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:
- Clams in Coconut Milk from Banana Leaf Curry House (pictured at the top of this post) This is a change from the usual halaang may sabaw (clams cooked in a clear broth). It is savory and spicy, so it goes down very well with lots of rice.
- Seafood Yaki-udon from SumoSam If you’d rather have noodles instead of rice, this Japanese dish will be a good choice. The savory sauce balances the flavors of the shrimp, crabstick, and nori used in the dish and the noodles add a chewy textural interest.
- Vegetarian cha gio from Pho Hoa Who doesn’t like spring rolls? These are filled with a lot of crunchy veggies – quite satisfying even without the meat. Tofu and wood-ear mushrooms (known locally as tengang daga [mouse ears]) take the place of meat.
- Sashimi Teishoku from Shin Ramen Tei Fresh seafood, rice, and veg never had it so good. Be sure to get only the freshest fish or grab some pre-sliced sashimi from your supermarket’s seafood section if you’re planning to make this at home. Better safe than sorry, after all.
- Ika Fry from Smairu This Oriental version of calamares fritos is a real crowd-pleaser and, if you have kids, are absolutely fun to eat. Get a good meaty squid to slice into rings and cover them well with panko seasoned with salt, pepper, and a bit of Chinese five-spice powder. Serve with Japanese mayo and a sweetish sauce (tonkatsu sauce works quite well), and you’re good to go.