Tabada: Tilapia redux

Tilapia first crossed my plate in Quezon City. Once and never to return, I vowed.

At the university canteen, I chose a nicely fried fish and was shocked when it came on a plate, camouflaged under an ooze of greens like a Hollywood actor penetrating a jungle camp. Because I skipped breakfast and lunch to finish a paper and was not facing evening class with a gut up in arms, I tackled the now alien fish, only to share all but the tail with the fat university cats.

Farmed fish taste depends on the quality of the water and the feed. Unlike the seawater ones, freshwater fish must be harvested at its ideal size. Too big, a fish grazes too long on moss, muddy bottoms or fish meal with its link to mycotoxins.

Spoiled by the diversity, taste, and affordability of Cebu’s marine bounty, the husband and I avoid fishy misadventures in Cavite, especially because the pandemic drives the price of fish caught off the Batangas coast to deep space.

After the Taal Volcano erupted last July 1, a young man in Batangas said in an interview that he took advantage of the two-hour window allowed by officials for male residents to leave the evacuation centers in the morning and visit their homes to feed the animals.

Speaking in the lilting tones of the Batangas-born, the fellow said that fish, like people, cannot skip a meal without consequences.

The Taal Volcano Island is designated by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology as a Permanent Danger Zone (PDZ).

For nearby lakeshore communities, vigilance means calculating the moods of a volcano. In the wake of the Jan. 12, 2020 eruption, animal welfare activists focused on the horses, dogs, cats and livestock that were abandoned in the emergency and needed rescue.

How do you rescue fish? A fish farm involves not just fish but an ecosystem of men and dogs guarding against fish thieves. When you depend on fishing and fish farming in a PDZ, you do not wait to be rescued.

Assessing the 2021 eruption, President Rodrigo Duterte joked that he will “cap the hole” of Taal. After the 2020 explosion, the President vowed to pee into the crater and eat ash.

Unlike the President, the discriminating tilapia does not eat ash. Aficionados know the fish must be bought “live and fresh,” cleaned thoroughly and cooked properly.

In other places, tilapia, the second most farmed fish next to carp worldwide, is called the “St. Peter’s Fish.” Online sources trace the name to a belief that this was the fish Jesus of Nazareth multiplied in the miracle feeding multitudes.

Tackling a volcano, a pandemic and leaders who do not know when to cap their holes, the tilapia will mayhap cross my plate again.