An Unbelievably Tiny, Prized Fish From the Ilocos Region
Choose Philippines | December 17, 2019
Story by Ria Galiste
Photos by Lemuel Salvador
Gobi fry, Ipon in the local dialect, is a seasonal catch in the Ilocos Region. It appears nine days after a full moon when the tide is at its highest. Colorless, sometimes white or gray, measuring only a centimeter or two in length, the gobi fry can also swim upstream in other waterways like rivers and streams. Ipon, when they mature, are called bukto, palleleng, birot, or bunog.
Ipon is available all year round, especially between the months of August to March. Fishing for the fry, however, is regulated in the provinces of Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte, allowed only during the months of September to February. It is prohibited during August and March, the first and the last month that ipon is abundant.
In Ilocos Sur, ipon fishing is mostly done in the coastal towns of Santa and Caoayan. The fishermen use fine nets to catch ipon. Sometimes, fishermen from Bangui and Pagudpud are also able to catch ipon. According to Arthur Valente, Fishery Coordinator and Regulatory Officer in Ilocos Norte, fishermen from Brgy. Caoacan, Metro Gabu and La Paz in Laoag City can catch ipon in 3 methods: daklisan, tanggar, and the more modern method of mechanized fishing net. The tourism office of the town of Caoayan is also planning to establish ipon fishing as a tourism activity in their area.
Ipon is considered as the golden fish for some, with its price ranging from Php 400 to 700 per kilo, depending on how much ipon the fishermen catch during the season. Despite the expensive prices, Ilocanos and tourists love ipon for its sumptuous taste. Scaleless and boneless, this fry lends itself well to a variety of local cooking techniques. It can be served fresh with a helping of tomatoes, onions, and onion leaves as an Ilokano version of kilawen or mixed with sukang iloko as lingta. For a simple, savory torta, whip some eggs with a generous portion of ipon and fry the mixture in hot oil of your choosing. Mixed with sliced tomatoes, onions, ginger, and other seasonings, and wrapped in banana leaves then steamed or boiled, ipon makes for a tasty tamales. Boiled with fresh tamarind or kamias fruits, sinigang na ipon is also something to be experienced.