Filipinos never waste any edible food. What would be first world waste, will turn up in our kitchen as something delectable and delicious. Meet one of my favorites: Sinigang na ulo-ulo, aka “Fish head sinigang”.
I first tasted sinigang na ulo-ulo when I was working at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). We would ask our ever-faithful Ate Sonia to run off to Rodicks to buy sinigang na ulo-ulo. I never appreciated it then, probably because by the time it got to us, the soup has gone cold.
Fast forward to a few years into the future. The head of the labor union where I worked invited me to lunch with him at an Ulo-ulo restaurant near Sikatuna. When we got there, the place was packed with men, but there was also quite a number of women. The place was called “Ulo-ulo sa Veterans 2” which is quite strange since the Veteran’s Hospital was quite a distance away. I later learned that the original eatery, i.e. “Ulo-ulo sa Veterans 1” is near Road 1 near the Veteran’s Hospital. Both are still standing and are owned by the same owner. Ulo-ulo Par 2 is also more popularly referred to as “Ulo-ulo sa Sikatuna”.
The crowd is 25% off-duty policemen from nearby Camp Karingal, 25% from the Q.C. Hall complex (I saw quite a number of lawyers—including one RTC Judge), 25% Taxi drivers, with the final 25% probably a mixture of UP Students and office workers from the nearby offices (me included).
The place is a shrine to plastic, i.e. plastic tables, plastic chairs and plastic plates. It is decent and clean for a roadside eatery. A creaky electric fan helplessly attempts to keep the heat from becoming unbearable as the place gives new meaning to the word al fresco dining. Inside “Ulo-ulo part 2”, you are most welcome to lift the lid off the huge caldron of steaming sinigang soup. On purpose, the fish head are kept separated from the boiling soup. On ordering the server would take out a huge bowl, pour in some scalding-hot sinigang soup, some vegetables (fresh mustard leaves, tomatoes, slices of radish) and finally the fish head.
You can choose either Maya-maya (Snapper fish) or even Pink Norwegian Salmon Head. The Maya-maya would cost around P90 per serving but the Salmon head would set you back by P130 per serving. I went for the Salmon Head. The serving size is generous, as you get both sides of the fish head; it is enough to share for two. But for those manly appetites, you would want to have it all for yourself.
Once the sinigang na ulo-ulo is served, you then go to the condiment counter and get your favorite condiment. There is patis (fish sauce), toyo (soy sauce) but I went for the bagoong isda (fermented anchovy sauce), which I liberally laced with calamansi (Philippine Lemon) and a piece of siling labuyo (Red cayenne pepper) which I crushed to release its spiciness.
To eat the Salmon Head, you take either the orange colored salmon meat, or a piece of the fish blubber, dip it in your favorite sauce and eat the concoction with a spoonful of rice softened by the sinigang soup. Once in a while, you break the cycle by slowly sipping the lovely soup or partake the crunchiness of the mustard leaves or the tanginess of the radish slices.
Contrary to what many would think, the fish head yields a pretty decent amount of delicious fish meat and the equally delicious fish fat.
Two servings of rice and a bottle of coke later, I was poorer by P160. I must confess that I am hopelessly hooked to “Ulo-ulo” and I would occasionally sneak out of the office to lunch at this shrine to manly man’s appetite.
As I said before, the place when the manly man can enjoy good food without the trimmings is not necessarily off limits to women. Yes, it is hot, covered with plastic stuff and a lot of guys with guns eat there (policemen, sir..), but it is one darn good place to have a filling meal. Bring your wife, girlfriend, or your date there sometime. Nothing impresses a woman more than a guy without any pretensions when it comes to good food.
And you do not even have to worry about embarrassing yourself when you eat the garnish.