Being in the central plains of Luzon, people are sometimes surprised to know that Pampanga, too, has a fishing trade, an industry associated with coastal places like Navotas, Malabon, and the Visayan islands.
Actually, Pampanga has an area that is heavily watered by the great Pampanga River and its tributaries. In the delta towns of Guagua, Lubao and Sasmuan, as well as in the low-lying towns of Masantol, Macabebe, San Luis and Candaba, fisheries is a source of livelihood.
Fisherfolks catch fish either by the traditional method of setting traps in the water or by building fish ponds, which are a common sight in Macabebe and Masantol, where they are diked and seeded with fingerlings.
Upon maturity, the fish are harvested by letting the waters spill out. Large fishponds also served as swimming holes and picnic sites in the 20s-30s, as they not only had picturesque locations but they also provided an unlimited number of fish for food. Unfortunately, ponds have also become contributors to the worsening of the flood situations in these areas after the silting of major estuaries caused by the Pinatubo eruption. Fishponds have also been blamed for the disappearance of mangroves since their proliferation beginning in the 1970s.
In Candaba, depending on the season, the swamp serves a dual function. During summer, it is used as an agricultural field to plant rice, vegetables and grow watermelons. But when the wet season arrives and rainwater fill the swamp, it turns into a lake teeming with bangus (milkfish), tilapia, paro (shrimp), ema (crab) and bulig (mudfish). (Tip: the Friday Candaba Market in Clark is the go-to place for the freshest catch of fish, shrimps, crabs, eels and other crustaceans).
“Asan” is the Kapampangan term for “fish”, but today, when people ask “Nanung asan yu?”, they also mean “What’s your food?”—whether your “ulam” (viand) be made of meat or vegetable. “Masan” is a verb meaning “to eat”, it is specific to eating cooked fish or meat, thus, “masan asan” is “eat cooked fish”. There is hardly a difference between “asan” and “ulam”, as used today, which underlines the importance of fish in the life of the Kapampangan.
While today’s Kapampangan is familiar with fish like itu (catfish), kanduli (salmon catfish) , sapsap (ponyfish) and talangka (small crabs), our old folks knew other kinds of fish with fascinating names that may sound alien to our ears today. A goldfish was called “talangtalang”, while a “pacut” is a small crab. Another name for kanduli is “tabangongo”, a “talunasan”, an edible eel. A “palimanoc” is a ray fish, a “tag-agan”—a swordfish, and its small look-alike is called “balulungi”,
Our contribution to the culinary world include fish-based treats that include “burung asan” (using bulig),”balo-balo” (using tilapia, gurami and shrimp), and “taba ning talangka”. We also have our delectable versions of sisig bangus, pesang bulig and rellenong bangus. During Lent, we prepare sarsiado, escabeche, suam a tulya, and seafood bringhi. In our fiestas and holidays, we serve fancy fish dishes like Pescado el Gratin, Chuletas (fish fillet), and Pescado con Mayonesa. For many Kapampangans, there’s never a day without fish on the table.
“Nanung asan yu?”