By Sol Vanzi
Canned sardines are an integral part of every Filipino’s life. Rich or poor, Pinoys stock up on cans of sardines for rainy days when it is inconvenient or impossible to go to market or the neighborhood store.
When I was a kid, homes had no refrigerators to store food in. Grandma had to go to market daily to purchase ingredients for the day’s meals. When it rained, she resorted to her stock of dried fish and canned food, which children looked forward to because of the empty flat oval sardine cans that we fashioned into miniature cars using bottle caps and wooden thread spools for wheels.
Oval sardine cans were never thrown away. A distant cousin used them as steaming molds for puto binan (sweet rice cake) and hardinera, a kind of steamed meat loaf popularized in Lucban, Quezon. On special occasions, they were used for special desserts such as halayang ube (sweet purple yam) and leche flan (custard).
There used to be very few sardine brands in the market, all of them imported from the US. Portola, Rose Bowl, and Ligo come to mind. There were only two kinds of canned sardines—in oil and with tomato sauce.
Change came in 1980, when A. Tung Chingco Trading, Inc. put up its own cannery to produce Ligo Sardines and Ligo Mackerel locally and meet the growing demand, in association with Liberty Gold Fruit Co., Inc. of California.
Start of a New Era
Under the stewardship of Gregory Tung, Jr., the company strengthened its setup. In the ’90s, they introduced new products—Ligo Mackerel, Ligo Squid, Ligo Corned Beef, and a smorgasbord of Ligo Sardines variants, the likes of gata, Spanish, afritada, kaldereta, tausi, tinapa, and curry.
With Filipinos spread out all over the world, Ligo Sardines and Mackerel are now being exported to the US, Europe, Asia (Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, the Middle East, and the Far East), and the Pacific Rim.
The future of Ligo lies in the hands of Mikko Tung, vice president of production and his brother Mark, vice president of sales and marketing. Together, they are expanding the variety and reach of their products.
New ways with Sardines
The brothers Mikko and Mark Tung dazzled us with a smorgasbord of sardine-based dishes that are easy to prepare with ingredients readily available in every kitchen.
Pandesal Pizza — Mash sardines in chili tomato sauce and spread on pandesal halves. Top with sliced tomatoes, onions, green pepper, and shredded cheese. Toast in an oven until cheese melts.
Stuffed Eggplant – Broil and peel eggplants. Top with mashed chili sardines. Spoon beaten eggs over, top with grated cheese (optional), and bake or fry until done.
Crostini – Toast slices of French bread. Top with mixture of chopped sardines, onions, olives, and grated cheese (optional).
Ravioli – Mash drained sardines with chopped malunggay leaves, grated cheese, minced onions, beaten egg, and flour. Mound a teaspoon on ready-made gyoza wrapper. Fold over to form half-moon, seal edges, drop into simmering salted water until they float. Serve with either cream or tomato sauce.
Quesadillas – Mash chili sardines with grated cheese, minced onions, and chopped fresh cilantro (wansuy). Spread over pita bread or shawarma bread. Top with another flat bread and toast both sides in an oil-less heavy pan. Serve cut in wedges.
Lumpiang Shanghai – To make the filling, mix together drained mashed sardines, chopped celery, minced onions, beaten egg, salt and pepper, and grated cheese. Wrap in lumpia skin. Deep fry until crisp and golden. Serve with catsup or sweet hot sauce.