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: