This is one of my dad’s favorite dish. Some people call it “the Philippines answer to Japan’s Sushi” since it is, basically, a dish of uncooked fish. Though, technically, it has more in common to Latin America’s ceviche since the dish is cooked by the vinegar marinade.
As far as my research went this is an Original Visayan dish and probably originated somewhere in the Island of Samar or that of Leyte, basing on the ingredients that are used and the folklore behind it.
The word “kinilaw” is derived from the bisaya term “kilaw” which means “eaten fresh”. The fishermen back then (and even till now) would fillet their fresh catch and would just deep it in sea water before eating it (now that is fresh!).
Fish is one of the most highly perishable foods; it starts to rot fast the moment the fish is hauled from the ocean. Since vinegar and salt are very good preservatives, the folks back then used it often in their cooking. Since firewood is very scarce in the islands someone must have had the insanely bright idea to not cook the fish at all. Good thing for us that they tried it first. I don’t want any experimenting when it comes to my stomach.
I tried researching some creation myths of this dish and found something mighty amusing. It goes like this:
A long time ago, there lived a Datu (Filipino Tribal Chieftain) who was an asshole and a gluttonous pig. He always wanted to satisfy his food cravings and always insists that his Cook must prepare some unique dish that will satisfy his voracious mouth. The cook always tries his best but the Datu is not satisfied.
“By tomorrow noon, if you cannot prepare a dish that is worthy of my royal stomach, then off with your head,” the Datu said.
The Cook, whose name is Law, was at his wit’s end, he had already cooked all the recipes that he knows of and yet the Datu is still not satisfied.
By morning the following day Law was already mad with worry. He did not know what to do anymore. It was too much already. He snapped.
“Fuck that Datu, if I am gonna die then he will die with me,” deliriously mumbled Law to himself. “That pig will die shitting himself.”
Thinking that an uncooked fish would be a sure way to go to cause uncontrollable shitting (one of the leading causes of death in the old days); he filleted some fish, put vinegar, salt, and some spices and herbs then served the dish to the Datu.
The Datu surprisingly ate it with relish and said “Kini Law” (This is it Law).
So here is the recipe:
1/2 kilo of tuna fillets (or any fish that you may have on the refrigerator)
1 good-sized hand of ginger, peeled and sliced (this is to get rid of the unwanted smell)
1 head of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 white onion, thinly sliced (or you could use red onion if you want it traditional)
5 green chili peppers, cut diagonally into 1/4-inch thick slices
(you may not use this if you don’t want it to be spicy hot)
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
2 cups of vinegar (if you have suka’ng tuba, or coconut vinegar, then it is preferable)
salt and pepper (to taste)
1/2 cup of kalamansi juice (lemon)
1 1/2 cup of kakang gata
(coconut cream, you could discard with this if you don’t have any)
Make sure that you fillet the fish moderately thin and without bones and skin. Then cut the fillet into cubes. Put it into a bowl and sprinkle with some salt and pepper, make sure to mix it well.
Pour in the vinegar, mix well, and put it in the refrigerator for about an hour or so.
Drain a little of the excess marinade. Put in the rest of the ingredients, mix well.
Put it back in the refrigerator and let it chill for about 30 minutes.
Serve it cold.