Filipino Fish Head Soup (Pesang Isda)

Updated on May 10, 2020
Edwin Alcantara profile image

As a child, Edwin's mom told him, "If you want to eat, you should cook it yourself." And that's exactly what he's been doing ever since.

Filipino Fish Head Soup (Pesang Isda)
Filipino Fish Head Soup (Pesang Isda)
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Filipino Fish Head Soup

To make traditional pesang isda, or Filipino fish soup, you can use any type of fish and any part of the fish. But for this recipe, I prefer to use fish heads because they have a lot more meat, don't fall apart, and are cheaper. Salmon heads are the most common you can find in Asian markets.

But if the idea of using fish heads does not appeal to you, you can use other parts of the fish, instead. Just make sure it's a type of fish that can hold up well in soups, like cod.

The ingredients in this soup are simple: in addition to the fish, we add vegetables, water, salt, and pepper. But if you want an authentic Filipino flavor, then you need to shop for additional ingredients such as fish sauce. Enjoy!

Cook Time

Prep time: 15 min
Cook time: 45 min
Ready in: 1 hour
Yields: 4 servings


  • 1 salmon head
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 or 3 potatoes, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 small cabbage, quartered
  • 10 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
  • Salt and ground pepper to taste


  1. In a large pot, add the water, fish head, onion, fish sauce, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil; then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
  2. Add the potatoes and cabbage and cook for 10 more minutes, until the potatoes are tender.
  3. Season with salt and ground pepper as needed.


  • As previously mentioned, you can skip the fish sauce and just use salt, if desired.
  • Substitute or add other vegetables, such as celery.
  • Other fish parts can be used. You can buy these fish parts at an Asian market.

Rufina Patis: Filipino Fish Sauce

Rufina Patis Fish Sauce - 25 oz.
Rufina Patis Fish Sauce - 25 oz.
If you want an authentic Filipino flavor to your fish soup, then you should use fish sauce instead of salt for this dish. While there are many brands out there, this one is made in the Philippines. So if you want Filipino-style fish sauce, this is the brand you want to buy. The fish sauce from other countries can be milder. This one is very strong and salty. It comes in a larger bottle than other brands (25 oz) and is comparable in price to those that come in larger bottles. Try it out.


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