Sinigang ng ulo ng maya – maya (fish head in sour soup) Sinigang ng ulo ng maya-maya (fish head in sour soup)

I know, I’ve got so many versions of sinigang (sour soup) on this blog that, perhaps, I shouldn’t bother posting this one. But I will, anyway, for two reasons:

1) The kangkong (water spinach or swamp spinach in the right photo below) that I used here is not the ordinary kind that grows most anywhere without cultivation. Last Sunday’s visit to Farmer’s Market in Cubao, Quezon City led to the discovery of a vegetable called Chinese kangkong. Why it is described as Chinese… I can only guess. It is locally produced cultivated kangkong (below, left). The stalks are thinner and softer and the leaves are sweetish. They a lot more expensive too. While a bunch of the ordinary kangkong costs around PhP 5.00, a bunch of Chinese kangkong, half a kilo in weight, cost us PhP 40.00. It was worth the price, however. This variety of kangkong is so tender that no boiling or simmering is required. Just drop them into the hot broth, turn off the heat and cover. Leave for a few minutes and they’re ready. head of maya chinese kangkong

2) I used a whole head of maya-maya (above, left), one kilogram in weight, to make this sinigang. I suppose the best way to describe it is that you really haven’t experienced sinigang na isda until you’ve tried sinigang na ulo ng isda. Except for the scales and the bones, everything in a fish head is edible–the meat, the ligaments, the lips, the jelly-like skin, the eyes and even the bone marrow. And everything is just delicious.

Ingredients :

1 whole head of maya-maya, about a 1 kilo
1 500-g. bunch of Chinese kangkong
(You may also add diced eggplants, okra and taro)
2 onions, peeled and sliced
1/2 head of garlic, peeled and crushed
2-3 tomatoes, diced
1/4 kilo of sampalok na mura (young tamarinds) or 5-6 ripe bayabas (guava) or 1 pack of powdered sinigang mix
2 tbsps. of cooking oil

Cooking procedure :

The traditional way of cooking sinigang is to use the water in which the uncooked rice had been washed. I don’t do this unless the rice was bought in sealed packages. If the rice was bought by the kilo from the wet market where it had been exposed to dust, smoke and grime, I skip the rice washing part. I simply use water.

When you buy fish head, ask the fishmonger to clean it for you. The fish head is weighed before the gills are removed. Be sure to have the fishmonger remove the gills before packing the fish head. A fish head this big… well, pulling out the gills ain’t fun at all.

If you’re using fresh sampalok, boil them in water until mushy. Without removing them from the water, mash with a fork then strain.

If you’re using bayabas, cut away the skin and roughly chop the meat.

Heat the cooking oil in a large casserole. Saute the garlic, onions and tomatoes until soft. Add the souring agent–sampalok puree, bayabas or powdered sinigang mix. Pour in about 5 cups of water. Season with patis (fish sauce). Lower the fish head into the liquid. Bring to a boil then lower the heat, cover and simmer. When the flesh from the cheeks of the fish falls, the fish is cooked.

Place the trimmed Chinese kangkong on top, pushing the kangkong into the soup. Cover and leave to wilt for about 3-4 minutes.

Note that if you want to add eggplants, okra, gabi (taro), etc., you will need to cook them separately in boiling salted water. Another technique is to cook them in the soup before adding the fish head, then removing them with a slotted spoon. Add them to the soup again just before serving.


  1. Gena cockerell says

    Hi Connie,
    When i was in HongKong,i ate a lot of chinese spinach cooked in with chillies and some preserved tokwa its delish!Here in New Zealand i grow chinese spinach from seeds since i can’t buy them here.The photo looks appetising gutom tuloy ako.

  2. Ebba says

    Here in Houston Texas, with the arrival of so many Vietnamese, the produce section of local groceries got plentiful of “asian” veggies. And then Asian market sprung up, and gosh, there were vegetables and herbs that I have not seen before. This chinese kangkong that you are talking about, I did not even know they are different that the local ones I am familiar with.. when I saw them, I just though it was a different variety, and I cooked them the same length of time. But I did notice though the taste. Anyway, since I love kangkong and they are sold in certain period of the year, I did not care if they are chinese or filipino type. I just buy them. Oww, I did not know the Maya Maya is the local name for the “Red Snapper”. Wow!

  3. says

    Gena, I know a dish that sounds very similar to what you described. We add tausi (salted black beans) and chopped lechon kawali though. :)

    Ebba, Chinese kangkong is so much more tender and requires a shorter cooking time. Local kangkong is great only if not too mature.