How to Make ‘Tinapa’ (Smoked Fish)

Now we’re going to talk about a dish that would make most Filipino’s mouths water even if they just smell it. Tinapa (smoked fish) is a favorite and definitely very popular among Filipino’s. You will find this dish sold at street vendors all over the Philippines.

tinapa How to Make Tinapa (Smoked Fish)
Tinapa or Smoked Fish – this dish is served at breakfast, lunch, and definitely around dinnertime along with tomatoes, onion on the side and garlic flavored vinegar for dipping sauce. This will surely bring out your appetite. Most western cultures might not agree, but for most Filipino’s it would be a homerun.

Here in the Midwest where I live finding a freshly smoked Tinapa is virtually impossible. What we have here is the frozen kind and it does not taste anywhere near as good as the fresh ones. So what do I do about it? I make my own!

Making Tinapa is a two-stage process, the brining part and the smoking part. Brining the fish gives it a good salty taste and also makes it moist. The smoking part cooks the fish and obviously gives it the smoky flavor.


5 Lbs of Galunggong fish

1 Quart of Salt

3 Quarts of water

2 Lbs. of Hickory wood chunks for smoking


Note: Soak wood chunks in water two days before using it.

For the Brine:

In a large bowl or small bucket add warm water and dissolve the salt. Clean the fish and add the brine onto the fish. I just use our kitchen sink for this (make sure your sink is clean and rinsed thoroughly). Let it brine for 1 hour while stirring the brine every ten minutes. The rule of thumb: brine the fish for ½ an hour for every half inch (thickness) of fish. After an hour remove the fish from the brine, rinse it well, and set aside.

The Smoker:

Depending on your smoker, the best way to do this is to keep the fish away from the heat source as much as possible. Place your fish on the rack and add your wood chunks to the heat source. Cover the smoker and let it smoke for 1½ hour. You will need to add wood chunks every 20 minutes to keep the smoke going. Enjoy your freshly made Tinapa. Serve with fresh tomatoes and onions and don’t forget the garlic flavored vinegar dipping sauce.

Personal Note:

I had my fair share of making and selling these smoky delights when I was at my younger stage. When my family moved to the U.S., I was left behind for a year due to an immigration issue. Being by myself for the first time I got to do whatever I wanted and didn’t have to worry about what time I should be getting home. With that in mind my two cousins’ and I went for a visit to see another cousin, Jeffrey, who lives in Cavalan, which is a town right outside Olonggapo City. Being young and dumb and not thinking ahead we went partying in Olonggapo where my cousin used to work. Needless to say our money was quickly exhausted and we soon realized that we didn’t have any more money left. So we went to see our uncle who also lives in Cavalan and happened to be a smoked fish vendor.

He told us he would let us sell some fresh, smoked, and dried fish if we wanted to. This was devastating news for me and my other cousins Michael, Rogel, and Jeffrey. We were teenagers and our main priority was impressing girls. Being seen with a bucket full of fresh fish yelling isda (fish) is the very last thing we had in mind.

But we didn’t have any other option so we sold fresh Galunggong (round scads) in the morning and the left over fish was transformed into Tinapa & Daing which we sold in the afternoon. Our first day we walked all morning and afternoon and only brought back 8 pesos each as our share. We combined our money and purchased 1 kilo of rice, some eggplant, and other ingredients to make fish Adobo. (The fish was free) Of course I was the one who was elected to do the cooking. Along with that we also had enough money for the not so necessary things like 2 bottles of gin and 2 packs of Champion brand cigarettes. After supper we went off to play pusoy (poker) and drink our good stuff. Despite the long walk and a little embarrassment we we’re able to enjoy the evening and walk bare footed on the ground. This was just several months after Mt. Pinatubo erupted so there was ashes and sand all over the place, which felt good to walk on.

Even though we didn’t have television or radio at that time it was a stress free and enjoyable evening despite the fact that I was a lousy pusoy player. Our bets we’re that the loser had to do the dishes and get water to drink. Lucky me, I wound up losing the bet and ended up doing that too. Many evenings followed and we did the same exact thing before going back to Manila.

We learn how to make Tinapa and Daing in the process and my uncle made a great Daing. It was not salty at all and the fish was still moist and soft. It was quite an experience for my cousins’ and myself and to be honest if I could go back in time I would do it again. Being a spoiled brat and basically getting what I wanted as long as we could afford it was sure a rude awakening for me. I learned my lesson the hard way about how valuable money is and how hard it is to earn it.

fresh fish sink How to Make Tinapa (Smoked Fish)

fresh fish grill How to Make Tinapa (Smoked Fish)

tinapa rack How to Make Tinapa (Smoked Fish)

tinapa grill How to Make Tinapa (Smoked Fish)



 How to Make Tinapa (Smoked Fish)

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