What is Pesang Isda? Your Ultimate Guide to the Filipino Fish Stew

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Pesang isda is a Filipino fish broth with ginger and vegetables. It’s a popular home-cooked dish and is often served with rice.

The recipe requires boiling the fish in a ginger broth and aromatic vegetables. Cooking pesang isda is rather simple, but the result is a flavorful and healthy dish.

It’s much like a traditional boiled fish soup with bok choy, cabbage, sayote squash, and a topping of chopped green onions.

Traditional pesang isda is made with mudfish or red snapper fish.

Let’s look at the history, ingredients, and preparation of this delicious dish.

Pesang Isda Recipe (Pinoy Original)

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What’s the Deal with Pesang Isda?

Pesang Isda (full recipe here) is a Filipino dish that involves boiling fish in a flavorful broth packed with healthy vegetables. The term “pesa” means boiling in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, and “isda” means fish. Traditionally, this dish is served with rice and a miso sauce.

The Preparation: A Method for Cooking Fish

The preparation of Pesang Isda involves boiling fish with potatoes and bok choy in a flavorful broth. The fish used in this dish can be any type of fish, but traditionally, it is cooked with tilapia or bangus. The fish is boiled until it is cooked through and the potatoes are tender.

The Serving: A Refreshing and Comforting Soup

Pesang Isda is traditionally served as a soup, and it is a refreshing and comforting dish that can be enjoyed any time of the year. The dish is typically served with rice and a miso sauce on the side. Some people also like to add chicken or spring onions to the soup for added flavor.

The Health Benefits: Packed with Nutrients

Pesang Isda is a healthy dish that is packed with nutrients. The fish provides a good source of protein, while the vegetables provide a variety of vitamins and minerals. The broth is also a great source of hydration and can help to keep you feeling full.

The Cultural and Historical Significance of Pesang Isda

Pesang Isda is a traditional Filipino dish that is typically served during lunchtime. The dish is made by steaming fish in a flavorful broth and served with rice. The dish is a staple in Filipino cuisine and is often served during special occasions and family gatherings.

Origin

In a history of the dish as discussed by known food historian Doreen Hernandez, the Filipino term “pesa” comes from the Chinese term “peq-sa-hi” with “peq” and “sa” standing for “broth” and “hi” for fish. Literally, then, the term would mean “plain boiled fish.”

And that’s exactly how we Filipinos have done pesang isda as well; a stewed fish-based dish!

But it wasn’t always like that. In ancient times, our ancestors cooked the dish with rice cakes, making it more of a porridge-type of pesang isda.

The use of rice cakes as one of the ingredients was mentioned in the earliest recorded Filipino literature, the “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala” (Dictionary of the Tagalog Language) by Juan de Noceda and Pedro de San Buenaventura.

The origins of Pesang Isda can be traced back to the early days of Filipino cuisine. The dish was created as a way to preserve fish, which was a staple food in the Philippines. The dish was also created as a way to make fish more flavorful and enjoyable to eat.

The Role of Sauce in Pesang Isda

One of the key components of Pesang Isda is the sauce that is served with the dish. The sauce is made from the broth that the fish is steamed in and is flavored with ginger, onions, and other spices. The sauce is then poured over the fish and rice, adding an extra layer of flavor to the dish.

The Importance of Tilapia in Pesang Isda Recipes

While Pesang Isda can be made with a variety of fish, tilapia is one of the most commonly used fish in the dish. Tilapia is a freshwater fish that is widely available in the Philippines and is known for its mild flavor and firm texture. It is the perfect fish for Pesang Isda because it holds up well during the steaming process and absorbs the flavors of the broth and spices.

The Significance of Pesang Isda in Filipino Culture

Pesang Isda is more than just a dish in Filipino culture. It is a symbol of family, tradition, and community. The dish is often served during special occasions and family gatherings, bringing people together to share a meal and create memories. The dish is also a reminder of the rich history and culture of the Philippines, and the importance of preserving traditional dishes for future generations.

Pesang Dalag With Miso Soup: A Delicious Twist to the Classic Pesang Isda

Pesang Dalag with Miso Soup is a variation of the classic Filipino dish, Pesang Isda. It is a fish soup dish made with dalag (mudfish) cooked in a broth of ginger, onion, and peppercorns. The dish is then given a unique twist by adding miso paste, which gives it a rich umami flavor.

Why Add Miso to Pesang Isda?

