Serious Eats' Culinary Ambassadors check in from time to time with reports on food fare in their homeland or countries of residence. Here's the latest! (Find out more about CA or join here!) —The Mgmt.


Bagoong (in the small dish to the right) is an accompaniment for this bowl of kare-kare. [Photograph: dbgg1979 on Flickr]

Most aficionados of Southeastern Asian cuisine are already familiar with the pleasures of fish sauce, but few are ready to dive head first into the heady world of fermented shrimp pastes. It's a shame because whether you call it belacan, terasi, or bagoong, shrimp paste is an umami flavor bomb that can transform sambals and stir-fries into something otherworldly.

Bagoong alamang is a shrimp paste native to the Philippines and especially prized by Ilocanos, who harvest the tiny krill shrimp for bagoong from the coastal waters around the country's Ilocos region.

In its raw state, bagoong is salty with undertones of sweetness and a strong smell that a novice may liken to a gym sock. But in small amounts its pungent flavor holds its own as a bracing dressing for sour fruits and vegetables like green mangos.

bug-culinary-ambassadors-bananas.jpgMore often, however, bagoong is sautéed with aromatics to make bagoong guisado (literally, "cooked bagoong") and used as the base for dishes like pinakbet or as a condiment for kare-kare. When sautéed, bagoong's saltiness mellows, and the sweetness of the shrimp comes forward. A hint of bagoong guisado adds a delectable brininess to a pot of mung beans.

Fried with rice, it elevates humble leftovers to delicious heights. And as the key ingredient of binagoongan, meat cooked in bagoong, even Tagalogs and Visayans have to admit that the Ilocanos are on to something!

—Omar T.

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