Jollibee burgers…and bangus? And why bangus is considered an (unofficial) Philippine national symbol

Where else, but the Philippine fast food restaurant Jollibee, can one order hamburgers AND fried bangus (pronounced something close to “bung-oose”), served with rice?

Jollibee Food Corporation (JFC) started in Manila, soon after McDonalds made plans to enter the Philippine market.

They are one of Asia’s most successful and fastest growing companies, and the Philippines’ largest chain restaurant.  They continue to expand beyond the Philippines, with most U.S. locations in California.

Not yet familiar with bangus (also known as milkfish)?  It is a commonly eaten fish in the Philippines, and an unofficial national symbol.  And because of its popularity in aquaculture or fish farms, it is available just about everywhere in the Philippines, and easy to find here in the U.S.

Here is a description and biology from Wikipedia:

Milkfish (Chanos chanos) have a generally symmetrical and streamlined appearance, with a sizable forked caudal fin. They can grow to 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in) but are most often about 1 metre (39 in) in length. They have no teeth and generally feed on algae and invertebrates.

They occur in the Indian Ocean and across the Pacific Ocean, tending to school around coasts and islands with reefs. The young fry live at sea for two to three weeks and then migrate to mangrove swamps, estuaries, and sometimes lakes and return to sea to mature sexually and reproduce.

Bangus (Milkfish) – Chanos chanos by Sir Francis Day

And on the history of the bangus / milkfish:

Milkfish aquaculture first occurred around 800 years ago in the Philippines and spread in Indonesia, Taiwan and into the Pacific.

Traditional milkfish aquaculture relied upon restocking ponds by collecting wild fry. This led to a wide range of variability in quality and quantity between seasons and regions. In the late seventies, farmers first successfully spawned breeding fish. However, they were hard to obtain and produced unreliable egg viability.  In 1980 the first spontaneously spawning happened in sea cages. These eggs were found to be sufficient to generate a constant supply for farms.

Bangus is available fresh or frozen at most Asian markets, and at chain supermarkets that serve the Filipino-American (Fil-Am) community (e.g., Seafood City, Island Supermarket).

Bangus milkfish for sale at Seafood City Markets – photo by Lolako.com

It is cooked in soups (sinigang), stewed in vinegar, ginger and spices (paksiw), fried, grilled or barbequed, stuffed (relleno style), and also “dinaing”, marinated in vinegar and spices, and fried, as in the style served at Jollibee.

Targeting the American market with their chicken and burgers, and offering a menu with familiar, native style foods like fried bangus is a solid marketing strategy, since U.S. Jollibee locations are in areas with established Fil-Am communities.

Bangus is a bony fish, so perhaps marinating or “dinaning” style of preparation is among the best method, as the acid in the vinegar makes the bangus bones soft, then crispy when fried.

Bangus is also available at Jollibee for breakfast, served with traditional Filipino garlic fried rice (sinangag) — and an egg of course.  For the breakfast menu, they do call it milkfish, and highlight the belly  or middle part — a favorite for many, including me!

Bangus is a tasty fish, and it must now be abundant enough — and hopefully grown in a sustainable way — to meet the supply demands of a large restaurant chain like Jollibees.

I checked the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch list, and did not see anything on chanos chanos, milkfish or bangus.  They did have a Fish Farming Methods Fact Card that indicate recirculating type systems (enclosed fish tanks) as the best method, though costly to run due to reliance on electricity or other power sources.  If you happen upon this blog and know about the bangus industry, I would appreciate getting a comment on modern bangus aquaculture methods.

I often wondered why bangus often shows up or is thought of as a Philippine national symbol.  So…now I know it is because Filipinos from 800 years ago were the first to capture bangus in the wild, and grow bangus in fish farms!

Lastly for this post…I found out there is a bangus festival in Dagupan City during April until early May.  Dagupan City is in the province of Pangasinan.  A festival centered around the tasty bangus… sounds like fun!

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