Miso is a traditional Japanese ingredient made from fermented soybeans. It is known for its rich umami flavor, which adds depth and complexity to any dish. Adding miso to Pesang Isda gives it a unique twist that elevates the dish to a whole new level. The miso also adds a lot of nutritional value to the dish, as it is rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Cooking Pesang Isda: Tips and Tricks

  • Choose firm fish, such as mudfish or lapu-lapu, to prevent them from falling apart while cooking.
  • Cut the fish into uniform sizes to ensure even cooking.
  • Wash leafy vegetables, such as bok choy, thoroughly to remove any dirt or debris.
  • Trim the ends of the vegetables and cut them straight for a more appetizing presentation.

Making the Broth

  • Boil the fish in water with a bouillon cube added for richer flavor.
  • Add extra water as needed to keep the fish submerged while cooking.
  • Frying the fish before boiling improves the flavor and prevents it from falling apart.
  • Adding rice to the broth adds depth and makes the dish heartier.
  • Swap out different types of fish to experiment with different flavors and textures.

Serving and Storing

  • Serve the pesang isda hot with steamed rice.
  • Keep any leftover broth and fish in separate containers to prevent the fish from becoming mushy.
  • Adding fried garlic and onions to the broth adds an extra layer of flavor and color to the dish.

Choosing the Best Fish for Your Pesang Isda Recipe

Pesang Isda is a traditional Filipino dish that involves cooking fish in a broth composed of ginger, onions, and vegetables. This simple yet delicious main course is usually served with steamed rice and provides a healthy and nutritious meal for the whole family. However, to achieve the desired taste and texture of the dish, it is essential to choose the right type of fish.

Types of Fish for Pesang Isda

When making pesang isda, it is essential to choose a fish that is firm and can hold up well during the cooking process. Here are some of the best fish options to use in your recipe:

  • Dalag (mudfish): This is the most common fish used in pesang isda. It has a firm texture and a mild flavor that complements the broth well.
  • Red snapper: This fish has a sweet and delicate flavor that goes well with the ginger and vegetables in the broth.
  • Lapu-Lapu (grouper): This fish has a firm texture and a slightly sweet flavor that makes it a great option for pesang isda.
  • Maya-maya (red snapper): This fish has a delicate flavor and a firm texture that makes it perfect for this dish.

Preparation Method

Once you have chosen the fish for your pesang isda recipe, it’s time to prepare it for cooking. Here’s how to do it:

  • Clean the fish thoroughly and remove the scales, head, and tail.
  • Cut the fish into serving size pieces.
  • Rub the fish with salt and pepper.
  • In a large pan, heat some oil and sauté garlic, onions, and ginger until fragrant.
  • Add the fish to the pan and carefully stir to coat it with the aromatics.
  • Add water or broth to the pan until it reaches the depth you desire.
  • Add potatoes, sliced onions, and other vegetables of your choice.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.
  • Continue cooking for about 10-15 minutes or until the fish is cooked through.
  • Remove excess oil or scum that may be running on the surface of the broth.
  • Add bok choy or pechay leaves and cook for another minute.
  • Serve hot with steamed rice.

How to Enjoy Pesang Isda: Serving and Storing Tips

  • If you have leftovers, carefully remove the fish from the sauce and place it in an airtight container.
  • Pour the sauce into a separate container and let it cool before storing it in the refrigerator.
  • To reheat, place the fish and sauce in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until heated through.
  • If the sauce is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of water to achieve the desired consistency.
  • Pesang isda can also be a filling and delicious soup. Simply swap the rice for noodles and add extra water to achieve the desired depth.
  • Pesang isda can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Pairing Pesang Isda with Other Filipino Recipes

  • Pesang isda can be served as a main course for lunch or dinner.
  • It pairs well with other Filipino recipes such as sinigang, ginataang tilapia, and sinanglay na bangus.
  • For an extra kick of flavor, serve with a dipping sauce made of chopped onions, ginger, and red pepper seasoned with salt and pepper.
  • Don’t forget the nutrition! Pesang isda is a great source of protein, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Conclusion

Pesang isda is a Filipino dish that involves boiling fish in a flavorful broth packed with healthy vegetables. It’s a traditional dish that’s been around for ages and is usually served with rice and miso sauce. 

It’s a great way to get some nutrients into your system and has a cultural and historical significance. So don’t be afraid to give it a try!

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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.