Dilis, in English “anchovies”, are a small variety of fish that’s popular in the Philippines. These miniature fish turned into a dried snack, appetizer, side dish, or beer companion, might look irrelevant and too small that you might not really take notice of, but once it’s added onto the dish, it really gives a big impression on the palate. A delicacy usually bought canned or dried, placed over dishes like pizza, added into pasta, or cooked fried, and tossed with a caramelized coating to give you that salty, sweet combo, or make it spicy by adding spices like sili, hot sauce or for the more modern taste buds, sriracha or gochujang.
A Short Introduction
The DIlis fish or in scientific terms, Stolephorus commersonii having about 140 species, are a small silver-colored freshwater fish that grows up to about 15 inches, populating in warm waters
caught in large groups (or schools), canned with salt and oil, or dried under the sun to be then pan fried or added into broths or soups, and many more dishes. This common fish can be found in marine and freshwater environments, and is a food source to a variety of predatory fishes. Caught and sold fresh but more commonly sun dried, or fermented with salt to create ‘bagoong’, or to the liquid squeezed from bagoong, to turn into ‘patis’. These are all made for domestic consumption and for international export.
When canned or jarred these will be salted and soaked in oil, waiting to be opened ready for consumption. They have a salty, brine-y, fishy, pungent umami taste. For the dried anchovies, which are easier to preserve and store. These are still salty, and needs to be cooked on the pan with oil, and added with seasonings like soy sauce and sugar to add extra flavor, or add a bit of spice to really awaken the senses. You can find them fresh or dry in the wet market, or packed dry, canned, in jars of olive oil at the grocery or supermarkets. And in some islands, they are sold door-to-door by fishermen.
A small and mighty brine-y fish that even gained popularity as a pizza topping in the 1990’s. Did you know that these are more nutritious than milk? These aren’t just added into dishes for that punch of flavor. They also give a big hit of nutrients to the body. Here are just some of the benefits:
- Protects the thyroid, these small fishes contain selenium, needed by the body to activate the thyroid.
- Helps with heart health, having high polyunsaturated fatty acids, lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart diseases.
- Helps your eyesight, reducing the chance of macular degeneration, an age related eye disease that may lead to severe or permanent loss of vision.
- Rich in protein, promotes a balanced diet and weight loss, metabolism that in turn boosts tissue repair and regrowth.
- High in calcium and vitamin A, affecting bone health making them strong and fight against bone degradation.
Dilis, Philippine’s small but terribly fantastic snack
While some may think this dried fish might be a weird snack. Filipino Dilis are actually an addictively crispy sweet and spicy snack, you’ll have spoonfuls of flavor explosion once you’ve given it a try. A quick and easy ingredient to add into many dishes or by itself. Some examples on Filipino dilis recipes, are to enjoy them as sweet and spicy dilis, a snack made by cooking the dried fishes by pan frying, then adding the sweet or sweet and spicy sauce, top it over rice or keep as a side dish, another fried dilis recipe is to mixed these in ‘ukoy’ or ‘torta’ a crispy egg based dish usually eaten for breakfast. You can also find others creating dilis with vegetables recipes to add a bit of crunch and saltiness.
The ‘lowly’ dilis, cooked simply by mixing it raw with vinegar, garlic, onions, and some seasonings as a ‘kilawin’ a favorite beer companion recipe by many fishermen. Deep fried with some aromatics, sometimes caramelized with sugar and spice to top over rice. These affordable but still appetizingly amazingly meek fish are beloved by farmers, fishermen, low to high income families alike.