Give Us Our Ginamos

The term “gamos” means to ferment, and since this is a process, it applies not only to the “ginamos” that uses tiny shrimps, but also to those made with other seafood. Ginamos is the essential Visayan shrimp paste. Many Filipinos know it by the name “bagoong”, but ginamos is a Hiligaynon term assigned to Negrenses and the rest of the Hiligaynon-speaking population. In this article, the Negros Season of Culture presents the ginamos in different forms, i.e., ginamos nga hipon, ginamos nga bisaya, bottled batitis (tiny clams), bottled sisi (rock oysters), and the tinabal.

Life’s unfair to the ginamos. It has been the butt of unsavory jokes, particularly, the allusion to the bare feet that stomp on the mounds of hipon into a flavorful paste. “Yuck. Can you imagine that?” a horrified pretty young thing might exclaim while she reaches for a glass of wine processed from grapes trodden by bare feet. Yuck you, too, Sweetie.

There’s also the matter about how it smells. About how one can’t help but wrinkle one’s nose upon catching a whiff of it. The hard-to-contain odor of ginamos has caused it to be a synonym for “dirty linen”. Tagu-a ang imo nga ginamos means not to air your linen in public. The smell of ginamos is notoriously sharp, but not to those who are used to its pungency. The uninitiated may find it disagreeable, though. So, there’s the problem of Filipino wives married to non-Filipinos and while living outside the country, want to bring Negrense cuisine into their households. Imagine the pungency wafting throughout the rooms, and the gentle breeze spreading the “scent” around the neighborhood. Aaah, heaven. Or, hell, depending on the nationalities of the noses. By the way, has any court of law abroad allowed ginamos to be a ground for divorce?

Reach for extra rice when digging into this dish of pork cubes, coconut milk, and ginamos.

Sauteed ginamos for your kare kare. *sigh*

Fortunately, the ginamos is not one to indulge in self-pity. After all, without it what is Negrense cuisine? It is ginamos that flavors the laswa (a vegetable stew); that adds depth to the batchoy; that is an unusual partner to boiled unripe sab-a (cooking bananas); that perfectly goes with green mangoes; that is the indispensable spouse of the kare-kare; that is a meal by itself when, sauteed with garlic, onions, and tomatoes, topped on steaming hot rice. Well, what do you know. Ginamos can end world hunger!

The Hipon

Negros Occidental is an abundant source of hipon or bubok shrimp (acetes spp.) that can be found in towns and cities along the Guimaras Strait and onwards to the Visayan Sea, from the Municipality of Ilog in the south to Cadiz City in the north.  Pulupandan has the most abundant presence of these shrimp, thanks to the Bago River that runs through it, taking with it sustenance from the mountains.  Hipon comes in season around September or even as early as June, but it is in November when the shrimp population reaches its peak.  The number of hipon also depends on the turbidity of the water; turbid water usually means the presence of plankton on which the hipon feed.  It also helps that phosphate-rich waste materials from the island’s sugar centrals allows the planktons and other small aquatic life to thrive.

Hipon in season has a filled-out rounded body that assures one of its sweetness and succulence.  When pan-fried, it turns a delicate shell pink, although, in its molten state, it may look pale and thin.  Well, no wonder it’s unflattering to be called a shrimp.  

A successful early morning catch at Pta. Taytay.

The net of hipon means food on the table

The Ginamos Process

To process hipon into ginamos, the shrimps are dried for a day until it has the texture of boiled rice.  It is then mixed well with sea salt in a 1:1 ratio (or depending on taste and can be 2 parts hipon to 1/4 part salt), pounded in a huge wooden mortar with pestle until fine (the binayo method), and the hipon stick to each other.  This state enables the mixture to be formed into cakes or blocks ready for the market.  However, when preparing a big volume of ginamos, the feet are used instead (the tapak method).  Bare feet…in clean rubber boots.  Gotcha!

After pounding into a paste, the ginamos is fermented at room temperature, and traditionally kept to drain in a tabungos, a square bamboo basket that is hip-high and can even be as tall as the shoulders, or in a concrete trough.  The longer the fermentation, the more marimis (well-blended, smooth, and refined) the flavor as crustacean and salt age together.  Ginamos can be kept up to 3 years or even longer as long as some newly-made batch is mixed in to prevent the old batch from turning bitter. Did you know that shrimp paste that is at least a year old is called “la-on” which is Hiligaynon for “old maid”?

Ginamos nga Bisaya

Ginamos is more known as shrimp paste, which is used as condiment, seasoning, and side dish.  For the same purpose, but in a different form, is the ginamos nga bisaya.  For this, the unwashed hipon is picked of shell shards, pebbles, and, perhaps, small fish that were caught along with the hipon during the pang-tangab (trapping of shrimp), or panalap (the gathering of the hipon with a net or hudhod).  After cleaning the hipon, mix seven parts of shrimp to one part of sea salt and one part sugar, and pack in glass jars to ferment for a week or so.  The ginamos nga bisaya can also be used to flavor laswa, served sauteed in garlic, or with just a squeeze of calamansi.

A jumble of tinabal nga gurayan can mess up your diet.

The Tinabal

One form of ginamos is the tinabal and this is the general term for gamos of small fish, fish fry, or shellfish in a moist state usually in brine.

The tinabal nga batitis steeping in native coconut vinegar.

There’s the tinabal nga batitis (tiny freshwater clams) gathered preferably in Pasil (Victorias City), and Cadiz City, the white flesh bottled in their juices with a little salt and ginger slices.  

The tinabal nga sisi is so good hindi ka magsisisi. You won’t regret it.

The zinc-rich miniature oysters or sisi (rock oysters, Saccostrea glomerata) sourced around Negros are meticulously shelled, washed, and drained, and mixed with sea salt, garlic, ginger, paitan (finger chillies), and tuba vinegar before bottling.  Favorite sources of sisi are found in E.B. Magalona, particularly, Pasil, Madalag, Tumontong, and Panawsawon.   

Tinabal can include fish less than 3 inches long, usually, ,the small buccaneer anchovy locally known as gurayan (Encrasicholina punctifer);  the lobo lobo, fish fry mostly of the Engraulidae and Clupeidae families; and the guno (silverside fish) of the family Atherinidae.  

The versatility of the tinabal is such that it can be an ingredient, a condiment, and a dish by itself with calamansi, or sinamak.  Have it as a side dish, the main dish, or pair it with boiled root crops such as gabi, kamote, and cassava, or boiled  sab-a for an interesting fusion of sweet and salty.  

So, anybody who dares turn up their noses at ginamos might be surprised that this common fare can be elevated with the right attitude and presentation.  Who knows, a tony bistro’s menu might feature Tinabale de Gouraillane, Tinabale de Cici, or Tinaballe de Battitisse.  Vive le Guinamousse!!!

Article by: Betsy Gazo
Photos by: Bem Cortez

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