Dagupan’s Bagoong Industry is Still Alive
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EATING and cooking in the North (especially the Pangasinan and Ilocano cuisine) often if not always involves the special condiment bagoong or fish paste. Whether as main ingredient and flavoring in vegetable dishes like pakbet or dinengdeng, as a sauce for grilled fish and meat, steamed seafood and sour soup and other dishes, or even as an appetizer together with kamote tops, as KBL – kamatis, bagoong, lasona (tomato, fish paste and shallots) or with the seaweed arorosip, the bagoong is an indispensible condiment. For others, it could be an ulam (dish) in itself when added with rice.
Bagoong is partially or completely made of either fermented fish (bagoóng isda) or krill (bagoong alamang) with salt. A byproduct of the fermentation process is called patis (fish sauce). Bagoóng is usually made from a variety of fish species. The most common in Pangasinan is the monamon or dilis (anchovies). My favorite bagoong variety is the padas which is made from rabbitfish, a Siganus species like the yummy malaga. The bagoong alamang or agamang in Pangasinan is made from krill, a small crustacean similar to the shrimp.
Pangasinan which means “where salt is made” and where the fishing industry is flourishing would naturally include bagoong-making as one of the fish processing activities and businesses of the province. Majority of the bagoong makers are in Lingayen while salt-making is common in western towns of Bolinao, Anda, Bani, Alaminos and Dasol. But did you know that bagoong-making was once a thriving business in Dagupan even during the time when it was still known as Bagnotan in the 1600s. Dagupan was once a fishing community due to its nearness to the sea, its seven rivers and nearby swampy areas. To quote Basa: “the abundance of fish catch and availability of salt paved the way for the emergence of corollary industries such as salting of dried fish and producing bagoong.”
Fast forward to the present, Dagupan’s bagoong industry is still alive. I initially thought bagoong-making in Dagupan is passé with the city’s fast commercialization and industrialization. When we had breakfast at the Kaleskesan in Herrero-Perez after the Speaker Perez wreath-laying program during Agew na Dagupan celebration, I roamed around the area and saw that bagoong-making is still alive and continued by 3rd to 4th generation bagoong makers. Eva Sapiera, daughter of Meling Sapiera of Sapiera’s Bagoong recalled that the family business has been ongoing for more than 80 years as started by her ancestors. She also said that there were once more than 20 bagoong makers in the area. As of today, only two remain. The other one is Fernandez Bagoong Trading which is owned by Gloria Fernandez. Dagupan’s bagoong industry has coped up with the changing times. Products are now “hygienically” prepared and properly labeled. There are plans to relocate and/or renovate the bagoong-makers’ area. I hope they stay in the Herrero-Perez area though as that is where the industry begun. And it would be a historical and nostalgic trip and sight to observe the once thriving Dagupan industry every time one eats at the kaleskesan or visit the area.
With the rich history of bagoong-making in Dagupan, why don’t we ensure its identity and viability? Let’s market it as “Dagupan Bagoong” and take pride in the legacy of our fishing community ancestors. Game?
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