Is this eel dish Cebu’s answer to Soup No. 5?

By Marlen Limpag

It's as off the beaten track as one can get, this little eatery that stands on the coastal edge of the little town of Cordova in Mactan, but people have found that its seafood specialty—the bakasi or saltwater eel—more than makes up for the long journey there.

Florencio Escabas, owner of Entoy's Bakasihan, serves a plentiful marine resource that can be harvested from the sea just a few meters from his ramshackle bistro.

As seafood dishes go, Entoy's bakasi—which can be prepared three ways—is as fresh and cheap as it can get.

An aphrodisiac?

The eel can be fried or stewed, either as tinuwa (a clear broth with onion, ginger and malunggay leaves) or larang (sautéed and mixed with soy sauce, black beans and tamarind).

Cordova Municipal Councilor Didoy Suan says the bakasi has a distinct taste that keeps him coming back for more.

Others are regulars because they say the bakasi is Cordova's version of  Soup No. 5, an aphrodisiac.

There is no secret spice, seasoning, or any other special ingredient to the bakasi dishes, but Entoy's Bakasihan has the distinction of being the very first to offer eels as a specialty. He opened his eatery in 2002, first for friends, then later for the general public. Now 64, Mang Entoy held various menial jobs for 30 years until he decided to become a fisherman.

He sells his bakasi for P130 per kilogram and charges a meager cooking fee of P60. Or, customers may opt for one order of bakasi that is good for five to six people for only P150. He keeps his prices low because he gets his bakasi directly from his pool of 16 fishermen suppliers.

Straight from the sea to the frying pan

Fishermen catch the eels by setting traps made of bamboo strips. Called bantak, the trap is shaped like a bottle with a narrow neck and round body and it is left underwater with bait inside. The eel enters the bantak through a small opening at its neck but sharp stakes on the inside prevent it from going out again. Florencio said a bantak can hold five to eight saltwater eels.

Similarly shaped as the bantak and also made from the same material but several times bigger in size  is the buhian, which bakasi fishermen use to store their catch. One buhian can hold more than 30 kilos of bakasi.

Mang Entoy uses the buhian for his supply of live bakasi and only gets them out of the sea when there are orders for the dish. This way, customers get to enjoy the freshest saltwater eel dish that can be found this side of the country.

A festival of eels

In order to highlight its endemic seafood offering, Cordova, a small town under the jurisdiction of the province of Cebu located in the island of Mactan, celebrates the Bakasi Festival during the second week of August. It has done so since 2005, which was about the same time the popularity of Mang Entoy's eatery grew.

The municipal council's environment committee has also disallowed the use of fine nets, implemented a five-day fishing break every month and gone after dynamite fishers to protect the eels.

Entoy's Bakasihan is open daily from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

How to get there

At the intersection in the Cordova town center, take the road towards Barangay Buagsong, which is the first street to your left from the crossing. You can't miss it because there is a marker that identifies it and you only have to go straight until you reach the shoreline where Entoy's Bakasihan is located. To contact the eatery, call 0932 365 3841 or 0939 428 0628.

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