Anchovies in Philippine Cuisine

Anchovies hold a significant place in Philippine cuisine, a diverse and rich tapestry of tastes and traditions shaped by various cultural influences throughout its history.

In the Philippines, these small, yet flavorful fish are known locally as ‘dilis.’ They are widely available across the archipelago and are utilized in numerous Filipino dishes, either as a key ingredient or as a favored condiment.

Anchovies sizzling in a hot pan with garlic and vinegar, surrounded by slices of green mango, chili peppers, and a bowl of steamed rice

From the bustling markets to home kitchens, the versatile dilis is a staple, showcasing the Filipino’s adeptness in creating an array of dishes that are unique and delicious.

Whether fried, dried, or used in a marinade, the anchovy is a flavor essential, enhancing the taste of meals with its distinctive salty and umami profile.

It is not just a mere food item, but a reflection of the Philippines’ coastal life and culinary creativity.

Dilis are commonly used in popular Filipino recipes such as kinilaw—a local ceviche where they are served raw and marinated in vinegar—and as a crunchy, savory snack when fried and coated with a mix of sugar, salt, and chili.

The adaptability of anchovies in Philippine cuisine exemplifies the ingenuity with which Filipinos incorporate locally sourced ingredients to craft dishes that truly resonate with their cultural identity and palate.

Historical Context

A Filipino market stall displays dried anchovies and bottles of fish sauce

In exploring the culinary tapestry of the Philippines, you’ll uncover a rich history where anchovies have been a vital ingredient influenced by various cultures, particularly Chinese and Malay.

Chinese and Malay Influences

The historical trade relations between the Philippines and China introduced various cooking styles and ingredients to Philippine cuisine, anchovies being a significant one.

You’ll find that the preparation and use of anchovies in dishes have been adapted to local tastes but retain underlying Chinese methods.

Additionally, Malay culinary practices further incorporated into the Philippine cooking, melded with the localized use of anchovies, creating unique and lasting flavors.

  • Chinese: Preservation methods, flavor profiles
  • Malay: Spice use, blending with indigenous ingredients.

Anchovies in Southeast Asia

In the broader context of Southeast Asia, anchovies have been a shared staple.

Within the Philippines, they are known as dilis and are commonly found in markets and kitchens across the archipelago.

Anchovies serve not only as a main dish when fried or cooked with a sauce but also a flavorful addition to other dishes, reinforcing the overall cultural culinary identity of Southeast Asia.

  • Main uses in the Philippines:
    • Fried as a snack or meal
    • Used in sauces like bagoong (fermented fish sauce)
    • Integral ingredient in various Filipino dishes

Anchovy Varieties in the Philippines

A market stall displays various types of anchovies, from dried to pickled, in the Philippines

The Philippines is home to a diverse array of anchovy species, contributing significantly to both the culinary landscape and fisheries sector.


The anchovy family Engraulidae encompasses a wide range of species that are prolific in the waters surrounding the Philippine archipelago.

As small forage fish, they play a crucial role in the marine ecosystem and are a fundamental source of food for larger predatory fish.

The local markets often have various species available, which are crucial for the subsistence of local communities and commercial fisheries.


Dilis is the common name for anchovies in the Philippines. These are not just one species but encompass several species of small, silvery fish under the anchovy family.

They are known for their rich and distinct flavor, often salted and dried as a preservation method. Here’s how you can typically find dilis in the market:

  • Fresh Dilis: Sold in wet markets, sometimes still swimming in containers.
  • Dried Dilis: Sun-dried and salted, this form is commonly used in Filipino households for dishes like pinakbet or as a crispy snack.

Dilis is a versatile ingredient in your culinary repertoire, offering a punch of umami to various dishes, from the tangy vinegar-based kinilaw to the simple yet satisfying dilis fried rice.

Culinary Uses

Anchovies sizzle in a hot pan with garlic and vinegar, creating a savory aroma for a traditional Filipino dish

In Philippine cuisine, anchovies, locally known as dilis, are not just a common sight in markets but an integral part of many traditional dishes.

Their small size belies their vast influence on Filipino food culture, ranging from being the star ingredient to a subtle yet impactful flavor enhancer.

Main Ingredient

Kinilaw na Dilis is your fresh introduction to anchovies as a primary food component, a recipe akin to ceviche where anchovies are “cooked” in vinegar and mixed with ginger, and other local seasonings.

In this dish, the anchovies, softened by the acidity, offer a unique blend of textures and tastes.

Flavor Enhancer

Adding anchovies to a dish can transform it with a profound umami flavor.

Whether they’re incorporated into a rich tomato sauce for pasta or oil-based dressings, a small amount of finely chopped or mashed anchovies will provide a salty and savory depth to your recipes.

Bagoong and Patis

  • Bagoong: This fermented anchovy paste is bold and pungent. Traditionally, it’s served as a side dish to complement green mangoes or used to flavor stews and soups.
  • Patis: A variant of fish sauce commonly used for marinating or as a seasoning, adding layers of flavors to dishes with its salty and fishy notes.

