Recipe: Boiled fish with celeriac and pak choi


ilaga, (approximately translated to boiled) is a simple way Filipinos cook food. It’s basically boiling food in water either fish or meat, together with onions and garlic, mixed with an array of vegetables. The vegetarian version of nilaga is called bulanglang, usually with squash, raw papaya and moringa leaves. There’s also tinola, chicken nilaga with lots of ginger and raw papayas. Mussels and clam fishes like vongole are also great for nilaga.

When I’m uninspired and wants a delicious meal, or when I’m tired of dishes with heavy sauces, I cook nilaga. I would normally mix the soup with white rice with a dipping sauce of fish sauce or soy sauce with lemon, depending on whether I’m using fish or meat.

My favourite is nilagang tahong, boiled mussels cooked in lots of ginger, tomatoes and moringa leaves and fish sauce. It’s a popular dish among pregnant women and breastfeeding moms because moringa leaves increases breast milk production.

In the Netherlands I normally cook nilagang baboy (pork) with potatoes and string beans, as fish is quite expensive here and the choices are very limited for someone who try to buy mostly local catch. Or Yerseke mussels during mussel season.

I bought croaker (ombervis) at the Makro last weekend and thought it would be a good fish for nilaga. I actually don’t know what a croaker was but it looked firm enough not to disintegrate during cooking. I bought a whole fish, head and tales included.

Many Dutch would balk at the sight of whole fish but the flavours of this dish depend entirely on using those parts normally discarded to make fillet.

I still have half a celeriac (knolselderij) sitting in the fridge, that monster-looking vegetable no one wants to buy at the supermarket. I only bought it because it’s one of the few vegetables that are not wrapped in plastic. I decided to use this instead of white radish. I wasn’t sure whether the combination would be pleasant but celeriac is mild and retains its sweet, anise-like flavour even when mixed with other ingredients.

This recipe could be filed under those unplanned dishes I make when I want to empty the leftover food in my fridge. But you almost couldn’t go wrong with this dish. It’s a very simple meal and simple meals are usually the best.

Boiled fish with celeriac and pak choi

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

50 minutes


Servings: 3 people

Boiled fish with celeriac and pak choi

Nilagang isda or simply boiled fish is a Filipino soup dish that uses firm, white fish cooked in water together with vegetables.


  • 1 whole fish, scaled and guts removed
  • half a celeriac cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 heads of pak choi
  • 4 medium tomatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • 5 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
  • dash of ground pepper and salt.


  1. Clean the fish, cut into four or five pieces depending on the size. Season with salt and let sit for 20 minutes.
  2. Heat 1 liter of water (adjust according to the size of the fish) to rolling boil.
  3. Add celeriac and cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes, garlic and onions and cook for another 10 minutes.
  5. Add the fish and cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Add the pak choi and boil for another 5 minutes.
  7. Sprinkle a dash of ground pepper and salt. Adjust accordingly to taste.
  8. Serve hot, as a soup, with rice, and with a dipping sauce

Cooking tips: Choose a whole, firm, white fish. This dish wouldn’t work with fillet. Add long, green chillis for a bit of heat. You can also use other leafy vegetables such as spinach. To make it a complete meal, add potatoes for carbohydrates.