I really find it awesome and interesting to see how everyday stuff is made way before factories started making them by the chemical batch load. This place in Lingayen, a province in Pangasinan, we have gone to before, but it was late at night, and since I was younger, I was more focused on the swimming part in the beach nearby more than anything else (I still was, on this trip, seriously.) But even with my adamant demands of “BEACH!” every time they mentioned Lingayen, I was still requesting that they do not go to the patis and bagoong place while we were at the beach. So we ended up going there first, and it was amazing.
Just to be clear, patis and bagoong are common cooking and everyday ingredients here in the Philippines. Patis is fish sauce, which comes from salted fish which is allowed to ferment. For at least six months at least. The bagoong definition will become a bit more confusing though. Bagoong in the common Filipino language refers to the sweet and spicy shrimp paste that are sold in grocery stores in bottled form and is served with unripe green mangoes. But for this one, I shall refer to the Kapampangan (referring to the province of Pampanga, or Tarlac) version of bagoong, which is also called alubebe (all in short vowels). This is almost the same thing as the patis, but wherein the patis is a clear golden liquid, alubebe (or bagoong) includes the fermented fish parts. YEAAAAH. And what do the Kapampangan called the sweet and spicy shrimp paste? Alamang (also pronounced all in short vowels). Now you know.
So this place is in Pangampisan Norte in Lingayen, Pangasinan. My inang (grandmother, mom’s mom) only bought from this place. The original owner is now 91 years old, I think. So we dealt with her daughter. But she answered all of our questions brilliantly, I have no doubt she really does this herself.
So first, they have fish, different kinds and sizes, using either galunggong or tamban. They remove the heads. They make use of specially dried salt from Saul (another province in Pangasinan) which are really dried. It cannot be partly wet. This would make it fermenting process go bad and contribute to the spoilage. The salt and fish would be mixed together and this is the recipe for both the patis and bagoong. This is then topped with the salted heads of the fish. During these six months, watery part separates from the more meaty part. The watery part can be harvested for fish sauce. But the whole thing has now become bagoong. You can only get so much of the fish sauce, otherwise you’ll be left with a too dry bagoong, which isn’t good too.
You can imagine the stench of vats of fermenting fish. If you have smelled fish sauce, imagine bathing in that scent, and that is how the place smelled like. But the surprising thing is, there are no flies in the area. It’s all clean. Just a wafting scent of bagoong and patis. Not everybody likes this smell. But it’s a comforting scent, something familiar.