It is basically a unprepossessing fish. Broad, stumpy body covered in dark, thick, leathery skin and often with bony outgrowths on the head that in some species extends out like horns hence the English name, unicorn fish, after the mythical horned horse. But grilled over hot coals until parts of the thick skin is a bit charred and served while still piping hot, the "gangis", as it is locally known, can be a gastronomic feast of heavenly delight.
Decades ago, this denizen of the shallow coastal reefs was unknown as a food delicacy except to fishermen and residents of the coastal villages and towns in the Lianga area. In the cities and urban centers, it was ignored even detested because of its thick, relatively tough skin and strong fishy smell. But as more and more people got hooked on its taste, the fish has become a gourmet treat and prices have risen sharply until in Lianga it averages at around P120 to P140 per kilo. And since a prime specimen can grow to more than a kilo, buying one can be an expensive treat indeed for the average income earner.
The secret of the allure of the gangis is in its firm, fatty, succulent flesh. It can be prepared and cooked in many different ways but for the majority of its devotees, it is best simply grilled over hot coals with the minimum of fuss. When served hot, the abdomen or belly area is the place to start because the layers of juicy fish fat there imparts to the fish meat an amazing cacophony of flavors which I can compare to eating juicy and freshly cooked lechon or roasted pig meat.
The more hardened gangis fanatics also like to feast on its intestines and internal organs which they claim is even more tasty than the flesh. That is something I have not been able to have the stomach or the will to do but those who have done so swear that the innards represent a taste treat superior to anything else the fish can offer. One of these days I may really try it.
Lianga is well known for the quality and availability of a wide variety of fish and all manner of seafood caught or gathered from the bounty of its coastal sea. But for sheer richness of taste, finger licking goodness and unrivaled good eating, the gangis, despite its unpretentious looks, is definitely among King Neptune's top finned wonders and a taste treat visitors to Lianga will keep coming back for more.