“Dilis” or native anchovies are a small, oily fish that thrive in the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans. There are about 144 species worldwide ranging between 2-40 centimeters in length. It is abundantly caught in Philippine waters. Since it is abundant, it’s relatively inexpensive (even cheaper than galunggong) and can easily be included in the family’s weekly meal plans.
But don’t be fooled by this humble market staple. It’s actually considered as a delicacy abroad. In the US and Europe, where they only appear a few months every year, dilis can cost between 4-14 US dollars (almost PhP600) per kilo! Anchovies are used in a variety of high-end Italian, Greek, and Spanish restaurants; hence the price. For example, in Spain, anchovies are enjoyed raw in olive oil and vinegar or flavored in lemon juice and lightly dusted in flour to be deep fried.
Dilis tends to be salty in flavor; therefore, it is used often to enliven salads, viands, pizzas, and sauces. In the Philippines, you can buy it fresh, sun-dried, or fermented into fish paste (bagoong) and fish sauce (patis).
Filipinos have discovered many ways to prepare this wonder fish—it can be eaten raw (“kinilaw”), stewed in tomatoes, cooked in vinegar (“paksiw”), mixed in flour and egg to form patties, or deep fried into crispy fillets. Sun-dried dilis can be stir-fried with brown sugar and eaten as snack (candied dilis), as “pulutan” alongside your favorite alcoholic beverage, or eaten as viand with rice.
Dilis can also serve as a meat substitute for dishes like sautéed vegetables, tinola, soups, and pancit… the options are endless. This only shows that you don’t always have to spend a lot to serve great tasting food for your family. By swapping expensive meat with dilis, you don’t only stretch your meal budget for the week—you’re also throwing in a more nutritionally dense alternative for your loved ones.