Why Dagupan's Bonuan Bangus tastes better than the rest

September 30, 2009 9:13 pm 

By Leonardo V. Micua

DAGUPAN CITY, Oct. 1 -— In the fish "consignacion" (wholesale) market of Dagupan that operates 24/7, fish dealers sort out to look for the Bonuan bangus which they intend to ship to other provinces other than the milkfish produced in other areas of Pangasinan.

It seems that the Bonuan bangus is a preferred stock of milkfish which vendors can cash on once these are shipped via refrigerated vans to the markets of Metro Manila.

Few hours later, the Bonuan bangus would sell like hot cakes in Q Mart in Quezon City, the Quinta Market in Manila and other markets though priced higher than other milkfish sourced out from other fish producing areas of the country.

Nothing can compare with Bonuan bangus. Even the milkfish produced in Western Pangasinan, like Bolinao, Bani, Alaminos and Anda or Binmaley, and even those from Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan can't stand in comparizon with the the bangus produced in Dagupan's brackish water.

That is why in so many times, vendors try but fail to fool their customers by placing tags of Dagupan bangus in their selling tables, although in truth their milkfish come from other milkfish producing areas of the country.

One trick they usually do is to make it appear as if the fish they are selling came from Bonuan in Dagupan City is by cutting the lower tail of bangus.

This is because of the little known fact that the real Bonuan bangus has a lower tail shorter than the upper tail, which really makes it very unique as compared with the milkfish produced in other areas.

But, according to Director Westly Rosario, chief of the National Integrated Fisheries Technology Development Center in Dagupan and one of the top technical experts on bangus, this is not the only distinguishing mark of the Bonuan bangus.

The other is that it has short head, a protruding stomach which is its most delicious part when cooked in any way, and a short mouth.

How come the Bonuan bangus acquired these distinct physical characteristics not present in other milkfish produced for instance in Western Pangasinan, Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan and even at Laguna de Bay?

This question was posed to Rosario, also executive director of the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute (NFRDI)who is among those behind in the establishment of the National Bangus Center as chief of the NIFTDC.

Rosario admitted he was involved in a study during his early years in the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) that looked into why Dagupan bangus tastes better than the other milkfish grown in other areas.

The BFAR team, he said, not only looked into the kind of soil that is present in Dagupan but also the water that serves as life blood of fishponds culturing bangus in commercial scale.

Rosario said that though Dagupan and the towns of Binmaley and Lingayen share the same river system called simply as the Dagupan River, they produce bangus with varying tastes and qualities.

Based on the study, the sweet taste of the Dagupan bangus may have been partly influenced by the clayish soil condition in Bonuan fishponds and rivers.

Aside from that, the soil said Rosario, was found to be low on phosphorous but high in calcium, which element is contributing to the growth of bones of the bangus being raised in captivity.

As to the water, the type existing in Dagupan is brackish, which is a mixture of fresh water from the upland draining into the Dagupan river and salty water from the Lingayen Gulf.

This makes the water in Dagupan truly unique than in the other bangus-producing areas of Pangasinan, aside from the fact that there are seven rivers criss-crossing the city whose water end up in the Lingayen Gulf.

Restituto Basa, one of the most respected historians of Pangasinan, wrote in his column "From the Salt Bed" syndicated in many of the newspapers in Pangasinan, that the mixture of fresh water and salt water to form into brackish water is really the secret why Bonuan bangus tastes better.

The fresh water comes from the upland of Mt. Ampucao in Tuba, Benguet that drains into the Tagamusing River in Binalonan, onto Sta. Barbara through the Sinocalan River, the Marusay River in Calasiao and then to Dagupan's Pantal River down to the Lingayen Gulf.

Other water bodies and estuaries from the south are draining into Dagupan, the catch basin of many rivers in Pangasinan.

As to the physical aspect of Bonuan bangus, its short head and a lower tail shorter than the upper tail, was influenced by the unique feeding method being applied by local fish farmers which they had inherited from their ancestors.

Rosario said local fish farmers used to feed their fish with the naturally-grown “lablab”, an aquatic plant produced through fertilization with the aid of the burning sun.

The process is done once the fishpond is emptied with water after one production cycle and dried for a few days.

Rosario said because of this unique feeding method, Bonuan bangus won't eat the food in the surface of the water vertically, unlike other fish, but rather horizontally.

And in the process, its lower tail is thrusted into the "lablab" in the bottom of the fishpond, thus explained why its lower tail is shorter than the upper tail.

Its round head, according to Rosario is influenced by constant diving into the floor of the fishpond to eat "lablab" undergrowth, the natural method of feeding bangus. <p<So, the next time you go to the market, don't let the vendors fool you. Remember the distinguishing marks of a true-blue Bonuan bangus. (PNA)

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