(This was written and blogged when I was in the Sultanate of Oman, of which during my brief stay, I craved for bugguong (fermented fish/fish paste) like no other. In that particular place, Sohar City, where we used to stay, no bugguong was in sight. At that particular time. But nowadays, I was duly informed that a newly built big supermarket/mall has rows of bottled bugguong paste in its "Asian" section, to the relief of the many homesick Ilokanos in the area.)
Been problematic a week after arriving here in Oman. Know what, I've been craving for bugguong more than a preggy woman craves for twin bananas or young coconuts or whitey jicamas and out-of-season santol and lomboy, anything edible, "mouthable," "stomachable," palatable with even a hint of bugguong in it. I can't stand it any more, any longer, any sooner, I want my dinengdeng and my pinakbet complete and compleat, I want my bugguong, I want my precious, precious, I badly want a bugguong-laced and bugguong-graced veggie, I want my sliced fresh tomatoes and young onions swimming in so-oh delicately goldenbrownish oh-so luscious bugguong sauce for my treasured dips!
We tried scouring the hypermarkets and stores, but not a sign of the elusive bugguong. Not even those fabled Vietnamese nước mắm or fermented fish sauce or paste. What's readily available are those patis, fish sauce, from the Philippines and some imported from Thailand. And of course those bottled pseudo-bugguongs called bagoong alamang or shrimp paste which are not even the freshest you can get but already sauteed and putrefying in additives.
And you'll wonder why don't some enterprising Pinoys try to legally export quantities of export-quality halal bugguong (monamon or tirong) in the Middle East? So that you'll not content yourself "smuggling" in a plane a pity jarful of it wrapped and sealed like a stinking mummy and surreptitiously concealed in your luggage. I've read somewhere in a certain magazine before that somebody has invented a way to solidify bugguong into cooking cubes ala-Knorr and Maggi broth cubes. I wish this method is popularized and commercialized so you can freely fill in a bagful of bugguong cubes in your hand carry suitcase and cradle it in your lap as if it's your precious child, without fear that its heavenly fragrance may irritate some infidel nostrils, or may threaten to emit a smell as sinister as a malodorous biological weapon of mass destruction.
But enough of those silly protestations. Be sensible. Those cravings are just a normal condiment of the exilic life, the OFW life. Of missing something, terribly missing something treasured and precious to the palate. And to your heart. But let alone missing terribly someone, some ones, loved ones. Bear with your foolish gastronomic cravings and try and learn to live without a goddamn foul-smelling bugguong!
But why not remedy this silly need? Fortunately, Sohar, the city where my wife is residing, is a coastal area (in fact, almost all Oman cities and towns lie along the coast) facing the Gulf of Oman (Iran is just almost a stone's throw away in the other side of the sea). And there are some fishing communities here, with lots of Omanis fishing for a living. Mind you, even a "small time" Omani fisherman is a "big time" compared with say, most Pinoy fishers. Their fishing gears and vessels are too modern or "high tech" compared to what our ordinary fishermen are using. Omani fishing boats are those stylish big and speedy ones with expensive outboard motors similar to vessels used by wealthy sportsmen who gamefish for sheer fun. There are fish ports in Sohar where you can buy the freshest catch for a pittance (although, prized fish like yellowfin tuna and king fish are still priced, expensive, costing an Omani rial or two a kilogram). There are bountiful catch of anchovy, mackerel, sardine, herring, ponyfish, scad fish, squid, cuttle fish and even baby sharks and other smaller fish so fresh some are still wiggling and wriggling. Yes, monamon, bilis, sapsap and other small fishes which are fodders for the kumikilaw or mangngilaw monster in you. And yes, the bugguong gourmand in you, why not? Eureka! With lots of monamons and bilis and abundant rock salt around, you can make your own D.I.Y. (do-it-yourself) bugguong!
So, there. We bought some kilos of the freshest bilis or herring (monamons were not available that one Thursday day when we went out "fishing") and we stuffed some in a plastic garapon, jar, with ample amount of rock salt, with hopes that in a week or two, we can satisfy our earthly urges with a promising bugguong. A gracious bugguong no matter what the outcome will be it would still be the same luxurious bugguong.
And look, the blessed fermenting fish in its lovely concoction of pure and simple bugguong juice, the sacred juice of Ilokanistic life and lives, the divine liquid of ambrosial proportions! What a blessing, what a bliss, indeed!
(Originally blogged May 15, 2008)