In the Philippines, especially the to older generation Filipino farmers, particularly the Ilocano people of northern Luzon, life was not the same without bagoong (bugguong in the Ilocano dialect). In the farms, rice and bagoong were enough to live on! And at one time, talking about poor farmers, living was not affordable without it. To most, basic food were boiled rice and bagoong or vegetable stew,dinendeng  spiced or flavored with this salty concoction. To the more affluent, the more elaborate bagoong flavored Pinakbetwas preferred. Nevertheless, today,the Pinakbet and Dinendeng could rival each other depending on ingredients used.
WHAT IS BAGOONG? Very simple; basically it is made by mixing measured amounts of fish and brine (salted water) then fermented for months until it becomes bubbly and smelly. This could be another Philippine Fear Factor item like the Balut. But for the initiated this stinking concoction is fragrant and makes food taste better! I venture to call it: organic MSG. In the USA, bagoong in its â��modernâ�� version are those anchovies (deboned) that are used for pizza topping.
At one time in the , Philippines, bagoong was synonymous with the Family name: Lorenzana. According to Family oral history, Don Felipe and a cousin, Delfin has already experimented with the product since the early 1900 but were stumped on the hows. It remained a cottage industry until later. But in 1928, Don Felipe Lorenzana , started large-scale manufacturing of Bagoong in the Philippines. Although not the first to make this concoction, he envisioned and pioneered in its large-scale production. The Bagoong Lorenzana brand was the only large-scale producer for a long time. It gained popularity in the Islands, even in the central and southern islands who were not used to using such concoction. Ultimately it was introduced internationally, particularly in Hawaii and the mainland USA.Presently bagoong products are exported to Europe including the Middle East because of the influx of Filipino workers to those countries.
According to letters and conversations with my late father Sostenes and attested by the Autobiography of Dr. Crispina L. Macagba, this is how it started. In 1928, Don Felipe and an American missionary friend Dr.Widdoes were traveling to Manila from our small town of Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. As they crossed the great Amburayan River by bus on a balsa  or raft made from bamboos or logs (there was no bridge at that time)), they had a chance to talk. My grandfather told the reverend that he is going to Manila to buy burnays(large earthen jars) so he could start making local wines called basi, made from sugar canes. But the pastor admonished him that wines would just make people drunk. This bothered my grandfather but thought also that traditionally burnay were always used for fermenting wines.
Nevertheless, he brainstormed what other businesses he could do with it. While in Manila, he saw some Chinese mom and pop businesses using large open tin cans to ferment the salted fish mixture. These cans would become rusty quickly. Then came the idea that he could do the same thing better and more sanitary: using the burnays! Thatâ��s how the Lorenzana  bagoong and patis (fish sauce) were born. Fish sauce is just that: after a few months of fermentation, the fish and brine mixture becomes bagoong and at the same time a clear yellowish thick sauce starts appearing at the top. These are separated, bottled and sold as Patis. Bagoong could be made from different kinds of fishes like sardines, shrimp, clams, ipon, etc.
While young I remember my mother always making bagoong at home for home use and for retail to neighbors; whenever there was a surplus after a big catch. There were always jars after jars of these sitting on the concrete floor below our house. In the late 40s, my father had 3 large fishing boats. These were loaded with long fishnets with floaters and a pocket at the middle. When they spotted school of fishes, the boat would go and encircle them and the two ends would be pulled until the pocket with the catch would reach the shore. The making of bagoong was necessitated, because in the early days, there was no refrigeration. The unsold fish especially the small ones would be processed into bagoong including giveaway to neighbors. The big ones are salted and dried in the sun and made into daing  (salted dry fish), another Filipino delicacy. The Lorenzana brand products took off rapidly after it was exhibited in a Trade Fair. To catch up with demand, Don Felipe started putting up factories all over the islands. When my father Sostenes got married, he accepted a managerial assignment to one of them in Catbalogan, island of Samar. Soon the Lorenzana clan became rich and famous because of this seemingly lowly product. They set up retail stores in Aparri. Manila and Cebu.
