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The Tail

There was, at the supermarket the other day, this tanigue tail that was just plain begging to be bought. I took one look at it and thought for a bit. I took a second look; and then I allowed myself to be cajoled into parting with some of my cash. The tanigue, it must be said, is not cheap anymore.

“Shall I slice it, Sir?” the guy behind the tiled counter asked, not at all aware that he was being disrespectful to the tanigue tail. Where I’m coming from, a tanigue tail is lovingly cooked whole over a bed of glowing charcoal. I, therefore, shook my head vigorously. So, he picked up the tail to weigh it. The price instantly showed on the electronic scale.

“Ok, Sir?” the sales assistant looked quizzically at me. Looking at the price, inside my head I thought, “No, it is not!” I swallowed but managed to say, all the while feeling like somebody was squeezing hard on my testicles, “Ok!”

I can have three meals on that price…

In days gone by, the tanigue – the Spanish mackerel, although I used to think it was called white marlin in English – did not even merit a second glance here in Lipa from consumers if it made it to this city’s market at all. Land-bound that the city is, citizens seldom bought beyond familiar species like the tawilis, galunggong, hiwas and tilapia.

The only ones who recognized the fish were migrants from coastal towns and cities. We knew about it because my Mom was from Nasugbu; while Dad was from Tigbauan in Iloilo. The tanigue, when it was available, was therefore always cheap.

In fact, it was often cheaper than in Nasugbu, birthplace of my Mom and where everyone in the family was first introduced to the culinary delight that is the inihaw na buntot.

The tanigue, as a matter of fact, is a very versatile fish. The head is perfect for kinamatisan; albeit, I used to leave it to the others in the family to fight over things that looked up at me. The middle part is great as steak; and it is just as good salted and fried plainly or flavored with whatever catches one’s fancy.

The tail, salted and grilled slowly over a bed of glowing charcoal, is as close a meal to something God Himself cooked! There is, to put it simply, no other way to cook it but ihaw!

When we were all still young and made what was then the long trip to Nasugbu, our Lola Leonor would motivate us to keep making the trip by making sure that there was always inihaw na buntot. A makeshift long table was sometimes laid out on the dusty backyard, atop which banana leaves glazed over charcoal were placed. Freshly cooked rice was spread over the leaves and sprinkled with salt here and there. When the tanigue arrived with all its deserved fanfare, members of the clan took their places around the table and just dug in.

No plates or utensils were ever needed. The banana leaves doubled as plates; and everyone ate with the hands. There were small bowls containing fish sauce and calamansi conveniently within reach all over the table as dip for the tanigue. The tanigue itself never failed to be a sensation; but gossip and family banter made it taste even better.

It was, perhaps, with a touch of nostalgia that I capitulated to the plea from that tanigue tail at the supermarket the other day. Practical that I always am, I rather wondered how many truck rides it had had to get to where it was. I honestly did not think it would be very fresh.

It was too late in the morning to prepare a bed of charcoal; at any rate, it was a weekend and I also had every right to be lazy. So, quickly doing a MacGyver, I improvised and bought some aluminum foil to wrap the tanigue with. I thought I would grill it, instead, over an electric stove.

Getting home, the first thing I did was to make small cuts along the tail so that the salt I sprinkled all over the tanigue would melt and seep right into its flesh. Just before wrapping the tail with the aluminum foil, I lavishly wiped the length of it on both sides with molten butter.

An hour and a half later of cooking over medium heat, I was ready to discover if the tanigue was going to be a sensation or if it would stammer in the question-and-answer portion of the pageant.

Despite my fatalism, the tanigue tasted surprisingly fresh; and the salt and butter blended to perfection with the natural sweetness of its meat. With some mayonnaise and fish sauce with calamansi and red chili... Teka... Give me a moment... I am about to have a convulsion just thinking of how good it tasted!

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