Use these anchovy-based ingredients to elevate your cooking, offering a taste that is authentically Filipino.

Traditional Recipes

Your culinary journey through traditional Filipino anchovy dishes unveils a tapestry of flavors, from the tangy zing of ceviche to the comfort of a warm anchovy pasta. These dishes showcase the versatile nature of anchovies in Philippine cuisine.

Ceviche with Anchovies

You might be familiar with ceviche as a seafood dish cured in citrus, but in the Philippines, anchovies lend a unique depth to this appetizer.

Begin by marinating fresh anchovies in a mixture of vinegar, lime juice, and spices. Ginger and chili provide a notable kick, while the acidity of the vinegar perfectly preserves and flavors the fish.

Dried Dilis Preparation

The popular dried dilis are small anchovies commonly used in Filipino snacks and meals.

To prepare, you simply fry them until crispy and then coat them with a sweet and spicy mixture of brown sugar, tomato sauce, and chili.

This creates a crunchy, savory snack that’s often enjoyed with rice or as a stand-alone treat.

Anchovy Pasta

A Filipino spin on anchovy pasta incorporates both the saltiness of the dried fish and the bold flavors of local ingredients.

Combine sautéed anchovies with garlic, olive oil, and tomatoes to create a robust sauce. Toss this with your choice of pasta for a dish that is both hearty and comforting, bridging the simplicity of Italian cuisine with the bold flavors of the Philippines.

Eating Habits

Anchovies sizzling in a hot pan with garlic and chili, ready to be sprinkled on top of a steaming bowl of sinigang or adobo

In Philippine cuisine, anchovies are a versatile ingredient that you’ll encounter in various forms. Whether served as a savory appetizer or as an accompanying side, they bring a distinct flavor to Filipino dining tables.

Anchovies as Appetizer

Filipino dishes often feature anchovies, known locally as dilis, as a flavorful appetizer.

You can enjoy them crispy-fried with a sprinkle of salt and perhaps a light coating of sugar for a balance of flavors.

This dish is traditionally served with a dipping sauce that typically combines vinegar, minced onion, and chili, heightening the anchovies’ natural umami taste with a sharp, tangy kick that teases the palate.

Accompaniments and Sides

Anchovies in the form of bagoong, a fermented condiment, frequently accompany Filipino dishes, complementing various staples like green mangoes and serving as a base for sauces.

The salty and pungent taste of bagoong enhances the flavor complexity and often pairs with spicy and tangy elements, such as chili-laden vinegar, as a dip or sauce. This combination elevates the simple combination of rice and vegetables to a richer, deeper culinary experience.

Preservation and Storage

Anchovies are carefully packed in glass jars with salt and vinegar, ready for long-term preservation in a traditional Philippine kitchen

In Philippine cuisine, anchovies are preserved using time-honored methods that ensure their longevity and flavor. These techniques primarily involve salting and drying, as well as storage in oil or brine.

Salting and Drying Techniques

You’ll find that the use of salt is a critical step in the preservation of anchovies in Philippine cuisine. Here’s a concise breakdown of the process:

  • Cleaning: Anchovies are first gutted and cleaned thoroughly.
  • Salting: The fish are then layered with sea salt in a barrel, which draws out moisture and creates an environment that retards bacterial growth.
  • Curing: This stage can last several months; curing solidifies the fish’s texture and intensifies its flavor.
  • Drying: Finally, the salted anchovies are spread out and left to dry naturally, often under the sun.

The result is a dehydrated product that can be stored for extended periods without spoiling.

Storage in Oil and Brine

For a different preservation technique, you might opt to store your anchovies in oil or brine. Here’s how:

  • In Oil:
    • Packing: After curing, anchovies are packed in containers such as jars or cans.
    • Covering: They are completely submerged in olive or vegetable oil to create an oxygen-free environment, preventing spoilage.
  • In Brine:
    • Solution Preparation: A brine solution is made by dissolving ample amounts of salt in water.
    • Submersion: The anchovies are submerged in this brine, which acts as a preservative.

Both methods maintain the anchovies’ soft texture and rich taste, while the oil can lend a different flavor profile to the fish.

Health and Nutrition

A plate of Philippine cuisine featuring anchovies as a key ingredient, surrounded by vibrant and colorful local fruits and vegetables

Anchovies are small yet robust when it comes to nutrients, offering significant health benefits by being a part of your diet.

Nutritional Benefits

Anchovies, a staple in Philippine cuisine, are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, which are known to support heart health. These fatty acids play a crucial role in maintaining cardiovascular health by potentially reducing triglyceride levels in your body.

  • Essential Vitamins: Anchovies provide essential vitamins like niacin, which aids in metabolism and overall energy production in your body.
  • Minerals: This fish is packed with minerals such as selenium, calcium, and iron which contribute to bone health, thyroid function, and red blood cell production respectively.

Additionally, the protein content in anchovies is notable, considering their size, making them an excellent addition to your diet for muscle development and repair.

