“Batok alert. Crab high cholesterol festival!”
“Panalo yan. Ang Sarap. Ang Alige, Ang High Blood at Cholesterol.”
“Drool drool! Cardiac delights! (add thick coco cream for that ultimate mortal sin meal )”
Those were just a few of the comments that flooded my Facebook wall, when I posted photos taken during the Alimango Festival held last July 19 in Sta. Margarita, Samar. Thanks for the concern for my health, everyone, but I can handle a few crabs. Ok, I admit, I did get dizzy after bingeing out on the crab buffet, but I’m not complaining. This festival was just too deliciously fun to pass up.
Like most festivals in the country, Samar’s Alimango Festival was held to celebrate the abundance of alimango (mud crabs raised in fishponds) in Sta. Margarita and to promote the crab industry, which is the main source of livelihood in the town. In true Pinoy Fiesta style, this means that you have people dressed up as crabs dancing in the street.
The ritual dance performed by the festival performers depicted the capture of the alimango with the use of a giant crab trap. The use of rhythmic music, drums, and the performer’s fast dance movements echoed the the movement of the crabs.
Despite the strong rain that day which delayed the earlier part of the program, the dancers still gamely took to the streets and put on a good show. Dancers dressed up in green alimango suits complete with claws and padded shells on their back, emerged from a gigantic wooden cage designed like those that fishermen use to trap crabs. They crawled and flexed their “claws” in biting motions while other dancers dressed in colorful fisherfolk garb enacted the process of raising and harvesting the mud crabs.
After a simple Thanksgiving mass and opening program, the highlight of the festival was the fraternal lunch and tasting of specialty crab dishes from the region. An estimated 600 kilos of crabs were caught for the occasion, with 20 tables lined up in the center of the covered courts laden with a feast of crabs. Roughly 400-500 kilos of the crabs were cooked into specialty dishes, while the rest were set aside for pasalubong for visitors.
As you may know, the best way to eat crabs is with your hands. While this generally makes a large mess, it also makes eating so much more fun. Steamed crab is the most classic preparation for the dish. You can enjoy eating the fresh juicy meat with your choice of sauce, like vinegar. People were pounding the crab claws on the table and using utensils to crack open the claws. The simplest way is to just use your teeth to crack open the crab claws to pick out the meat.
Before you eat, it helps to get a separate plate, to keep all the leftovers and cracked claws in. One useful tip to eating crabs is to use the crab’s own claws to pick out all the meat and aligue in the corners of the crab’s shell.
Aside from steamed crabs, the tables were also filled with long rows of crab fuyong, a dish similar to an egg omelette made with assorted vegetables and a generous amount of crab meat and topped with savory sauce. Unlike the steamed crab, crab fuyong was more salty and provided a good contrast to the plain crab meat. There was also Kalderetang Alimango (stewed crabs), crabs coated in a sauce of tomato sauce and other spices.
My favorite dish was the Ginataang alimango, crabs cooked in coconut milk (gata), garlic, ginger, spices and malunggay. The thick coconut milk made the meat much more juicy and flavorful than the steamed crabs. Comfort food at its best for a rainy day!
Another delicious dish served was inutok, a cake-like delicacy of crabmeat cooked in young coconut. One of the chefs explained that this is a specialty of the region, like laing of Bicol. It had a delicate flavor and was really good.
I was in the midst of eating my second serving of ginataang alimango when the games were announced and I had to tear myself away from the feasting. The festivities and games also centered around the main attraction – crabs. There was an “alimango race,” where members placed their bets on their crabs. At the announcer’s signal, the members let go of the crabs to scamper sideways in a wooden crab-sized racetrack, to the cheers of their owners.
In the “fastest mud crab tying competition,” several members of the cooperative had to grab crabs scattered around the floor area and tie up their claws with pieces of string. More than a few of the members got bitten in the process.
There was also a weighing of the heaviest male and female crabs. The fishermen said that they have gotten crabs that weigh as heavy as 2 kilos, but the winning male crab that day weighed 1.5 kilos. The photo below shows another crab that weighs 1.2 kilos.
If you’re planning to attend a similar event, must-brings include: wet wipes, alcohol, tissue, anti-allergy medicine, and a very large appetite for crabs! More event photos of the festival can be found here.
- According to the members of the United Fishpond Operators of Sta. Margarita Association (UFOSMA), there is no season for crabs, since they are abundant all year around. However, the prices rise somewhat during peak order season from the months of November to February, in time for Chinese New Year.
- A lot of the crabs are transported to other areas of the country and the Sta. Margarita operators supply crabs to many seafood and Chinese restaurants in the metro.
- The price of crabs in Samar can range from P250-700/kilo depending on the size of the crabs. The prices are marked-up when sold in Manila.
- Aside from crabs, shrimps/prawns and fish like bangus and tilapia are also abundant in the town of Sta. Margarita.
- According to cooks who prepared the meals for the festival, there are lots of recipes for crabs since “you can cook crabmeat any way you cook fish.”
- According to Samar tourism staff, the Alimango festival in Sta. Margarita is traditionally held on July 25, and was recently relaunched again this year after several years of not being held. Alimango Festivals have also apparently been held in Calauag, Quezon, Lanao del Norte and Iligan.
- If you’re in Sta. Margarita and want a taste of these delicious crabs, head to Alimango Restaurant, “the only seafood restaurant in town.” Alimango Restaurant is located along Maharlika Highway, Brgy. Napuro, Sta. Margarita, Samar. Tel. No. 301-1015. Cell No. 0926-4116091, 0905-1611574.
BONUS: Here’s a hilarious “Filipino Crab Eating Tutorial” by Mikey Bustos which will enlighten you on how to eat crabs the Filipino Way.
This is my entry to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ Blog Carnival for September 2012: The Visayas Roundup hosted by Ding Fuellos of The Pinoy Explorer. NOTE: A version of this blogpost was published in Philippine Tourist Destinations Magazine.