Kinilaw is a traditional Filipino dish showcasing the flavors of fresh seafood, often raw or partially cooked, marinated in vinegar, citrus juices (usually calamansi or lemon), and various seasonings. Kinilaw is similar to ceviche in Latin American cuisine but has its unique Filipino twist.
The Philippines, being an archipelago with a rich marine ecosystem, has a long history of fishing and seafaring. Indigenous communities relied heavily on seafood as a primary food source. They developed various methods of preserving and flavoring their catches to extend their shelf life and enhance their taste. One of these methods eventually evolved into Kinilaw.
Kinilaw Key Ingredients
The primary ingredient in Kinilaw is seafood, which can include fish (such as tuna, tanigue, or lapu-lapu), shrimp, squid, or even sea urchin. It’s crucial to use the freshest and highest-quality seafood available.
Typically, coconut vinegar is used in Kinilaw for its distinct flavor. However, other types of vinegar, such as cane vinegar or white vinegar, can be used as well.
Calamansi or lemon juice is added to the dish to provide acidity, which “cooks” the seafood by denaturing the proteins.
Garlic, ginger, red onions, and sometimes chili peppers are used to add flavor and a bit of heat to the dish.
Salt and sometimes fish sauce (patis) or soy sauce are added for seasoning.
To enhance the flavors, various additional ingredients can be included, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, and coconut milk.
Prepare the Seafood
The seafood is cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces. For a more traditional approach, it can be thinly sliced.
In a bowl, the seafood is combined with the minced garlic, ginger, onions, and, if desired, chili peppers. The vinegar and citrus juice are then added to the mixture.
Salt and fish sauce (or soy sauce) are used to season the dish, adjusting to taste. Some variations incorporate a bit of sugar to balance the flavors.
The Kinilaw is allowed to marinate for a short period, usually just enough time for the seafood to be “cooked” by the acid in the vinegar and citrus juice. Over-marinating can result in overly tough seafood.
If desired, diced tomatoes, cucumber slices, and sometimes coconut milk are added to the dish for added texture and flavor.
Kinilaw is typically served as an appetizer or pulutan (finger food) during social gatherings and celebrations. It’s often accompanied by rice or enjoyed with a cold beverage like beer.
The freshness of the ingredients and the balance of flavors are key to a delicious Kinilaw. Its combination of acidity, spiciness, and the natural sweetness of seafood makes it a refreshing and flavorful Filipino culinary delight.
Read more about the Food and Drinks in the Philippines.