Luggage with A Special Kind of Stinky

Being a nation comprised of thousands of islands and where the ocean is never really far away from anyone or anywhere, it is easy to see why Filipinos are fond of seafood.

Also consumed in large quantities are dried fish and related fermented fish products, as these do not need refrigeration, are a source of protein, and brings flavor to plain old rice and vegetables.

“Tuyo” – Dried Fish for Sale at the Market

The word “tuyo” which means “dry” in Tagalog, is the same word for dried fish.

I do like using patis (Philippine fish sauce) in my cooking, as noted on my earlier post.  However, I am not as crazy about dried fish, though I know many bring back their favorite dried fish, squid or specialty fermented seafood after coming back from their visits to the Philippines.

Years ago, my Mom decided she had to bring several jars of a local Visayan “delicacy” called ginamos back to the California, and tucked several jars in her luggage.

Ginamos is a salted, fermented product made from tiny fish like silver fish, anchovies or sometimes bigger fish like sardines, as well as shrimp (the pinkish version on the photo below).  Sold in glass jars or in open buckets at the market, the sight of it is not exactly appetizing as most are cloudy to muddy gray in color.

Ginamos – Bagoong at Market. Photo Courtesy of Tsubibo

It does not get better once you open up the container, when the smell of fermented, decaying fish wafts out.  I swear the stinkier the variety,  the more my Mom lights up at how good it will be with her fresh steamed rice.  Many Filipinos also like to eat ginamos with bananas and sweet potatoes.

When walking through local markets where ginamos is sold, I have to hold my breath —and walk as fast as I can—for fear I may pass out from the smell…and I grew up familiar with this unique aroma.  So I can only imagine how those —whose olfactory senses are “new” to the odor would react to the smell because….it truly is a special kind of stinky.

So for this trip back,  Mom must have thought the ginamos batch was worth taking to the U.S., and brought back not just one, but several jars of it.  Unfortunately, Mom was not mindful of how to properly pack ginamos for a 7,000+ mile journey.

At the San Francisco International Airport’s baggage claim, I waited next to Mom and other tired passengers for her luggage.  At the same time, I noticed the area emitted a familiar fishy smell (familiar that is, to many Filipinos), and noticed too, others wrinkling their noses.

As you can guess, indeed, one of my Mom’s treasured jars of ginamos had shattered.  I was worried she would never get the odor off her clothes, and thought, oh well that luggage bag is history!  And then I thought..uh oh…..the poor folks who may have to smell that special stinky —maybe for weeks— around the luggage carousel.

For Mom though, she was more upset that she had lost a jar of her ginamos, especially after traveling so far.  After all, you can replace clothes and luggage, but you cannot buy that special gnamos just anywhere in San Francisco!

Enjoy your ginamos and bananas! Photo Courtesy of Karlhans.

Related: Lola Jane’s Filipino food posts:

16 thoughts on “Luggage with A Special Kind of Stinky

  1. The exact same thing happened to me and my mother when we brought back a bottle of bagoong from the Philippines. Only we got stopped a Hawaii customs. They knew exactly what it was!


  2. I’m planning to visit to the Philippines next year.This would be my first visit back there since I came here,it’s been four years now.I was thinking to bring a homemade “ginamos” back here in US.

    It only scares me that I might be in trouble when I get to the custom. Is it ok to bring even only one bottle of “ginamos”?or how big is the bottle can I bring?I knew some people bring some but that was before,but rules in the airport could change from time to time. If it’s ok to bring one or two,how can I wrap it just to avoid breakage.Can I put it in a plastic container instead of a glass jar?

    Do I have to declare it? I really want to bring some because it might take 5-8 years before I can eat “ginamos” again.It’s different also if it’s home made,u know how it is being made and I want a very tiny fish like we call “nylon”,smaller than bolinao, looks like white in color, coz the big one looks lizard,hehehe! We have ginamos in jars here in asian market but every time after I ate it,it makes me feel so dizzy and nauseous,makes my saliva get sticky,sorry for this odd description,but it’s true,perhaps something in it they put in making the product be preserved longer or whatever…so I decided that it’s better to have a home made one.

    Just don’t know if it’s ok to bring one or two bottles of “ginamos” here in US and how to wrap it properly.Hope to find some help and answers.Thanks!

  3. I would really appreciate it if some helpful and specific replies could be sent to my email address.I already try reading some blogs and threads about people who are talking about bagoong or ginamos stuff,but ended in jokes and no specific instructions in it,which helps nothing…:-(

    • Hi Cecille – I contacted the Port of Entry, San Francisco International Airport, and spoke to the “All Traveler Information Department ” — the service contact for those traveling with pets, food or plants.

      As of today, September 20th, 2011, they indicated that dried fish and fermented seafood products like Ginamos are OK to bring back from the Philippines to the U.S. And also NOTE: This applies to SEAFOOD only, not beef or poultry. And of course, not ever any FRESH seafood, just “Tuyo” or fermented seafood like ginamos.

      People come through the airport all the time with tuyo and ginamos in their luggage. The most important thing is that you DECLARE it, in case the agriculture department wants to see the items and scan through Xray machines.

      If you want more information, I suggest you contact directly, your port of entry airport from the Philippines (for example, Los Angeles, etc.)

      Also, note to readers of this comment — this applies to the United States only. If you are bringing Philippine Tuyo or Ginamos into another country, check with the country port of entry authorities for the specific country rules).

      For San Francisco International Airport – Port of Entry officials on this topic can be reached at telephone # (650) 624-7200, extension 415. To find your own local authority, you can Google “Port of Entry” along with the name of your airport of entry. Always a good idea to call first, in case of rule changes.

      They said there was no “limit” on how many containers you can bring back, so you can fill your luggage with tuyo and ginamos if you want.

      But definitely — INGAT sa pag pack, and double bag mo in case mabasag ang primary container mo. You don’t want to have special stinky luggage like in my mother’s case…

      Have a safe and enjoyable trip, and let me know how it goes! And readers of this blog topic, leave a comment about your experience with bringing back your own special tuyo or ginamos after visit back home. ~ Lola Jane

      • Hi Lola Jane,
        Thank u so much for a specific and clear info and for contacting the Traveller’s Info Department…I do really appreciate it. I am so happy to learn from you that it’s ok to bring tuyo and ginamos back in US,Gusto ko talagang magdala ng marami,enough to support for years 🙂 This info u posted is already enough for me to feel confident to bring some after visiting Philippines.I will definitely post here on how it goes.Thank you,thank you,thank you sooo much for the info.

      • Hi Lola Jane,
        Thank u so much for the information,your time and effort of informing me.I do appreciate it all.A big “thank you” talaga.I’m so happy also knowing that it’s ok to bring jars of “ginamos and tuyo” back here in US.I am thankful that I find your blog:-)


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  6. I have a flight for Philadelphia but my POE is LAX. Are we allowed to bring goods such as ginamos and dried fish there?thanks!

  7. Hi Lola Jane….

    Stumble read your blog just now. I love how you explain and write about Philippine culture. I am half Philippine too and I’m proud of it. Planning to go there next year ^_^

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