Budget cooking: sweet and sour pla-pla

casaveneracion.com sweet and sour pla-pla

At the market yesterday morning, I was shocked at the prices of fish. Whole talakitok (trevally) at three hundred pesos per kilo, maya-maya steaks (red snapper) at two hundred and seventy and tanigue (Spanish mackerel?) steaks at a jaw-dropping three hundred and seventy per kilo.

It’s even more shocking when you consider that the Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands. We have so much water teeming with marine life that it’s quite incredible that the high price of fish is due to some shortage. But there is a kind of shortage. Two reasons: First, the Philippines has an export economy. We export the best of our produce and what get sold locally are only the ones that would get rejected by rich countries. Second, foreign corporations are allowed to fish in our seas and what they catch they ship directly to their countries for consumption or to their buyers elsewhere. I hate politicizing food like this but all that is true.

So, what then? Give up seafood? Not necessarily. Just choose the less expensive varieties. Like pla-pla. What is pla-pla? A college friend whose family owned fish ponds in Laguna once invited us for a weekend and served a lot of grilled pla-pla. I wasn’t familiar with the term, I asked what it was and he said they are big tilapia. If a tilapia is over a kilogram in weight, it is pla-pla. There are others who claim, however, that pla-pla is a cross-breed of tilapia and lapu-lapu (grouper). I don’t know which description is more accurate but I known that I love tilapia and I prefer them large. So, turning away from the expensive tanigue and talakitok, I bought a whole pla-pla (ninety pesos per kilo), a few maya-maya steaks (cheaper than both talakitok and tanigue) and a half a head of maya-maya (a hundred and seventy per kilo).

I was thinking of steaming the pla-pla to update the steamed whole fish recipe that I posted some eleven and a half years ago but Speedy was fantasizing about fried fish with crisp skin. We compromised. I’d fry the pla-pla but I’d serve it with sweet and sour sauce. There is a sweet and sour fish recipe in the archive but I did this one differently. Instead of making sweet and sour sauce from scratch which would have taken at least 20 minutes, I added a few things to the sweet chili sauce that I had made to turn it into a sweet and sour sauce.

casaveneracion.com sweet and sour pla-pla

I added a few teaspoonfuls of rice wine vinegar to the sweet chili sauce, I miscalculated and made it too sour and too thin so I added honey to balance the sweet with the sour. Then, to deepen the color, a drizzle of chili and garlic sauce. Sweet and sour sauce done in less than a minute.

casaveneracion.com sweet and sour pla-pla

Then, I fried the pla-pla which I had earlier scored and salted (you might want to see how to score a whole fish). Fried to a crisp just like Speedy likes his fish.

casaveneracion.com sweet and sour pla-pla

I topped with fried pla-pla with slices of raw onion, drizzled the sauce over the fish, sprinkled it with crisp shallots and toasted garlic bits, and, my favorite finishing touch — snipped cilantro.

casaveneracion.com sweet and sour pla-pla

And that was what remained of the pla-pla.

casaveneracion.com sweet and sour pla-pla

Oh, yes, as cheap as it was, dinner was very good.

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The Author

Hello, my name is Connie Veneracion. I cook, I shoot, I write. But I don't do the laundry. I don't like housekeeping very much either... (more about me)

16 Responses

  1. Carol B. says:

    Muka ngang masarap! Walang natira para kay Pssssssttttt.

    Grabe pala ang mahal ng seafoods dyan ngayon. Nakakaawa yung mga minimum lang ang sweldo. Maski nga yung hindi minimum ang sweldo eh mahihirapang magseafoods diet.

    We lived in Quezon province for 3 yrs when I was a kid. Natatandaan ko pa na kapag tumambay ka sa pantalan, makakaipon ka ng sariwang-sariwang isda na pwede ng ulam ng mag-anak sa maghapon kapag masipag kang magpulot ng mga nalalaglag na isda galing sa mga banyerang inaahon from the boat. Makakabili ka ng murang tanigue o lapulapu dun, yun nga lang medyo maliit. I guess kailangang manirahan ng mga mahihirap nating kababayan sa tabing dagat para makatikim ng mga isdang nabanggit mo.

