Fresh off the island

·3 min read

THERE are plenty of fish in the sea, but there are plenty more in Bantayan Island. A common practice among residents is drying fish to preserve it. This is why “buwad” (dried fish) is the island’s most popular delicacy.

If the thought of waking up to a quintessential Cebuano breakfast of garlic rice, buwad, chorizo and a sunny side-up egg is making your mouth water, that makes two of us.

For those who can’t handle the saltiness of buwad, though, the better option is “labtingaw.”

Unlike the former which is heavily salted and sun-dried for days, labtingaw is moderately salted and then dried under the sun for just a few hours. This yields an end product that’s meatier, still moist, flavorful but not too salty and has better texture as it’s not totally dried up.

All these we learned from Tenten Larraabal Yu and Ingking Villo Yu, the couple that has made a flourishing business out of labtingaw. Ingking, whose family hails from Bantayan Island, is the granddaughter of the oldest matriarch of the Despi clan. She also works as one of the managing directors of Lolo Tinong’s Bakery, which is a family business.

“The Original Bantayan Labtingaw is our pandemic baby. When Covid hit us, sales dropped by 70 percent so we had to look for or think of another business to keep us afloat, considering we have six kids and a big household to feed. It’s named as such because this is an original recipe passed on from my lola to her younger cousins and now to her cousin’s daughter, my aunt,” explained Ingking.

The labtingaw, which can refer to the process or the product itself, has to be made from fresh fish sourced from the local market. “There are many different ways how Bantayanons make labtingaw but ours maintains the natural flavor of the fish. We use the tagline ‘Dili ni buwad’ because labtingaw was never popular before until we introduced it to the market. We have to use the tagline so the general public will know that it is different from buwad, which is fibrous and salty,” said Ingking.

She added that labtingaw is known only to Bantayanons and is rarely sold in the public market because it is highly perishable, unlike buwad. “The first few months were a struggle for us because we had to make customers understand that it’s different from the usual dried fish.”

Although danggit is the main product, the selection has since expanded to include squid labtingaw, its second bestselling product. Also on offer are other kinds of fish like katambak, lapu-lapu, anduhaw and Capisnon. Recently, spicy danggit and spicy squid have been added to the product line.

Fresh danggit, first weighed by kilogram or equivalent to nine to 12 pieces, are deboned, cleaned, guts and gills removed, dried and then sealed in packs weighing not less than 400 grams, still with the same number of fish there are in a kilo. The same process is employed with the other seafood products. To ensure consistency in quality and taste, sticking to the original recipe, the couple has only one person who seasons everything.

The Original Bantayan Labtingaw is available in Manila, Davao, Iligan, Cagayan de Oro, Bacolod, Dipolog and Ormoc. The products are available online but the couple also has in-house delivery.

“What sets ours apart from other labtingaw, aside from being the best-tasting, modesty aside, is that we also make sure to treat our customers special and leave them satisfied. We answer inquiries 24/7 as long as we are awake and we go the extra mile for every customer. We put all our passion into this because this is what we can call truly our own and our business, not linked to the family,” said Ingking.

For orders, one can message Original Bantayan Labtingaw on Facebook and @theoriginalbantayanlabtingaw on Instagram.

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