Considerations in Consumption

When incorporating anchovies into your meals, it’s important to consider how they’re prepared:

  • Freshness: Fresh anchovies tend to contain less bacteria, making them safer for consumption. It’s best to eat them with minimal cooking to preserve their nutritional value.
  • Serving Size: Despite their health benefits, it is still essential to eat anchovies in moderation due to their high sodium content, particularly when salted, dried, or canned.

Influence on Other Cuisines

An anchovy being added to a traditional Filipino dish, infusing its distinct flavor into the cuisine

Anchovies play a pivotal role in the intersection of Filipino cuisine with global culinary traditions. You will observe their impact most notably in Mediterranean and East Asian cuisines, where they add a distinctive flavor accent to various dishes.

Mediterranean Cuisine

In Mediterranean cuisine, particularly the regions that border the sea, your palate encounters anchovies in numerous recipes. They provide a salty depth to salads, pizzas, and pasta dishes.

Italy, for example, boasts a famous dish called Spaghetti alla Puttanesca, where anchovies are essential:

  • Spaghetti alla Puttanesca: Anchovies (dissolved into the sauce)
  • Caesar Salad: Anchovies (in the dressing)
  • Tapenade: Anchovies (paste with olives, capers, and olive oil)

Anchovies from Mediterranean waters are also frequently preserved in salt or oil, contributing to a rich culinary heritage that values the umami they offer.

Adaptations in East Asian Cuisine

Your exploration of East Asian cuisine reveals anchovies as a hidden backbone in many of their dishes.

South Korea features anchovies as a common ingredient in banchan (side dishes), and they are a critical component in stocks for Korean soups and stews. The tiny fish are also often dried and used for seasoning in an array of Korean and Chinese dishes.

Notably, in Korea, dried anchovies are used to prepare a deeply flavorful stock, which is the foundation for the famous Korean dish ‘sundubu-jjigae’, a soft tofu stew.

When considering anchovy influence in China, you find a less direct, but no less important role. Anchovies contribute to many fish sauces which might serve as a base for noodle dishes, adding a layer of umami complexity often sought in Chinese cooking.

Contemporary Trends

In the evolving landscape of Filipino cuisine, you’ll find anchovies accentuating modern dishes with their rich umami character while innovative recipes blend traditional flavors with global influences.

Modern Filipino Dishes

Anchovies, or dilis, remain integral in your Filipino culinary experience, adding depth to both old and new recipes.

You might encounter these savory fish in contemporary offerings like Dilis Rice Toppings, where fried anchovies are served over fragrant garlic rice, garnished with a drizzle of calamansi juice to enhance the flavors.

Notably, with an elevation of traditional pinais—anchovies wrapped in banana leaves—the dish is often modified by chefs who introduce new spices into the mix, tailoring the profile to suit both local and international palates.

Fusion and Innovative Recipes

Your curiosity may lead you to fusion dishes that intersect Filipino traditional tastes with global culinary practices.

Anchovy-infused Pasta, for instance, marries the salty tang of dilis with Italian pasta, tossed in a calamansi-infused olive oil.

Another bold creation could be the Asian-Filipino Anchovy Tapenade, blending the fish with local spices and serving it as a novel appetizer or condiment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Anchovies play a significant role in Philippine cuisine, offering unique flavors and traditional preservation techniques. Their historical significance and health benefits are often discussed among culinary enthusiasts.

What traditional dishes in Philippine cuisine use anchovies?

In Philippine cuisine, anchovies are primarily used in dishes such as “Bagoong” (fermented fish paste), “Paksiw na isda” (fish cooked in vinegar), and “Kinilaw na Dilis,” which is similar to ceviche. Anchovies are also commonly added to “Pinakbet” (vegetable stew) for umami flavor.

How do anchovies contribute to the flavor profile of Philippine dishes?

Anchovies introduce a briny depth to Philippine dishes. They provide an umami richness that enhances the overall flavor complexity. Their saltiness balances the sweet, sour, and spicy flavors typical in Filipino cooking.

What are the traditional methods of preserving anchovies in the Philippines?

Traditionally, anchovies in the Philippines are preserved through drying under the sun or fermentation to create “Bagoong.” Salt is often used to cure anchovies, which can then be stored for extended periods.

Can you outline the historical significance of anchovies in Filipino cooking?

Anchovies have been a vital protein source for Filipinos for centuries, especially for coastal communities. Their use in everyday cooking showcases the resourcefulness of Filipino cuisine in utilizing available local ingredients.

What are the health implications of consuming anchovies in one’s diet?

Anchovies are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health. They are also a good source of protein, calcium, and vitamins like Vitamin D, contributing positively to one’s diet when consumed in moderation.

How can anchovies be differentiated from sardines in Philippine dishes?

In Philippine dishes, anchovies are typically smaller and have a sharper, more distinct taste compared to sardines, which are larger and milder.

Anchovies often serve as a flavor base for dishes, while sardines can be the main protein component.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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