There are many things in life we can neither control nor change. The only thing we can control, and change, is our own actions, and our reactions to these uncontrollable things.
Almost a decade ago, when I was young and fancy free (and dinosaurs roamed the earth) I had a job that allowed (required) me to travel extensively around Europe. I would be based in a country for around 3 months, after which I would move on to my next “assignment” in a different country. It was all terribly exciting. I was, after all, pretty much without ties or responsibilities, and I was totally and unequivocally enthralled with Europe as only Europe can totally and unequivocally enthrall.
This job also came with its own set of challenges. Nothing was constant. You had to learn to quickly adapt to and function in your new “home” – each with its own culture and ways and language and public transportation system. In all this, it was only too easy to sometimes become overwhelmed by things out of my control. It was also, in all this, that I learned to let go of that which I could neither control nor change — and focus on myself, and my reactions. I learned two important things: 1. To be able to be infinitely adaptable while, 2. Maintaining a central core which is constant no matter where I am…my inner compass.
When I travel out of the country, this is one of the dishes I look for when I return. It is a taste of home, familiar and comforting. At the same time open to many adaptations.
Tinapang Bangus (Smoked Milkfish)
- 1 tinapang bangus
- 1-2 white onions (depends on size – I like a lot of onions), sliced into thin half-moons
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Sea salt and lots of freshly cracked black pepper
– Place the onions, olive oil, and vinegar in a bowl. Generously crack the black pepper over and sprinkle with sea salt. Toss to combine.
– Lightly grease a baking tray and lay your tinapang bangus on it, open and belly-side up. Pile the onions on the bangus.
– Bake in a pre-heated 350C oven until properly heated through (the tinapa is technically already cooked) and the onions slightly softened.
Bangus (milkfish) is one of my favorite fish. Over here, bangus is eaten in households far and wide, in many different preparations. You can have it marinated and fried (daing na bangus), stuffed (rellenong bangus), in sinigang (our famous sour soup), even bottled like Spanish-style sardines. You can buy them whole, but I like to get them already deboned (unlike most of the time when I prefer my fish whole) as their bones are like a network of feathers and quite difficult and tedious to remove. This fish’s smooth, black belly is rich and fatty and my absolute favorite part of the fish.
Tinapa is fish that has been smoked, and this preparation of bangus it the one I like the best. It is similar to any hot smoked fish, not just in its dusky flavor, but also in that it is already cooked. So preparing it is simply a matter of heating it up. This is my preferred way of preparing it, although not at all traditionally Filipino (what with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar). But like I said, this fish is open to many adaptations, and I think the soft, sweet onions complement the tinapa perfectly.
I am far from having reached a perfect state of balance. Life is one continuous learning process after all. Sometimes things happen…plans fall through, things just don’t go your way, it rains and you wreck your ballet flats. And as much as I want to be that woman who goes through troubles with effortless grace and positivity, sometimes I am still that frustrated girl who needs to remind herself of lessons past.
And sometimes I just escape into my kitchen, where I make the rules.