of things.

  8. Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t the dried fish pictured called “dilis” in Tagalog?

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