Filipino Favorites – Kinilaw

preparing the watermelon ice

Did I tell you the down side to attending that wonderful cooking class I attended that was put on by the Asian Culinary Institute?  The adobo has now become a staple in our house (I’m not complaining about this part), and now my husband walks around muttering how he has missed out on years of adobo (this is the problem).  In an effort to distract him from his anxious state I made another dish from that class: kinilaw.  Unfortunately that only exacerbated the problem, because now he complains of having missed out on kinilaw too.

I can only say, if you are willing the risk similar consequences, the results are so worth it.  Oh, so worth it.  This dish is truly sublime.

So what is kinilaw?  Most people seeking a comparison liken it to cerviche.  Kinilaw is primarily raw fish or seafood prepared with a citrus marinade.  According to Amy, the biggest difference is that with cerviche, the seafood is “cooked” by the vinegars and citrus added.  The kinilaw is truly raw seafood, the marinade is intended only to impart taste, and not to change the textures or flavors.  Timing is critical, the seafood must not sit in the marinade.  This dish takes eating local to the highest level, when it was prepared and consumed moments after the seafood was pulled from the sea.  If you were in the Philippines and close to the sea, the typical preparation might also included cleaning the just caught seafood and then rinsing it with fresh seawater to reawaken its flavors.

This technique can also extend to meats such as beef and water buffalo, but these kinilaws are not as common.  Other protein options include seared pork or grilled squid, even vegetables which may be cooked or partially so, and then finished in vinegar or lime.  I have to add that other Filipine chefs differ on the timing and intent of the addition of the vinegar and citrus, indicating some “cooking” is done before the fish is served.

Perhaps Edilberto N. Alegre & Doreen G. Fernandez express it best in their  1991 book, Kinilaw: a Philippine Cuisine of Freshness

The garnish

This Philippine cuisine takes fish and other sea creatures, meat, fruits or vegetables – all at peak freshness, and “sour-cook” them in vinegar or other souring agents, such as citrus, and  flavoring them with the proper combination of condiments…  The kinilaw moment is that instant when the raw fish (or other seafood, or meat) meets the vinegar or other souring agent, and transformation begins from the raw state.  In cooking vegetables, there is a spectrum of textural change: from the hardness of the raw, to the limpness of the overcooked. The perfect moment is the balance when the vegetable, e.g. ampalaya (bitter melon) retains the crispness of the raw, but acquires the softness of the cooked without being either hard or limp.

With kinilaw, the perfect moment is marked visually by a change from translucence towards, but not achieving, opacity. Texturally, it is a moment when the fish or shrimp retains the firm softness of the raw, but reaches a new state of called niluto sa asim – “cooked”, or more accurately transformed, in sourness. It is not an opaque solidity, with the fiber are white and the texture that of a poached fish.  It is nearer to raw with the flesh just a breath away from its natural state…    Kinilaw: a Philippine Cuisine of Freshness – by Edilberto N. Alegre & Doreen G. Fernandez 1991

Oyster Kinilaw

Recipe provide by Amy Besa of Purple Yam in New York

Note: If oysters are not your thing, scallops or slightly poached shrimp work equally well.


  • 60 fresh oysters, shucked
  • fresh citrus juice
  • salt
  • watermelon ice


Juice of a variety of citrus (in Amy’s recipe she suggests juice of 3 each lemon, lime, and orange), but any other varieties can be used.  Reserve some for mixing with the seafood.
Finely juilinned ginger (1″ strips)
Grated horseradish
Finely sliced chilies (preferably long, flavorful, and not too hot)
Sea salt
Shallots (optional)
Wasabi, optional

Note:  The key is that the spices while flavorful are subtle so they do not overwhelm the taste of the seafood.  Everything should balance.


All should be stored in an ice bath or refrigerator prior to use

Fresh herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint, dill, chives, parsley (we used mint and basil)
2 jicama, julienned
2 bunches assorted radishes, julienned
6 tomatoes, cut into small chunks
4 green mangoes, julienned
1 pomelo, sectioned and pulled into small pieces
4 mandarins, cut into small chunks


Plating the kinilaw

General note,  one of the tricks to serving this is that all the ingredients should be chilled.  So when not being used of waiting for assembly they should either be in the refrigerator or their containers resting in an ice bath.

