Kilawin Is The Filipino-Style Ceviche You Need To Try - Exclusive

A plate of kilawin
A plate of kilawin - Jennifer Richmond/Tasting Table

If you're a ceviche fan, you know that the classic Latin American dish is typically comprised of raw fish, citrus, chili peppers, and onions. After that, you can add a variety of ingredients from tomatoes to avocados. But the essential ingredient (other than the fish) is citrus juice. That juice changes the molecular structure of the fish, making it opaque and firm, essentially cooking it. While Latin American ceviche is pretty well known, it isn't the only country where this dish is enjoyed. There's a similar version from the Philippines known as kilawin.

The dish is still made with raw fish, onions, and chilis, but instead of everything marinating in lemon or lime juices, the ingredients marinate in vinegar. Just like the acid from the citrus "cooks" the fish in ceviche, the acid in the vinegar does the same thing in kilawin. In fact, that's how the dish got its name. "Traditionally in Latin America, ceviche is soured with lime," Raymond Yaptinchay, the chef behind the dish, explains. "In the Philippines, we sour ours with vinegar. So, kilawin translates to 'cooked in vinegar'."

We got our first taste of this Filipino delicacy at the inaugural Los Angeles Wine & Food Festival, and after one bite, we were hooked. Created by Yaptinchay and Jay Tugas from Spoon & Pork, we had to know: What makes this kilawin so amazing? Yaptinchay says it's the marinade.

Read more: 15 Different Ways To Cook Fish

Sugar Cane Vinegar Is The Key To A Delicious Kilawin

Bottles of Datu Puti cane vinegar
Bottles of Datu Puti cane vinegar - Tea Talk/Shutterstock

When making the marinade for kilawin, several ingredients are necessary. But like ceviche, the most important ingredient is the acid that will cook the fish. In kilawin's case, that acid comes from vinegar. While there are several different kinds of vinegar available, if you want to make a classic kilawin, cane vinegar is the way to go. Because there are so many sugar cane farms in the Philippines, Yaptinchay says, "Cane vinegar is a staple in Filipino cooking."

But that's not the only ingredient he and Tugas used to create the delicious dish. They started with fresh snapper, then marinated it in cane vinegar, coconut cream, ginger, and garlic. The final product was a sweet and sour dish that was so fresh and bright, we went back for seconds. The sweetness of the cane vinegar and coconut cream combined with the subtle bite from the ginger made it one of our favorite dishes at the Wine & Food Fest.

Starting as a food truck in 2017, Yaptinchay and Tugas decided to bring their culture to the streets of Los Angeles through the food they grew up with. The food truck led to two brick-and-mortar restaurants in Silverlake and West Los Angeles where you can feast on other classic Filipino specialties like sisig, kare kare, and laing. Kilawin isn't on the menu, but if the rest of their food is anything like their kilawin, we can't wait to visit.

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