Kinilaw

It’s probably one of the foods I’ve came to know after milk and infant food. In our place where the sea is just around the corner, kinilaw is usually present at the dining table, and no beach occasion or drinking session is complete without it. In “Kinilaw: a Philippine Cuisine of Freshness” (1991), Edilberto N. Alegre and Doreen G. Fernandez deliciously described kinilaw in this manner:

This Philippine cuisine takes fish and other sea creatures, meat, fruits or vegetables- all at state- of- the- art freshness – and treats them equally, “sour-cooking” them in vinegar or other souring agents, flavoring them with the proper combination of condiments…

The kinilaw moment is that instant when the raw fish (or other seafood, or meat) meets the vinegar or other souring agent, and transformation begins from the raw state.

In cooking vegetables, there is a spectrum of textural change: from the hardness of the raw, to the limpness of the overcooked. The perfect moment is somewhere along the line, at the point when the vegetable, e.g. ampalaya (bitter melon) retains the crispness of the raw, but acquires the softness of the cooked without being either hard or limp.

With kinilaw, the perfect moment is marked visually by a change from translucence towards, but without reaching, opacity. Texturally, it is a moment when the fish or shrimp retains the firm softness of the raw, but reaches a new state of being that has been called niluto sa asim – “cooked”, or more accurately transformed, in sourness. It is not an opaque solidity, with the fibres white and the flesh texture that of poached fish. Along the spectrum, it is nearer the raw than the cooked, the flesh just a breath away from the natural state, mediated only by the vinegar-acid…

In other words, eat and consume the kinilaw right after it is served. The kinilaw featured in this photo, garnished with cucumber and seaweed, is the version of Kalui, a restaurant we visited while in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

4 thoughts on “Kinilaw”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.