As an adjunct, later on the clan ventured out to manufacture of fishnets. My dad was assigned to establish and manage the first one in our hometown of Tagudin. Nevertheless, to improve the manufacturing process, my father with two of his brothers was sent to Japan after WWII to learn about modern fishnet production. Soon two large machines arrived from Japan and thus sped up the process. In addition they acquired a license to distribute and sell the Sun Flame, a kerosene lamp product from the USA.
In the 30s to late 50s, the Lorenzana Food Corporation products were introduced in Hawaii and eventually to the mainland. The bagoong easily took roots in Hawaii and the US mainland mainly because of the Filipino Sakadas. The Sakadas were Filipino farmers recruited from the Philippines (1906-1946) to work the pineapple and sugar plantations of Hawaii; in the mainland to work on farms of California and canneries of Alaska. Most of these hard-working Filipinos were Ilocanos who were already familiar with bagoong; Lorenzana Bagoong in particular.
Bagoong In America
The Immigration Act of 1965 liberalized and increased the immigration of Filipinos in the USA, particularly professionals. Because of the exodus up to the present, Philippine products were more sought after. For the Lorenzana brand, partly because of family wrangling and disinterestedness, it lost ground to newer but aggressive manufacturers. The brand had split into several brands.
Now there are other manufacturers from Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines. The popularity of these products is getting wider. Even some of the big-time chefs are now learning to use them as shown from the morning TV shows like Good Morning America and Today shows.
What Is Bagoong?
HOW DO YOU MAKE PHILIPPINE BAGOONG? BAGOONG PRIMER: For some people not in the know, bagoong is Alamang, Monamon, Terong, etc. But not really- those are just the type of fishes used to make bagoong; to make things correct: Bagoong is the fermented product produced when a batch of fish (generally) is mixed with brine. In the old days, the allowed fermentation period was 10 to 12 months. These days some manufacturers take shortcuts at the detriment of quality.
In the early days, as mentioned above, Lorenzana Bagoong used burnays until the firm started large scale production and replaced it with large concrete vats. Although burnays are still used today, it is relegated to smaller batch fermentation.
In old Rome, they had a similar product named garum. The difference is that in Europe, they used mainly fish intestines to make them. In the Philippines, bagoong was made originally from only a few types of fish, mainly anchovies (Monamon) about two inches long; the whole fish is used. After it was fermented properly, they were canned the way they were and sold to consumers. Aside from Monamon, Sardines, Padas and Ipon (Goby) were used.
Originally, the â��Fish Sauceâ�� as it is known today is bagoong that is finely ground,or highly fermented the color of which is brown, the natural color of the fermented fish. It is also called Fish Paste. People have unknowingly interchange Patis or Fish Sauce.
Patis  was discovered when after proper fermentation, a clear yellowish by-product floated above the bagoong. This by-product came to be known as patis. Other Asian countries have similar condiments: nuoc mam  in Vietnam, hom ha in China, nam pla in Thailand, shttsuru in Japan and saeu chot in Korea.
Modern day Bagoong
In the Fifties and Sixties, manufacturers started experimenting with other types such as Alamang  ( Aramang in Ilocano) Terong ( Bonnet-mouth),shell fish like clams and in other areas, fish roe, similar to caviar . To give more appeal, they even started using coloring ingredients. In the Philippines, people learned to eat mangoes with alamang just like butter to bread. The â��anchoviesâ�� used for pizza topping is anchovy bagoong with the bone removed. The latest innovation is sautÃ©ed bagoong; bottled ready to be used as a side dish or a side condiment for Kare-Kare. Bagoong and patis are good natural MSG and good sources of important nutrition, containing Omega-3.
Links and References:
Bagoong: Good for the brain http://www.researchsea.com/html/article.php/aid/1681/cid/1/research/bagoong__good_for_the_brain.html
- Autobiography: Power Of Prayer: Dr. Crispina L. Macagba, Co-Founder of LORMA Hospital and Colleges
- Oral family History/Letters from Sostenes L. Lorenzana to David Lorenzana
- By David J. Lorenzana, May 17, 2006.
Early Hawaiian Lorenzana Bagoong Basketball Team Photo http://www.filam.si.edu/curriculum/u3-part-03c.html
Philippines Deep Sea Fishing and Refrigeration http://www.fao.org/docrep/field/003/B2877E/B2877E05.htm
Bagoong a Philippine product http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:WPPhilippines