I remember a part from Fr. Andrew M. Greeley’s novel Lord of the Dance
wherein the Farrells are sitting down to a Good Friday dinner of baked whitefish and potatoes paired with a dry white wine. Now, this Holy Week repast may do for well-to-do Irish-American families, but you can just imagine the howls of protest if someone is foolhardy enough to serve such a meal in a Filipino household. It’s bad enough that your blood sugar is down from a day’s fasting, but to be expected to break your fast with a bland meal? You’ve got to be kidding!
My siblings and I were fortunate to grow up in a home where meals have never been bland or insipid even on Ember Days (the name traditionally given to Ash Wednesday, all Fridays of Lent, and Good Friday, all of which call for fasting and abstinence). There would be sarciado (a fried fish smothered in a mild tomato salsa; known as cardillo in the provinces of Rizal and Laguna), lumpiang isda (fried spring rolls filled with sauteed milkfish), and pinaputok na tilapia (tilapia stuffed with ginger, onions, and tomatoes, wrapped in banana leaves, and deep fried). Sometimes, a pork-free pinakbet flavored with bagoong isda will accompany these dishes; other times, suam – a soup made with corn and squash blossoms flavored with smoked fish – will be served as an appetizer. Fish or prawn sinigang was also an option, along with crisp-fried daing na bangus (salt-dried milkfish).
For those of you who want to serve something different from the usual fried-fish / steamed-fish / fish-in-soup menus, here are a few ideas from several popular local restaurants for your Lenten menu: