After staying for a while in the beautiful El Nido, Palawan we finally found a dish that we simply adored and had to write about – the coconut soup. Contrary to our expectations, the street food and food found in local eateries was largely disappointing blend of gritty pieces of meat that make you wonder what they do with the good parts since all they ever serve is the pork belly and trimmings, soused with sugar and fat.
On the other hand, the market is an eye candy for fishlovers – coming on Wednesday or Saturday morning – half of the produce is still alive! And such variety – tunas, groupers, snappers, squid, shrimp, lobsters, clams… It’s only natural to ponder why is fish so rarely caught with the traditional Filipino menu net.
Restaurants on the beachfront do start serving the fish in the evening, but they tend to overdo the grilling which results in a bitter and charred taste. One interesting thing we tried though was a Kinilaw na Tanigue with Mango (Spanish mackerel ceviche with mango) which had a great potential but was ruined by too much vinegar – therefore we made a version only with kalamansi and it was a bullseye. Recipe coming soon…
Getting back to the Ginataang Hipon. Etymologically, “ginataan” in Tagalog means “to cook in coconut milk” (gata) and it serves as a medium for boiling all sorts of meat and vegetables – from chicken and pork, to seafood and mung beans. Since it is delicate and velvety I love to use it with tender meats such as shrimp.
Thus, the most important ingredient for the soup is the coconut milk. How does one get it? It’s easy. You can either buy it powdered or make your own. With the abundance of coconuts around (it’s as easy as picking the fallen ones from the beach) we decided to make our own since it is easy and quick. The guy selling them on the market has a grating machine and grates 2 coconuts in 2 minutes. Then you just mix the gratings with 2 cups of hot water, stir, wait for 5 minutes, strain and voila! The best coconut milk ever!
- Shrimp or prawn – 500g
- Coconut milk -2 cups
- Green chili, sliced – 1 piece
- Ginger – sliced – 1 medium piece
- Garlic (optional) – cloves
- Mung beans – 150g
- Lemongrass – 1 bunch
- Salt and pepper
- Water or fish stock – 1 cup
Although the original recipe calls for garlic, we decided against it since it overrides many of the subtle flavours, mainly the mild mung beans. In this case, we went for the “less is more” principle and got it right. If you love garlic, we’d recommend adding it only to the boiling phase, not frying, to get the milder aroma.
So, first make the coconut milk (as described above). Then fry the finely sliced young ginger and sliced chilli in some oil, just a minute or two. You do not need to peel the young ginger, just scrape of the thin skin (like new potatoes). Young ginger is soft and does not have the tough inner strings which are hard, sometimes impossible to chew.
Add coconut milk, mung beans, lemongrass, salt and pepper and simmer for 20 minutes. Meantime, clean half of the shrimps or prawns. (I love adding whole shrimp instead of the cleaned ones because the heads release wonderful stock when boiled, better than fish stock) Add crustaceans into the soup and boil gently for another 15-20 minutes. Clean the shrimps and put the tails back into the soup.
Serve in a bowl with calamansi on the side. Kainan na!
TIP: When you clean the shrimp, make sure to crush the heads (you can even roughly blend it) and collect the strained stock, which will greatly enhance the soup flavour.
SERVING TIP: Put one whole shrimp in each bowl. People love to see what they’re eating and, admit it, eating shrimp without using fingers is no fun 🙂