Crispy Fried Tawilis

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When visiting Tagaytay, one of my favorite local delicacies to sample apart from Bulalo has always been the crispy fried tawilis – the tiny endemic fish found only in the nearby province of Batangas. I love a nice crispy fried tawilis every now and then and I always buy them of I chance it on the market. Here’s my easy recipe for creating the signature crunch.

If you’re not from these parts, tawilis is a small sardine-like fish that is the only member of the genus Sardinella known to exist entirely in fresh water. According to stories I’ve heard in college, it swims backward. I havent been able to verify that story though, lol.

Cooking the Crispy Fried Tawilis

Cooking the fried tawilis is very easy. The first step is to brine the fish in a saltwater solution for 30 minutes. This helps draw out moisture for maximum crunch. You can remove the heads and gills if you want to but they are normally included in the frying. I have the steps to how to clean the Tawilis in my Tawilis Sardines recipe here

After brining and thoroughly drying the tawilis, I like to season them with salt, garlic powder, and pepper then dip them in flour.

You can fry this directly and this is the version that is usually found in Tagaytay. I thought I’d experiment today though and see if it’s worth it to add some batter for crisp.

 In a bowl, whisk 1/2 cup cornstarch with 3/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/2 tsp baking powder. Gradually add 1 cup water and mix until smooth but still thin and pourable. Season the batter with 1 tsp each salt and ground black pepper.

Working in batches to avoid overcrowding, carefully coat the tawilis in the batter, letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Immediately add to hot oil and fry for about 2-3 minutes, flipping once, until the batter is light and crispy all over. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and enjoy these crunchy local delights while they’re hot!

The one with batter was good but wouldn’t crisp enough without burning the batter. I got a crispy outside but cooked just enough inside. I guess this batter will work well with shrimp. For tawilis, you gotta choose the small ones instead of the fully mature ones to achieve that crispiness inside as well. 

The flavors of tawilis are subtle yet delightful. Whether coated with the crispy, flaky cornstarch batter or just the regular flour, it truly showcases what makes Tagaytay special. Whether you’re from here or visiting, I know you’ll love these fried bites of deliciousness. Salamat and enjoy! Let me know if you tried this recipe.

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