Three Sisters and the National (Boneless) Fish

The Filipino equivalent of the phrase “the best thing since sliced bread” should be “the best thing since boneless bangus.”

It is only in the last ten year’s of my life that de-boning bangus or milkfish became popular. This deprived me of many childhood meals of unfettered enjoyment of the milky tasting flesh in paksiw (stewed in vinegar) and the ubiquitous tamarind soup (sinigang).Instead, I usually had to spend the better part of the dinner taking out the small small bones and piling the picked over meat in one corner of my plate before starting to eat (if I was unlucky, my older brother would steal my boneless stash!).

The Three Sisters pictured above with their boneless bangus have made my meals easier.


The Trio have a mean de-boning assembly line. One station removes the backbones, one cleans up the bones near the belly, and the finishing station picks the thread like bones. Their tools are eclectic – they have a couple of surgical forceps and tweezers, a worn out, stubby knife, huge tree trunks for chopping boards and a well used green fish scaler from Japan. They do their work under three large incandescent bulbs and surrounded by a lot of laughter and stories of good meals. The Sisters are a happy lot.

Regular customers know the best known method: pick your fish, give instructions on the prep, meander off to go buy something else, and come back before heading for home. While the Sisters are fast there is a queue; they can hardly keep up with the amount of customers who desire their fine fresh fish or their famous fish relleno (milkfish skin stuffed with milkfish meat sauteed with ground pork, carrots and celery).

How to Debone Milkfish

Graphic but beautiful fish pictures follow! Although we toned the gore by using a muted palette, viewer discretion is advised.:)

1. Butterfly the fish by cutting along the backside.

2. Scrape off fish scales with a sharp knife or a fish scaler (this step is optional as some cooking methods call for scaled fish, some do not). At this step, stand back! Scales will fly furiously all over the place.

The sisters proudly showed me their fish scaler (shown here) which comes from Japan. They say its the only one of its kind in the entire wet market.

3. Remove the backbone and internal organs. (The squeamish must be very happy I muted the colors at this point).

4. Using surgical forceps, remove the spines along the belly.

5. Slit the muscles along the back of the fish to allow access to the finer bones.

6. Using surgical tweezers, pluck out the finer bones. This must be the most difficult part since the fish bones here are as hair-fine and most likely to get stuck in your throat for days on end.

Contact Information

Three Sisters Dagupan Bangus

Cavite City Market, Cavite City, Cavite Province

+63 919 4098264


3 thoughts on “Three Sisters and the National (Boneless) Fish

  1. Pingback: Grilled Stuffed Boneless Milkfish | booksinthekitchen

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