Kitchen & Pantry

The tawilis mystery

One of the mainstays in the menu of restaurants in the Tagaytay and Batangas aras is tawilis. Often, deep fried to a crisp so that every part, bones and head included, is edible.

The tawilis mystery

Tawilis is a sardine but it is a class all its own because it is the only member of the family Clupeidae that is known to exist entirely in freshwater. Tawilis is only found in Taal Lake. And the lake itself is part of the mystery of tawilis. There is some evidence that Taal Lake was once partly filled with salt water as it was once connected to the South China Sea. When the connection was closed as topography changed over the centuries, the lake turned purely freshwater and it is said that many salt water animals adapted to their new habitat.

Hence, an explanation as to why a sardine became a freshwater fish. So surmises Thomas Hargrove in his book The Mysteries of Taal. Hargrove was obsessed with Taal for a long, long time. If the name sounds familiar, his kidnapping which he chronicled in a book became the movie Proof of Life starring Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan.

Question: If the tawilis is only found in Taal Lake, which is a very small lake, then supply must be very limited. Why is it that tawilis is widely sold in almost every market in Metro Manila at very cheap prices? That doesn’t really make sense in view of the law of supply and demand. Is it possible that they are not some other kind of and are just being passed off as real tawilis? Are we being duped?

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