Season the oysters with the citrus juice and salt and keep them chilled.  This should be done about 15 minutes before serving. Unlike cervice, the seafood is not being “cooked” by the citrus.

Assemble the ingredients for the marinade.  Note there are no quantities, this is a by the taste sort of process.

Place a large scoop of watermelon ice in the bottom of a bowl.  Form a well in the top of the mound to place the oysters and other garnishes.    Into the well, place 3 to 4 oysters, or other seafood that are lightly mixed with the citrus juice and pinch of sea salt.

In another bowl, mix the garnish with a bit of that citrus juice, freshly ground pepper and sea salt.

Sprinkle the garnish over the seafood and watermelon ice.  Finish with a few extra herbs.

Watermelon Ice


1 large, very ripe watermelon about 10″ in diameter
1/2 c sugar
Juice of 2 lemons


Peel, seed, and puree the watermelon

Add the sugar and lemon juice, stirring until dissolved.  If the watermelon is very sweet consider reducing the amount of sugar.  Keep in mind that this is not a dessert ice, you are serving this with the seafood and if the ice is too sweet it will throw the balance off.

Freeze for about an hour and crush with an ice pick or large fork.  Return to freezer.

This ice was so refreshing, many people could not wait to make the kinilaw and were content to just slup down this yummy treat.  I’d suggest going big on the watermelon, as extras are only a good thing in this case.

Filipino Food: Kinilaw from Tom Collins on Vimeo.

From what I understand watermelon ice might be an option that Amy Besa and her husband Romy Dorotan developed, I’d suspect that growing watermelon might take up too much ground to be popular.  Another option they included in their book was a tomato granita, and I can’t help thinking an apple granita would be delicious too.

Here’s another vegetarian version of kinilaw that I wanted to share.  Its made with banana hearts, and if you’ve never had them before they look very exotic, by US standards, and taste delicious.  This recipe is from Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, Memories of Philippine Kitchens

Banana Heart Kinilaw

Serves 4 as a side


4 fresh banana hearts (do not use canned)
4 shallots, thinly sliced
2 T coconut milk
Juice of freshly squeezed lime
½ tsp hot red chile, thinly sliced
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced, for garnish


Fill a bowl with 6 cups of water and 2 T of salt.  Swirl to dissolve the salt.  Pell the outer layers of the banana hear until you reach the pale colored portion.  Finely chop the banana heart and immediately place in the water.  Massage the pieces with your hands for about 3 minutes to remove the bitter sap.  Discard the soapy looking liquid that emerges.  Drain, rinse, and repeat.  Repeat as needed until any bitterness has been removed.

Fill a large bowl with water and ice.  Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat.  Add the banana hears and blanch very briefly, ~ 10 seconds.  Strain and place in ice water for about a minute to cool.  Drain and pat dry before placing in a serving bowl.  Add the shallots, coconut milk, lime juice, chile, and ¼ tsp salt, and combine.  Taste and adjust as needed.  If the mixture is too dry add more coconut milk.  Garnish with the tomato slices and serve.

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32 comments for “Filipino Favorites – Kinilaw

  1. July 4, 2010 at 4:41 PM

    A very unique summer dish. I love how everything should be balanced. And watermelon ice sounds so intriguing when served with a seafood. I thought it as a dessert only. This kinilaw made me definitely so curious.

    Never seen banana hearts before. another new and interesting dish for me. Sounds like a great summer treat as well. thanks for sharng these.

  2. July 4, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    Oh, how I miss the kinilaw I had back in Nagcarlan. I’m imagining it how.:)

    I think you’ve opened up a can of worms with your hubby there. Sooner or later, he’ll be asking for other dishes as well. So be prepared!! hehehe…

  3. July 4, 2010 at 5:04 PM

    Used to love the kinilaw at Poleng Lounge in San Francisco. Too bad it closed. But here’s hoping it’s on the menu when I go visit Attic in San Mateo, the restaurant the Poleng Lounge chef is consulting on.

