Taste the difference: Where to buy the ‘best’ dried fish in Aklan

Jed Nykolle Harme

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Taste the difference: Where to buy the ‘best’ dried fish in Aklan

DRIED FISH. Limelyn Fernandez sundries freshly caught anchovies in Barangay Jawili, Tangalan, Aklan to ensure the finest quality dried fish, in February 2024.

Jed Nykolle Harme/Rappler

Locals in Jawili Beach say their bestseller, dilis, is not too salty since they only use freshwater for washing and refrain from adding extra salt, making it the perfect pasalubong

AKLAN, Philippines – Jawili Beach in Tangalan, Aklan, around an hour and a half away from Boracay Island, is known for its long stretch of white sand beach with shallow waters. While it has become a destination away from the crowds, it is in this village where tourists can find the best dried fish pasalubong (souvenir).

Dried fish in Jawili has a taste that sets it apart from other dried fish products in nearby provinces, according to locals. Their bestseller, dilis, is not too salty. This is because they only use fresh seawater for washing and refrain from adding extra salt, making it the perfect pasalubong in town.

“Hinahanap-hanap ‘yan ng mga turista dito sa Aklan, kasi hindi maalat ang mga tuyo namin dito. Masarap daw, kumpara sa iba,” said Myrlyn Cidar, a seasoned dried fish seller in Jawili.

(That’s what tourists are looking for here in Aklan, because our dried fish here isn’t salty. They say it’s delicious, compared to others.)

They sell various dried products, including fish, shrimp, and squid, each with different flavors. Prices range from P50 to P1,200 per kilo, depending on the buyer’s preference.

PASALUBONG. These dried fish products can be found in Barangay Jawili, Tangalan, Aklan, around an hour and a half from Boracay. Jed Nykolle Harme/Rappler

Small fishing boats and bamboo nets dot the shores of this village, where fishing serves as the primary livelihood for many fishermen and their families.

Antonio Fernandez, 48, has been a fisherman in Tangalan for almost 40 years now. He started really young, when his parents were struggling to earn enough money to support the needs of the family. 

As the only male among four siblings, he has had to struggle to survive too, including facing danger at sea. “Pitong beses eon ako naeunod una sa eawod. Ro pinakaulihi hay ku Disyembre, tumakeob ang baroto sa kabaskog it humbak, haanod man ako sa pampang it Jawili pagkatapos it pilang oras,”  he said.

(I almost drowned in the sea seven times. The most recent incident was in December last year when my boat sank due to a surge of waves. I was later found at Jawili beach after a few hours.)

Antonio told Rappler he has no choice but to live off the coasts, even if it wasn’t the life he dreamed of. “Unga pat-ang gasunod sa eawod kato, hay di ka man kapili sing pwede ubrahon,” he said. “Kinahang-ean magbulig ka sing ginakanan. Kung indi, uwa kami it kan-on.”

(I was still young when I had to go to the sea to catch fish, because I had no other option. I had to help my parents, because if not, we couldn’t eat.)

Antonio, along with other fisherfolk in Tangalan, use small motorized boats to go fishing. They usually start at 4 pm and come back around 7 am the next day. A good catch, he said, is around 50 kilograms of anchovy for 15 hours of work. 

He also used to venture into the waters of Romblon or Mindoro from Aklan to catch tuna. However, many of his friends lost their lives in the process, so he chose not to continue with it.

NETS. Fisherman Antonio Fernandez crafts his own bamboo frames with nets for drying fish. Jed Nykolle Harme/Rappler

“Malisod ro kabuhi iya. Uwa ako naila nga raya ro madangatan sa akong mga unga man sa ulihi. Kaya bisan delikado, gahutuhot kami sang asawa nga mapatapos sanda tanan, agud indi sanda matugpa iya eang sa baybay,” Antonio said.

(Life is so tough here. I don’t want my children to experience the same hardship. That’s why, despite dangers, my wife and I work tirelessly to ensure they earn their degrees, so that their future will not be anchored to the sea.)

Limelyn Fernandez, 48, a mother of four, has been assisting her husband Antonio for 21 years. It is Limelyn who dries the fish and sells it to make ends meet.

She shared with Rappler that they once left life at sea after they got married in 1997. Both of them worked in a shoe factory in Laguna. However, they had to return to Jawili in 2003 because their jobs couldn’t support their needs. It was then that they realized that life closer to the nation’s capital was more challenging than life at sea.

Limelyn said that for every 50 kilograms of anchovy, they can make up to 13 kilograms of dilis after 2 to 3 days of sun drying. It is there where they can make a profit of P500 to P600. Not enough to support the needs of her children. 

“Minsan, may mga kasama pa akong tumutulong ding magbilad ng dilis. Kaya yung P500 na kita, paghahatian pa namin,” she said. 

(Sometimes, I also have companions who help with drying fish, so if we make P500 profit, we will divide it among us.)

“Nalulugi kami kasi yung buyers yung nagbibigay ng presyo sa paninda namin. Kami yung nagbibilad pero sila yung kumikita ng malaki. Wala naman kaming magawa kasi, ganoon talaga rito eh,” she added.  

(We often incur losses because the buyers are the ones who set the prices for our goods. We are the ones who dry the fish, but they are the ones who profit greatly. We can’t do anything about it because that’s just how it is here.)

Limelyn said that during rainy season, instead of drying the fish, they are forced to sell fresh anchovy for a very cheap price to earn money. If not, she make ginamos (fermented fish made from anchovies), where the process takes one to two weeks to ferment. 

“Mas lugi kami tuwing tag-ulan, lalo na sa ginamos, kasi kami pa bibili ng asin. Halos wala nang kita. Matagal ang proseso, kaya matagal din ang balik ng pera,” she said.

(We don’t earn so much when it’s rainy season, especially since we’re the ones who buy the salt. We almost don’t earn at all. The process takes long, so the returns take a long time as well.)

To survive, Limelyn does other side jobs: planting pechay (cabbage), raising free-range chicken, and selling fish balls to support the education of her children. 

Despite the challenges, Antonio and Limelyn have been able to send all of their children to school. Two of them are now in college and the youngest in senior high school. They also managed to see their first born earn her degree in Information Technology.

“Nangungutang kaming mag-asawa para sa pag-aaral ng mga anak namin, kasi ayaw kong magaya sila sa amin. Hindi kami titigil na mangisda, hindi kami mapapagod magbilad sa araw kahit mahirap, hangga’t hindi sila nakapagtapos,” Limelyn said. 

(We borrow money for our children’s education, because I don’t want them to end up like us. We won’t stop fishing, we will not be tired of sun drying, even though it’s hard, until they finish their studies.) – Rappler.com

Jed Nykolle Harme is an associate editor at Eamigas Publication, and is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow for 2023-2024.

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