This is my version of the common Filipino dish “Fish with Tausi” or Fish with Fermented Black Beans. It has fried firm tofu, green bell peppers, xiaoxing wine and plenty of garlic – more Chinese than Filipino really.
My mother used to make this dish with tomatoes and her tausi was freshly bought from her favored vendor or “suki” at the market. They normally sell tausi in Philippine markets with other soybean products like tokwa (tofu) and tahure (fermented beancurd). In Colorado Springs, I’ve been sourcing my fermented black beans from Filipino and Oriental stores around Academy Boulevard. It’s only available in cans but is the exact same thing you’ll get back home.
Spouse is not usually keen on soybean products. He doesn’t like tofu and I love it. I have to coax him into enjoying it. I have to tell him tofu is like a chameleon with no flavor of its own but it picks up the flavors of the other ingredients you put in with it. He likes it better when it’s fried like in this dish.? He enjoyed this dish immensely, thank goodness. Even after I cooked it twice last month to use up a bag of frozen catfish fillets I had.
My favorite tofu dish is fried tofu, sauteed with garlic, onion and tomatoes. This was a dish my eldest uncle came up with years ago and shared with my mother.
My Tito Casto is all of 90 years old. He’s a retired country doctor who practised in their home province of Zambales. He’s always been health conscious and was always very careful about what he ate, unlike the rest of the family who just loves to cook and eat without thinking of the consequences. He was into wine-making, vinegar-making, curing meats and other such things as I recall. Even after he retired in his 70’s he continued learning new things and started on countless projects. I have’t seen him in about 6 years and understand he now lives in California with one of his sons.
My mother’s siblings are all very interesting people. Like their surname Magsaysay (Tagalog: to relate) implies, they all have the gift of gab. I’m sure all my cousins have fond memories of our titos and titas gathered around someone’s dining table on an all-day, Sunday get-together.
The food was always good and plentiful and it flowed all day long. Their generation would all be talking and laughing at the same time, trying to be heard above the noise and always trying to outdo each other in their story-telling. Oh the laughs and the stories we heard. Everyone seemed to be smarter than the other at finding the best food and shopping bargains…LOL! The sisters even had their own secret “language” that the brothers didn’t understand. They say mostly Ilocano words in the reverse and could converse this way without blinking or stopping to think.
How strange that a simple dish which not even all the relatives knew of made me think about those happy times. Each of my aunts and uncles had their own specialties. We always expected “orange rice” or arroz valenciana from Tito Casto, most times he’d bring callos too. Tita Chato had her brazo de Mercedes, Tita Mameng’s salads and fruitcakes were always to die for, Tito Luis could make a mean corn bread the likes of which I’ve never had to this day, my Tita Milagring made the best bibingkas, doughnuts and banana bread. My godmother, Tita Remy, who passed away last year made beautiful tamales like she learned it from the best chefs in Pampanga.
My mother is allegedly the best cook amongst all of them. Her claim to fame is Bessie’s pinakbet. My Lola Blanca taught her in her usual style, by instruction and not example. This particular dish was based on my lola’s Tiya Dyanang’s recipe.
It’s said she would cook it over a very low charcoal fire in a claypot or palayok, no water added so she had to keep it covered and never lifted the lid. Shaken not stirred – just like a James Bond martini…LOL!
For years the only feedback Mama got from her mom was, “Tiya Dyanang did it better.” Finally, my mother gave up and told her, “After all these years, my pinakbet is better than Tiya Dyanang ever made it,” to which my grandmother only laughed in reply. My mother’s pinakbet is so good, my Lola Blanca’s sister, Sor Peregrina (our Lola Ines) of La Consolacion always took back a big jar of it to the convent on Santolan Road after spending Sunday with her sister and her family
This was our Sunday ritual for so many happy years…all brought back by a can of fermented black beans.