  4. July 4, 2010 at 6:50 PM

    I’ve never had kinilaw, but I’m intrigued with the fusion of refreshing citrus combinations. I like also the variety of garnish, particularly the green mangoes and jicama. It sounds so refreshing!

    The watermelon ice sounds so good, I’m definitely making that one when I get home.

  5. July 4, 2010 at 8:28 PM

    I don’ think I have ever tried kinilaw too though there is a Filipino veg dish (soup) I have tried that is sour, with vegetables (kang kong or water spinach), long beans etc added into the soup. Now I am thinking it there is kinilaw….

  6. July 5, 2010 at 8:17 AM

    I’ve never eaten kinilaw but I know I’d love it. It’s so elegant.

  7. July 5, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    I’ve never had kinilaw, but sounds interesting!Thanks for posting!

  8. admin
    July 5, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    Zerrin – This dish is amazingly tasty. I confess to being hesitant not being able to determine how the watermelon would work, but it did work, let me tell you! The banana leaves are good, but can be a bit bitter for some folks, so if you find them be sure to do the rincing

    Jenn – Your right! I’m almost scared to show him the sinigang – Yikes!

    Carolyn – I know Poleng Lounge was wonderful. I heard he has another restaurant planned that is similar to PL to open in the city. I’m curious about the vegetarian Filipino restaurant to open in Oakland.

    Christine – Can I tell you that it was bliss? Seriously, the sighs and moans of pleasure were impossible to squelch.

    Tigerfish – Maybe sinigang?

    Tammy – It is a treat, and it was such an unexpected surprise to taste, far, far exceeded any expectations.

    Erica – It is, and its nice to share with you as you are a constant source of wonderful ideas and suggestions.

  9. July 5, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    I’ve never tried kinilaw. I love the combination of citrus and seafood. I’m going to try this with shrimp soon. Thanks.

  10. July 5, 2010 at 3:38 PM

    Another interesting Filipino dish that might well be with in my culinary skills! Yippee. GREG

  11. July 5, 2010 at 5:47 PM

    Banana hearts? And they come canned? (But don’t use canned) You always send me on a google search – which is why it is so much fun coming here. I love how fresh everything must be. I wish I was local to these ingredients.

  12. July 5, 2010 at 7:10 PM

    I’m most interested in the banana heart kinilaw as that’s something I’ve never had and I’m a HUGE fan of banana blossoms. You can prepare it in the most haphazard manner and it will taste good. In Thailand, wedges of raw banana blossom are one of the necessary garnish for Pad Thai.

  13. July 5, 2010 at 10:17 PM

    I have never had kinilaw…and banana heart is also something new to me. They both sound very very interesting!

  14. July 5, 2010 at 10:44 PM

    I’ve never had Kinilaw but Oyster Kinilaw sounds like a dish to die for! The video was goofy and funny but too much handshake made me sick… (@_@)

  15. July 6, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    Oysters with watermelon ice sounds amazing! Is kinilaw similar to poke? Or, is poke maybe even closer to the raw state? At any rate, I’m a fan of all of these raw-ish preparations!

  16. July 6, 2010 at 3:56 PM

    So much here that is new to me. I don’t know that I’ve ever really had a proper Filipino meal (and slim chance of it hereabouts) – so it’s yet another thing for me to seek out on my travels. Either that or I need to take the plunge and make some kinilaw myself!

  17. admin
    July 6, 2010 at 4:22 PM

    Azita – I bet you’ll love it, I tell you its surprisingly delicious!

    Sippity – Woohoo! Can’t wait to see what you do with it. There are so many versions of kinilaw just begging for the Sippity treatment.

    Claudia – Banana leaves intrigued me so much when I was back in DC that I brought a bunch and had no idea what to do with them. I found a recipe on the web and my life was changed, they are yummy. I’ve never tried the canned, so cannot speak to the differences.

    Leela – I’m with you, I love banana hearts. I knew my Pad Thai was missing something! Thanks for the info.

    Angie – Both are great, Angie

    Kitchen M – It is superb! Sorry about the motion sickness =)

    Lisa – Most people describe it as being closer to cerviche but I think you could make the argument for poke.

