Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Fish Whose Isinay Name Also Refers to a Skin Disease

AMONG THE THINGS that make the writer’s heart in me beat faster is the sight, encounter, or re-introduction of objects that resurrect people, places, and events the imprints of which have laid dormant – nay, almost forgotten – in the far corners of my mind.

Among such re-introductions came this morning while I was having coffee. Here’s the photo I took of the triggering item or items:

Yes, it’s a bowlful of fish that my super tolerant wife has asked if I wanted her to buy from the itinerant vendors who come to our part of Baguio now and then and shout “Isdaaa! Isda kayo diyan!”

Both my wife and the vendor called the fish bunog. When I asked the seller where they came from, he said Naguilian. And when I asked “Pupokan?” (grown in a fishpond), he replied “Karayan” (river).

My beloved household manager’s normally astute bargaining talk wasn’t effective in bringing down the P150 per kilo price of the fish. Nor was she successful at asking the P30 per bundle of four boiled mais be brought down to the prevailing P20 in the Baguio central market.

It’s not every day that such type of freshwater fish is sold in Baguio. This rationalization, plus the myriad memories that the fish – and the corn – brought back to life, nevertheless made the price sulit (well worth it).

I shall leave the boiled corn for a separate vignette some day and instead focus on the fish.

Indeed, as I was anticipating another mouth-watering lunch while cleaning the fish preparatory for my wife’s cooking it – ikkam ti laya ken kamatis lang (add ginger and tomato only), she said – several recollections connected with the fish raced in my mind.

I shall post separate essays on the images – and tastes – evoked by the fish after this.

Suffice it to offer for now that in the prevalently Ilocano and river-blessed part of upstream Dupax del Sur where I grew up, we called this fish bukto. Among the Tagalog, it is called biya. In Caraga Region, particularly the communities around Lake Mainit where it abounds, it is called pidyangga. In English, it is called white goby.

I have yet to ask knowledgeable Isinays of Bambang and Aritao, but among the Isinays in Dupax, particularly the farm-tilling ones who are familiar with river fish, it is called guggur.

Interestingly, guggur is also an Isinay term for psoriasis or other such skin diseases. (The Ilocano for this word is gudgod.) Thus, a person afflicted with it is described either as naguggur or nahugguran. (In Ilocano, nagudgod and ginudgod.)

To go back to our stream, yes, in Dupax, we didn’t and still don’t call the white goby bunog. For the bunog as we knew it in my hometown referred to a bluish, quite slippery, very much smaller, and riverstone dwelling fish that Isinays call sappilan (biyang bato in Tagalog; river goby in English).

To pause for now, I learned how to clean bukto/guggur/biya from my grandmother Feliza Lacandazo Pudiquet:

No need to remove its gills (asang in both Ilocano and Isinay, hasang in Tagalog), no need also to open its stomach and remove its intestines (bagis in Ilocano, bitu-a in Isinay, bituka in Tagalog, tina’i in Visayan) and its bile (apdo in both Ilocano and Tagalog, bisit in Isinay). Just press your right thumb on the stomach of the fish then squeeze out the blackish thing inside.

The black thing is the fish excreta (takki in Ilocano, ta-e in Tagalog, ta-i in Visayan, attay in Isinay). It’s actually all right to leave it as is – it’s not poisonous. Besides, not all fish in a bunch have such thing. But in case you find one and want to press it out, be very extra careful not to squeeze out the golden yellow round particles – they are the bukto’s eggs (roe in English, bugi in Ilocano, buoh in Isinay, bihud in both Tagalog and Visayan).

The fish eggs make the taste of the fish itself more exquisite!

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