Fish kinilaw

Fish kinilaw

Kinilaw na isda

7000 Islands
Jana Liebenstein

My first kinilaw was just as it should be. Exploring the far-flung islands of Palawan, our banka (boat) dropped anchor for lunch at sea. Our host caught fish, cleaned it, then presented us with plump morsels bathed in vinegar. We ate it straight away before it ‘overcooked’; the firm fish was pristine.

Like ceviche, a close relative, kinilaw relies on the freshest seafood possible; from the fishmonger, ask for sashimi-grade. Dayap or biasong, native Filipino citrus, has been replaced with fragrant kaffir lime, but use whichever is available near you. Vinegar and lime work quickly, so prepare all of the ingredients before you start.


Quantity Ingredient
1 kaffir lime
125ml palm or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons coconut cream
2 teaspoons salt flakes
250g sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna or spanish mackerel
1/2 red capsicum, seeded and very thinly sliced
5cm piece ginger, peeled and cut into 2.5 cm pieces, then fine julienne
2 red bird’s-eye chillies, thinly sliced on the diagonal
2 kaffir lime leaves, thinly shredded
1/4 small red onion, very thinly sliced


  1. Cut two slices from the centre of the lime and reserve until ready to serve. Juice the remaining lime and put 1 tablespoon of the juice in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of the vinegar. Stir in the coconut cream and salt and set aside.
  2. Cut the tuna into 5 mm thick slices, then into 1.5 cm pieces. Place the fish with the remaining vinegar in a bowl. Using your hands, toss gently until the fish just starts to turn white, about 1 minute. Drain the tuna, discarding the vinegar.
  3. Place the tuna, capsicum, ginger, chillies and lime leaves in a serving bowl. Pour over the coconut cream mixture and toss gently to combine. Stand for 1 minute, then top with the onion and reserved lime slices. Season with freshly cracked black pepper and extra salt flakes, if desired, and serve immediately.

Where does it come from?

  • Kinilaw (also kilawin) is classic native fare. The word refers to a technique of ‘cooking’ in vinegar, citrus or other souring agent to preserve its natural state; usually, seafood, but also vegetables and even meat. Other flavourings, such as coconut milk, chillies and ginger, are often included. According to some accounts, the method can be traced back nearly a millennia on the archipelago in archaeological remains; the first written record comes from Antonio Pigafetta, a member of Ferdinand Magellan’s crew, who documented their voyage to the Philippines in the 16th century.
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