    Spud – WhenI was in Dublin I saw a Filipino restaurant near the needle, with the river to your back it was on the right hand side of that main street – sorry I’ve already forgotten the names. Of course, I think its good research to make a batch of kinilaw for yourself and determine if said restaurant is any good.

  18. July 6, 2010 at 4:45 PM

    All these ingredients so new to me. You always leave me with such a treat and a culinary adventure – must try this soon.

  19. July 6, 2010 at 10:02 PM

    Kinilaw…never had it, but from the description I know I’ll love it…watermelon ice? Yummie!

  20. July 7, 2010 at 9:09 AM

    This is the first time I’ve heard of Kinilaw….Filipino food is something that is quite foreign to me. How do you pronounce it by the way?

  21. July 7, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    wow I have never had kinilaw but it sounds perfect for summer lunches, I am totally digging the oysters served over watermelon ice, different but I am envious I never thought of the combo, oh great recipe I am sure to make this when my family visits, they would love it…


  22. July 7, 2010 at 4:13 PM

    Yay for your cooking classes and adobo is a common currency here.

    First time for me about Kinilaw but I see is very similar to the Peruvian Ceviche.

    Wonderful recipes to follow even the banana one 🙂



  23. July 8, 2010 at 5:21 PM

    Delish! How great that you’ve featured several Filipino dishes on your blog lately. My grandmother made this dish often — so tasty. Good stuff.

  24. July 8, 2010 at 5:33 PM

    Wow – sounds amazing! I just picked up a bag of fresh clams from my CSF, Core Sound Seafood, and would love to use them instead of oysters. What do you think?

  25. July 9, 2010 at 1:35 PM

    Oh, I have a Filipino friend coming to stay in a few weeks………..I’ve made her promise to bring me dried mangoes and make adobo, and if she doesn’t turn up, I’ll just ship myself over to yours. Something your hubby might mumble out for his portions of adobo will be far less!

  26. July 10, 2010 at 5:59 AM

    thanks it is for me a discovery !!! bravo Oyster !! Pierre

  27. July 11, 2010 at 7:40 AM

    I have to admit that the appealing part of ceviche for me is the fact that the fish is cooked a bit by the marinade. However, I would definitely be willing to try this. The flavors sound amazing and I am especially interested in the one with the banana hearts. Such an informational post for me!

  28. July 12, 2010 at 3:45 AM

    Kinilaw is wonderful when the fish is freshly caught. It’s one of my favorite Filipino dishes and it’s so easy to prepare too.

  29. admin
    July 12, 2010 at 6:11 AM

    Lick My Spoon – No time like the present to start exploring, however with your incredible culinary travel schedule, not sure how much time you have.

    Juliana – It is very tasty!

    Sophia – You gotta try it, I think you’ll love it. I think you can just pronounce it phonetically. Now that you ask I do not remember and special emphasis.

    Sweetlife – This one would be perfect for those hot Texas summers.

    Gera – I agree, that cooking class gave me a lot of value.

    Lisa – I had no ideas they would be such a hit. My husband is a newly minted convert to the Filipino cooking.

    Lynn – Hmm, clams – don’t see why not. I bet they would be equally tasty.

    Kitchen Butterfly – Would love to have you and if you give me enough warning, I’ll double my batch of adobo! Can’t wait to hear what you think of your friends version.

    Pierre – You’ve taught me so many things, merci to you!

    Lori – Definitely try it, the flavors are so fresh and clear, not muddled that they sing on your tongue.

    The Kitchen Masochist – They talk about making it right on the beach and I can definitely see the appeal. I bet you’ve sampled some incredible varieties.

  30. July 12, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    This sounds so delicious and refined! My sister-in-law is from the Philippines and I want to ask her about this dish, I am now consumed with curiosity!

  31. July 15, 2010 at 8:48 AM

    I heard a Food Network show recently that talked about how we all have our own version of so many similar dishes, just prep and a few additions here and there make it unique, and they will continue to change. I am typing to the song on the video, lol, I could keep going until it stops, oh gosh help me! I am dancing now!

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