    Export economy is okay as long as it is not to the detriment of the locals. Ang isang very obvious na product na locals ang nagsasuffer ay ang saging. Walang mabiling saging dyan sa atin na kasing ganda ng saging na iniexport natin sa ibang bansa.

    • The cycle works like this: we export the fruits, then the fruits are re-exported to us (often canned) but at a much higher price. Just think Del Monte and Dole.

      And it’s not just with food but with a lot of other goods too. Clothes are made in far flung places (sub-contracted) where the sewers get dirt-cheap pay, then, the clothes are shipped to Europe and the US. Then, the same clothes will re-enter the Philippines as designer brands with the corresponding designer price tags. That’s why I like buying at that flea market in Wright Park in Baguio. All the rejects and overruns — designer labels — at about 5% of the boutique prices. Same banana but with a button missing here and there… Easy enough to fix.

  2. Dexie says:

    So that’s what pla-pla is. I was wondering about it this morning when I saw this in Facebook. Sometimes I get that craving for fried skin too like Speedy. :)

  3. tony says:

    wow! looks yummy! might as well try it . i got some tilapia in the fridge that i bought live the other day.iba talaga nag lasa ng live and its great for steaming,too.i prefer our native bananas and pineapples to the exported Dole and Del MOnte kinds because they are cultured and full of pesticides that is why they are blemish-free and looks so perfect. mas masarap pa ang texture at lasa ng “kalawangin” variety natin from the boondocks.i am saddened by the fact that fishermen harvest palm-sized lapu-lapu and other big fish variety before they get to their full size.huli lang ng huli basta kumita so we are not able to maximize the full potential of our marine life.in other countries they ban this practice.. sad to say na may mga kaagaw pa tayo sa resources natin and we are so helpless about it. anyway,thanks Connie fpr another great dish.take care!

  4. Dexie, I like the crispy skin too but frying fish is soooo smelly inside the house. :-P

    Tony, and then there’s the uncontrolled fishpen farming which is killing the lakes and rivers…

    • Carol B. says:

      I find coffee to be a good odor neutralizer. Just boil some water with a little bit of coffee (I use instant coffee) in it and let the steam dominate the air. Kapag nawala na yung amoy ng coffee, wala na rin yung amoy ng fish. I got the idea nung nagtitingin ako ng perfume. Binigyan ako ng saleslady ng coffee beans na amuyin ko raw before smelling the next perfume. I asked her why at ang sabi nya para daw maneutralized yung smell before ako umamoy uli ng another one.

      Pinapakuluan ko rin sa coffee ang food na normally ay maamoy kapag niluluto like trifes and intestines. Dito kasi sobrang tapang ng amoy ng mga laman-loob kaya yung iba ilang beses pinapakuluan yun at pinipiga.

      • Wow, that is a great technique! We usually go the oil burner route to remove the odor but the smell of coffee sounds so great! Thanks!

        • Carol B. says:

          Aside from oil burner, I also tried all kinds of gel odor absorber and scented candles but no success. Kapag nakatira ka kasi sa lugar na more than 6 months ka na hindi pwedeng magbukas ng windows, you tend to experiment on how you can keep your home smelling fresh.

          Sayang nga walang mahilig magkape sa amin kaya instant coffee lang meron ako. Imagine kung brewed pa gamit ko.

  5. Dexie says:

    Thanks for the tip Carol B. :) Now I don’t have to retort to broiling the fish just to get that fried skin without stinking up the house :).

  6. Blackwidow says:

    For a no brainer sweet and sour sauce, I use bottled sweet chili sauce. I add ketchup, water to thin it a bit then boil the mixture. Once it boils, I add the onion, bell pepper and pineapple and right away turn off the heat and pour over the fish.