Manila Envelopes

An actual email from my actual little brother:

“Way to go, although I want to write a reply to your blogs, I think I
can’t because… I like food, but I’m not passionate at all when it
comes to filipino food.  Don’t get me wrong, I read your blog all the
time,  I just have nothing to say because I really have nothing to add.”

I weep for the future.

I’m not upset that my brother doesn’t comment here on this shiny and new blog, I’m upset that the kid has little interest in Filipino food. He barely touches the stuff — only eating pancit out of politeness if he’s at my grandmother’s, fearful of getting a punch in the face (from my grandmother no less) should he ask if there’s anything else to eat.  Ah, the ill-effects of Western assimilation.  Sad, that.

But maybe I can do something about that. I can’t make people like Filipino food, especially my little brother, but maybe I can at least pique some interest.

So, little brother, I respond to your email with a concerned letter via a Manila Envelope.


What’s that in the picture, you ask?  Why, it’s a fillet of Bangus (milkfish), the Philippine national fish, being prepared en papillote, the French technique of cooking food in parchment packets or envelopes. Get it? Manila Envelopes! Ha!

Sorry, I’m easily amused by my own wordplay.  Carrying on…

My mom, AKA “Lightning Lumpia“, usually buys a whole Bangus and broils it.  She then serves it whole at the table with a side of sliced tomatoes, patis (fish sauce), and diced ginger.  The sweet tang from the tomatoes, the saltiness of the patis, and the aromatic spice of the ginger are perfect foils for the meaty milkfish.  Comfort food, for me at least, at its finest.

I wanted to recreate my mom’s broiled Bangus (that sounds weird), but make it easier for my brother to do.  Which is funny because buying a whole fish and sticking it under the broiler is pretty goddamn easy anyways.  But I know my brother, like many people, is weird about buying whole fish.  So, I came up with this Manila Envelope idea with those things in mind.  All he has to do is lay a few ingredients down on a piece of parchment, fold them into a packet, and stick in the oven.  Pretty easy, no?

Bangus isn’t a fish that is readily available at the local megamart.  But it is readily available at most Asian markets.  But if you’re afraid of large quantities of Asians in one place, or if you don’t have an Asian market nearby, Tilapia fillets are an excellent substitute for Bangus, and Tilapia can be found at the local megamart.  Tilapia fillets are also a good choice for this recipe because they won’t be as bony as Bangus, which has quite a few pinbones even after filleting.

If you do venture out to the nearest Asian market, just ask homedude behind the fish counter to clean and fillet the whole Bangus that he is likely to have on display.  I actually went to a local 99 ranch, bought a whole Bangus, and filleted it myself at home.

What, you don’t believe me?  You don’t think I could fillet my own fish? Oh yeah, what do you call this:



Sorry, I’m easily amused by my own swordplay.  Carrying on…

I kept all of my mother’s original ingredients, but I also added red onions (for additional aromatics and color), and mangoes (for sweetness).

Manila Envelopes (Bangus En Papillote)

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

2 fillets of Bangus (Tilapia fillets can also be used)

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

1-inch piece of ginger, finely diced

10 cherry tomatoes, halved

1/2 large ripe mango, cubed

4 teaspoons patis (fish sauce found at Asian markets)

Parchment paper

Yields 2 servings

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

1. Take a 15×24 inch piece of parchment paper and fold in half. Draw a large 1/2 heart on the paper with the fold of the paper as the center of the heart. Cut out the heart and open.  Place half of the red onion slices to one side of the fold.  There should be at least 1-inch of space between the food and the edges of the heart.


2. Season the  fish fillets with pepper (no salt is needed as the patis is very salty).  Lay one of the fillets on top of the onion slices. Sprinkle half of the diced ginger on the fish and top with half of the mangoes and half of the tomatoes. Drizzle with 2 teaspoons of the patis.

3. Fold the other side of the heart over the fish. Starting from the top of the heart, fold the edges over each other and crimp, all the way around, obtaining as tight a seal as possible.


4. Repeat steps 1-3 for the other fillet and the rest of the ingredients.

5. Place both packets on a cookie sheet (leakage may occur during cook time) and place in center rack of oven for 20-30 minutes. Packets will be slightly browned and puffy.

6. Make a slit in the packets and open carefully. Serve with steamed white rice.



  • Hurstalicious March 12, 2007, 8:05 am

    Bangus Really? Or Other Kinds Equals Having A Very Ethnic New meal. i believe i will try it.

  • Jean-Luc Monstroso (your 'lil bro) March 12, 2007, 10:07 am

    Quick question:
    I’ve developed the habit of baking things in foil packets for easy clean-up. I understand that using aluminum foil may be a little primitive compared to using fancy French parchment paper, but is there a big difference?
    And one more thing, you should be grateful I’m providing you material to write about.

  • Burnt Lumpia March 12, 2007, 10:58 am

    Hurstalicious, for your first go, I would recommend going with Tilapia. See if you like the recipe first, before going out of your way to find the Bangus.
    Young Jean-Luc. I completely forgot to mention foil, but yes, that would be fine to use. And parchment paper isn’t fancy, you can find it in the store right next to the foil. Also, in the Philippines, if I’m not mistaken, people would probably wrap the fish in banana leaves and steam or bake. Word.

  • Karen March 13, 2007, 1:31 am

    Bravo! Hahaha! My gosh, I can’t get enough of this.
    Yes, we do use banana leaves to wrap the fish in. We’d even wrap it in tangle/alagaw (fragrant premna) first to make it more aromatic.
    Even in the country, foil is used more and more but for little old school me, that’s more like steaming than broiling but what the heck, it would still be delicious.

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