Sweet and sour fish

Sweet and sour fish


7000 Islands
Jana Liebenstein

Sweet and sour escabeche has long been a favourite of my mother. As a child, she savoured the nights her mother made it with tilapia for dinner. During her twenties in Manila, my mother and her barkada (friends) would head to Ongpin, Chinatown, for the best escabeche with snapper. Now, on return trips, her eyes light up when she spies it on a menu, then she places an order.

A good escabeche is made up of crisp skin, moist flesh and just-cooked vegetables. Prepare all of the ingredients before you begin, cook the sauce as the fish is frying, then pour it over just before serving.


Quantity Ingredient
700g whole snapper or tilapia, scaled and cleaned
60ml vegetable oil, plus extra for frying
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3cm piece ginger, peeled and cut into julienne
4 large red asian shallots, thinly sliced
1 red capsicum, seeded and thinly sliced
3 long green chillies, seeded and thinly sliced lengthwise
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons palm or rice vinegar
3 spring onions, cut into 5 cm lengths and thinly shredded lengthwise
steamed rice, to serve


  1. Pat the fish dry using paper towel, then season generously with salt flakes and freshly cracked black pepper. Fill a large, deep frying pan or wok with enough vegetable oil to come halfway up the side of the fish, about 2 cm. Place over medium–high heat until very hot but not smoking. Cook the fish for 5 minutes on each side, or until the skin is golden and crisp and the fish is just cooked. Transfer to a serving platter.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a separate frying pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant. Add the shallots, capsicum, chillies, soy sauce and sugar, increase the heat to medium–high and stir-fry for 3 minutes, or until the vegetables are just tender but still have a slight crunch. Add the vinegar and stir-fry for a further minute or until syrupy. Remove from the heat.
  3. Place the vegetable mixture on top of the fish, then pour over the sauce. Scatter with spring onions and serve immediately with steamed rice.

Where does it come from?

  • In Spain, escabeche is fried fish marinated in vinegar or citrus. The dish, along with the name escabeche, arrived in the Philippines during colonial reign. About the same time, Chinese restaurants were serving their own sweet and sour fried fish. The two preparations were strikingly similar and the name became used interchangeably. Today, both variations exist under the same banner, but Chinese-style, as in this recipe, is more common.
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