By Gian Franco 2021-01-19

This Tilapia Escabeche Recipe Sums Up Filipinos’ Love Affair with Sweet and Sour

Sweet + Sour = heaven to Filipinos



Authentic Filipino cuisine is defined iconically by two qualities: either you put sweet twist to it or make something with soup so sour that it makes you wince albeit with pleasure. On one hand, Filipinos’ affinity for sweet foods is not limited to desserts: their sweet tooth gave us the Filipino spaghetti with its signature sweet banana sauce. In fact, almost any Filipino dish is made sweet by mixing in banana (saba), coconut milk, glutinous rice, or sugar. On the other, the acerbic punch of sour base from kamias, tamarind, mangoes, or vinegar will make one forget they are already on second cup of steamed rice. And that explains the place of Sinigang as the quintessential Filipino favorite next to Adobo—Filipinos just love slurping on mouthwatering tamarind soup. 
As National Geographic pronounces: “When nature handed this Southeast Asian country lemons—and a tropical bounty of other acidic fruits—the Filipinos made lemonade.” Quite literally. And when Filipinos crave for something sweet to comfort the soul, they make sure they bite through layers or different degrees of sweetness. 
So, what happens when you combine the two main flavors of the Philippines? Sweet and sour, of course. Depending on the region, sweet and sour dishes exhibit distinguishable ratio of sweetness and tanginess, sometimes even made more traditional with the addition of red chili pepper. While sweet and sour is originally hallmark of Cantonese cuisine, Filipino cuisine has its own version of the sweet and sour chicken/pork with its own watery blend of the sauce drizzled over poached or grilled/fried fish. 
Escabeche is the Filipino adaptation of the Spanish and Mediterranean tradition of cooking or seasoning fish or meat in mixture of vinegar or citrus juices and spices. Through its Spanish heritage, the Philippines inherited the dish and infused the Cantonese flair in making fish escabeche. For example, Escabeche Tilapia typically turns the ordinary fried tilapia into a savory dish when coasted in sweet and sour sauce and topped with crispy fresh strips of peppers and carrots. When trying this recipe from Foxy Folksy, you may substitute tilapia with red snapper (Maya-maya) or grouper (Lapu-lapu). 


  • 1 whole tilapia
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/3 cup vinegar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch, dissolved in ½ cup water
  • ½ cup red bell pepper, cut into strips
  • ½ cup green bell pepper, cut into strips
  • ½ cup carrot, cut into strips
  • ¼ cup ginger, cut into strips
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup cooking oil, for frying
  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 tsp salt, for seasoning fish
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tbsp ketchup, for coloring (optional) 




  1. Using your palm, season fish with salt. Heat oil in a frying pan. When oil is hot, fry the fish one side at a time until golden brown. Remove the fish and transfer to a serving plate.
  2. Put 2 tbsp oil in a saucepan and sauté garlic, ginger, and onion. Add strips of carrots and bell peppers. Add vinegar and dissolved cornstarch. Add sugar and ketchup. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  3. Let the sauce simmer and stir occasionally until it thickens. 
  4. Pour the sauce and vegetables on top of the fried fish. Serve while hot. 

    Get your ingredients for this authentic Filipino recipe at My Tindahan. Photo courtesy of Casa Veneracion.


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