The following is loosely based on actual events…
INT. LOCAL FILIPINO MARKET – NOON
Marvin zips through the automated market doors and makes a beeline toward the back of the store–past the colorful bottles of banana ketchup and fish sauce, and beyond the refrigerated aisles of fermented shrimp paste and calamansi-flavored sodas. He reaches the fish counter in a huff.
OLD FISHMONGER GUY
What you want?
(perusing the assortment of fresh fish on ice)
Uh, you don’t have any snapper today, huh?
(saying something in Tagalog that Marvin can’t understand)
Blah, blah, blah, isda, blah.
Uh, I don’t speak Tagalog.
You are not Filipino?
I am. I just don’t speak Tagalog.
You look Korean.
(thinking to himself)
If I look Korean, why the hell are you talking to me in Tagalog?
I get that all the time, but I’m Filipino.
OLD FISHMONGER GUY
Well, uh, I’m going to make Escabeche.
You know how to make Escabeche? You can’t speak Tagalog, but you can make Escabeche?!! Ha! Tell me how you make it.
Well, I already made the sweet and sour sauce at home, before I came here. I just want to get a whole fish here and have you fry it.
(surprised, maybe even a little impressed)
Ah, you made the sauce already? I see. And I fry? That’s not a bad idea, ha! So you don’t want to fry at home, ha! Wow, that’s good. Well, grouper is best for Escabeche, but we don’t have any of that either.
Is there anything I can use for Escabeche?
How many are you feeding?
Just me and my wife.
Just two?!! Ha! What, your wife can’t cook?
(getting irked, but was taught to respect his elders, dammit)
She cooks. But she’s not Filipino. So I cook the Filipino food.
She’s not Filipino?! Does she like what you cook? Does she eat Filipino food?
(wondering why older Filipinos always seem to laugh at him)
She loves Filipino food, actually.
That’s good! That’s good! OK, I have this Sea Bass here. It will be good for Escabeche. I’ll clean it and fry it for you, then you take home fast, OK? So the fish will be crisp when you get home. You don’t live far do you?
Nope. Just ten minutes away.
The Old Fishmonger Guy grabs a pristine-looking sea bass from his case, turns around, and slams it on his work counter. He goes to work and cleans the fish. Scales fly every which way, some even landing in his non-hairnet-protected hair. The Old Fishmonger Guy then takes the fish and plunges it into the hot oil of a deep fryer. Above the fryer is a sign that reads “We Fry For Free. (Whole Fish Only)”. Marvin spots the sign and imagines his mom reading the sign aloud. He laps laughs.
So tell me. What did you put in your Escabeche sauce?
(counting on his fingers as he lists his ingredients)
Hmmm. Some vinegar, water, patis, onions, garlic, ginger, red and green bell pepper, and, um, hmmm. I think that’s it.
Oh, yeah! Sugar! Yes, I put some sugar in it too. It’s sweet and sour with the vinegar and sugar.
Yes. That sounds like a pretty good Escabeche sauce.
Acceptance! At last!
After a few minutes in the bubbling and spewing hot oil, the fish was removed from the deep fryer, sprinkled with a little salt, then wrapped in a cardboard box and foil. Marvin again thanked The Old Fishmonger and took his parcel to the front of the store and paid for the fish. Marvin then zipped through the automated market doors, got into his car, then dashed home.
INT. BURNT LUMPIA WORLDWIDE HEADQUARTERS – EARLY AFTERNOON.
Marvin arrives at home, but the smell of the fried fish seemingly precedes him as his wife calls out to him from the living room before even seeing him.
(she’s visibly pregnant, her hands are clasped over her belly as she sits on the couch)
Finally! How was the market?
(already in the kitchen, removing the fish from its package and placing it on a serving platter)
Eh, same as always.
(walking into the kitchen)
Mmmmm. That smells good. I kept the sauce warm on the stove like you asked. I’ve been craving this forever!
(pouring the sweet and sour sauce onto the fish)
You and me both.
Filipino Escabeche (Sweet and Sour Fish)
NOTE: You can deep-fry your own fish at home if you’d like. But as I mentioned above, I’ve found it a lot easier (and neater) to have the fish fried at my local Filipino market. If you don’t have a local Filipino market, most other Asian markets (like 99 Ranch) also fry your fish for free. And I apologize for the corniness above.
1 2lb. whole sea bass, red snapper, or grouper–cleaned, gutted, and deep fried.
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 red onion, sliced
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and julienned
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 green bell pepper, julienned
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1/2 cup water
1/4 cane vinegar
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
1 Tablespoon brown sugar
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon cold water
2 green onions, chopped for garnish
To make the Escabeche sweet and sour sauce, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the onions to the hot pan and saute for five minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and bell peppers to the pan, and continue cooking until bell peppers begin to soften, about 3 minutes.
Add the water, vinegar, fish sauce, brown sugar, and black pepper to the pan. Stir to combine, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover pan, and continue simmering over low heat for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, taste the sauce and adjust sauce to the desired sweet/sourness if needed.
Combine the cornstarch with the Tablespoon of water, then add to the pan. Continue stirring over low heat until sauce thickens. Remove sauce from heat, then pour over whole fried fish on a serving platter. Garnish with green onions. Serve immediately.