By Christian Bondoc*
I was just thirteen when my mom who was (and still is) the Municipal Health Officer of the Municipality of Zarraga brought the whole family to the annual Pantat Festival celebrated in the said municipality. As we were approaching the place, I observed that a lot of pantat vendors were found almost everywhere in the plaza. Aside from the fact that I was amazed by the relatively big number of pantat vendors in the plaza, it was also my first time to go to this Pantat Festival.
Fast forward to noon time of that day. It was lunch time and our stomachs were craving for something so we had to eat. We had pantat inasal together with rice. It was again a first for me to eat the dish and I liked it. From that day on, my interest in pantat grew and I just had to know more about cooking it – especially because I like to cook as well.
To help me discover the secrets of pantat and why Zarraga is so popular for it, I conducted an interview with Mrs. Nelida Octaviano, my aunt and a Zarraganhon. She showed me how to cook pantat and I surely learned a lot of things from the interview.
First thing I learned is that pantat is commonly prepared as inasal. The fish is marinated and then grilled. Before, the people would use soy sauce and garlic as marinate for the pantat. Recently however, they’ve found out that just by simply rubbing salt on the catfish, the inasal nga pantat is crispier and more delicious. No more need for marinating with soy sauce and garlic.
Aside from grilling, ginat-an is also another delicious way of preparing pantat. Although a little bit harder to prepare, this way of preparing pantat is one of my favorites.
I also learned that pantat is raised not only in Zarraga but also in other places in Panay such as Sta. Barbara and Roxas. However, people from Zarraga claim their pantat as the best since it is juicier and softer to chew. This is evident when the Zarraga pantat is grilled since it juices more compared to the pantat raised in other places. The people believe that the composition of the soil in Zarraga produces a better-tasting pantat.
The pantat being bred in Zarraga nowadays is not anymore the native pantat which used to live in the place. The said native pantat fertilized naturally and only a few eggs would hatch. With the increasing demand for the fish, the slow reproduction rate resulted to its gradual disappearance. The native pantat, which according to my interviewee was a more delicious one, was then replaced by the African pantat and Taiwan pantat.
The owners of Bambi Hatchery in Zarraga were the first ones to bring the new varieties to the place more than ten years ago. Soon, the people of Zarraga started to culture the new varieties of pantat. The ovary of the female would be mixed with the sperm of the male to hatch new fish.
The new varieties of pantat are also the same ones grown in other parts of Panay. Knowing that the varieties are the same in the different parts of Panay, it can be concluded that something in Zarraga makes the Zarraga pantat unique from the rest. With a little help from science, the people’s belief on the effect of the soil quality on the fish may be confirmed.
Although my family is now based in Jaro, Iloilo City, my fun and very educational adventure in the Municipality of Zarraga would keep me coming back to the place to have my self satisfied with the goodness of PANTAT. Count on that!
RECIPE – RECIPE – RECIPE
Ginat-an Nga Pantat
This recipe given to me by Mrs. Nelida Octaviano shows the usual way the people of Zarraga would cook ginat-an nga pantat.
1 kg pantat (five to six small pieces)
¼ cup vinegar
5 pcs. batuan (cut into four)
1 pc. medium size ginger (cut into chunks
4 pcs. sili or cooking peppers
2 pcs. small onion (sliced)
5 cloves garlic
coconut milk (from two medium size coconuts)
salt to taste
gabi leaves or guava leaves
1. Spread salt and ash (from burnt material i.e. wood and paper) on the live pantat to kill it and prepare it for cooking. The salt is used to kill the pantat. The ash, on the other hand, is used to remove some of the waxy, slimy substance covering the pantat. The ash may also be used to kill the pantat but it does not kill it as fast and as efficient as salt does.
2. Clean the pantat by using old newspaper. Place the pantat in between a sheet of newspaper and pull it so that the remaining waxy substance covering the pantat is left in the newspaper.
3. Grate the coconut meat from the two medium-sized coconuts. Extract the gata. Coconut milk should be extracted twice. The first extraction (1st gata) is characterized as being thicker than the second (2nd gata). Set aside.
4. Soak the astuete seeds in water (less than a cup) and allow to stay for some time so that astuete juice may be extracted. Rubbing the seeds in one’s fingers will quicken the process. Strain to get the orange-colored liquid. Set aside.
5. Line the pot with gabi or guava leaves. Place the pantat, ginger, garlic, onion, sili. Add salt and 2nd gata and allow to boil for 3 to 5 minutes.
6. Add the batuan and astuete juice and allow to simmer again for 7 to 10 minutes.
7. Add the vinegar and allow boiling for 1 to 2 minutes.
8. Finally, add the 1st gata and allow to boil for another 5 to 7 minutes.
9. The ginat-an nga pantat is ready to be served. Yummy!
* Christian Earvin is a freshman BS Biology student at UPV. A graduate of Pisay (Phil. Science High School), he believes he and everyone else is intelligent in their own way. Christian is a serious person when it comes to his academics and is very determined when it comes to his goals. Nonetheless, he is a jolly and fun-loving person when he is with friends.