the year 1641, on January 4, majestic Mt. Asog, then an active volcano
in the town of Buhi, Camarines Sur, in the island of Luzon, Philippines,
made its first and last bid for extinction. It erupted into fiery
life. The hills and valleys near its foot caved in, creating a deep
chasm that rapidly filled with millions of gallons of fresh water.
Thus was born Buhi Lake. In the decades, following the lake's dramatic
debut, fish in a wide variety appeared, presumably introduced through
the tiny streams that feed Buhi. One particularly interesting specimen
came to be known as sinarapan.
one knows now how the fish got its name. Perhaps it derives from
the sarap, a fishing device used by local fishermen to catch it
and who are themselves called para-sarap. Or perhaps it was 24 so-named
because it is masarap, the Tagalog word used by Filipino gourmets
when referring to an extremely delicious food item. The name, however,
is less significant than the fact that sinarapan enjoys the distinction
of being the world's tiniest edible vertebrate.
Lake is the only known place on earth where the sinarapan is found.
A somewhat smaller species was discovered recently in the waters
of Malabon, Rizal. But experts from the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries
believe the fish to be rare and not available in commercial quantity.
six to eight millimeters in length when fully grown, the sinarapan
is so minute that it would take a thousand to fill a tablespoon.
Scientifically, the pygmy goby is known as Mistichtys Luzonensis.
Inhabitants of the Bicol Region where the fish is popularly known
call it tabios. But in Buhi and in the neighbouring towns in the
province of Camarines Sur, the fish remains the sinarapan.
It swims in
schools of approximately 100,000 to 500,000 and is commonly harvested
with a net called the sarap, a finely woven material made from the
abaca fiber with two sides of its opening attached to long bamboo
poles. The schools of sinarapan swim near sandy and rocky areas
in Buhi Lake at an average depth of 7 to 10 meters. When dipped
under water, the sarap yields about a handful to a cupful of sinarapan.
To fill a container the size of a cookie jar, it would require at
least 50 dippings of the sarap.
The best time
of the day to catch it is about two hours before dawn and between
three and four in the afternoon. The paratindang sinarapan, or sinarapan
peddler, sells a plateful of catch for about US 10c. Sinarapan is
delicious when cook. ed. Many Filipinos believe it to preserve the
teeth from decay. If eaten raw with a few drops of lemon juice and
a dash of salt, it is considered to be a powerful aphrodisiac.
times by a microscope, the fish is seen to possess tiny scales,
so transparent as to be almost invisible. Generally dark grey in
colour, it has a backbone, as well as a "see through"
submarine-like body, a pair of pectoral fins, one anal fin, a dorsal
fin and also a brush-like caudal fin. Placed inside a table-top
aquarium, a sinarapan lives for only about 10 minutes.
be prepared in many ways. The favourite seems to be quickfrying,
after which the sinarapan is garnished with slices of native tomatoes,
onion leaves, crushed garlic, black pepper and salt.
One will truly
savour the taste and aroma of sinarapan when it is cooked in coconut
milk together with bits of vegetables and then spiced with Mexican
chili. For breakfast, sinarapan omelet is a popular dish, served
with Spanish-style fried rice (arroz a la Valenciana), pan de sal
or salt bread and hot salabat, a sweet tangy drink prepared from
a concoction of ginger root, sugar cane and tap water. Sinarapan-daing,
or dried sinarapan, is generally washed down with beer, rum or whisky.
Made by thin-spreading it like margarine on squared banana leaves,
the daing is then dried under the sun for one day. Roasted over
red-hot charcoal or fried in coconut oil, the daing crackles like
soda crackers when eaten.
of sinarapan over the larger fish in Buhi Lake is that it need not
be cleaned. Everything is eaten: scales, flesh, entrails and all.
For this reason, Buhi villagers count themselves fortunate. They
are, indeed, doubly so, in that the lake's supply of sinarapan does
not permit its export. The world's smallest edible fish is enjoyed
only by those who live within walking distance of Buhi Lake.(Originally
titled "The World's Smallest Edible Fish," this article
is reprinted from the March 3, 1974 issue of The Asia Magazine.)