For the longest time, I associated the dish called Tinola with chicken. Tinola was, for me, the ‘nickname’ of Tinolang Manok and nothing more. While I loved the traditional Tinolang Manok that we had at home when I was a kid, once I started cooking, I would replace the sili leaves with sayote, alugbati, and malunggay leaves. Not that I did not like sili leaves. I do.
It is just that sometimes, sili leaves are not available and, if they are, they are a lot more expensive than alugbati or saluyot. I get malunggay leaves for free because my husband Raff planted a malunggay tree in the vacant lot next to our house and it has now grown into a tall tree with lush green leaves that we just pick whenever we need greens in our soup or viand.
I only realized that Tinola can be done with fish when Raff and I went to Cebu on a media trip, and one of the gastronomic stops was at the Sutukil center behind the Lapu-Lapu Shrine in Lapu-Lapu City.
The famous Sutukil of Cebu, as everyone knows, means sugba (grilled), tula or tinola (soup), and kilaw (raw fish like ceviche). Which means that if you order a big lapu-lapu (*Cebuanos call it pugapo, not lapu-lapu, because Lapu-Lapu, the local chieftain who killed Ferdinand Magellan, is a local hero and it is ‘disrespectful’ to name a fish after a local hero) at the Sutukil center, the vendor can divide the fish into three, cook it three ways, and serve you sinugba, kinilaw, and tinola.
Having discovered Tinolang Isda, it became part of my regular home cooking menu. Buying fresh tilapia (St. Peter’s Fish) from the fish vendor on wheels in our subdivision, I decided to turn it into Tinolang Tilapia, which Raff loves. It is also good for his recovery from stroke, since it draws its natural flavors from the fish and ginger and comes with green leafy vegetables.
2 Tbsps. cooking oil
1 pc. red onion, cut into thin wedges
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 finger-sized length ginger, peeled, sliced and cut into small pieces
1 pc. green papaya, peeled and deseeded, or sayote, peeled, deseeded and cubed
6 cups water
3-4 pcs. fresh tilapia, sliced and seasoned with salt
1 pc. chicken cube
salt, patis (fish sauce) and pepper to taste
malunggay leaves, washed and loosened from stem
1. Heat oil in stockpot. Sauté onion, garlic and ginger.
2. Add green papaya or sayote.
3. Pour in water.
4. Add fish.
5. Season with chicken cube, salt, pepper and patis.
6. When almost cooked, add malunggay leaves.
7. Serve with freshly cooked rice.