Escabeche is made of whole fried fish in sweet and sour sauce. This recipe requires no deep frying. The sauce is not too sour and not too sweet. Made of pineapple juice, vinegar, and spices. It’s a perfect dish to serve at your family gatherings, New Year, or fiestas.

Filipino style Sweet and Sour whole fish.

Escabeche – Filipino Style Sweet and Sour Fish

Filipino sweet and sour fish, known locally as Escabeche in the Philippines, is a popular favorite featuring whole fish–bones and head intact. It just hits differently that way. The flavor’s more intense, and the fish has a better texture. Eating it, from start to finish, is a whole experience in itself.

We’re not sure if it’s more Chinese or Spanish in influence – probably a bit of both. The word “escabeche” itself is derived from the Spanish term “escabeche,” which refers to a culinary technique involving marinating and preserving food in a vinegar-based solution.

Sauce Ingredients

And here’s what you need to make Escabeche sweet and sour sauce:

cornstarch, water, sugar, vinegar, pineapple juice, ketchup, soy sauce, and chicken powder.

A few notes:

  • Canned Pineapple juice and Vinegar – are basically what make this dish sour and tart. Use pure pineapple juice, NOT SYRUP. For the vinegar, I often use rice vinegar but can also be substituted with apple cider, red and white wine vinegar, cane vinegar, and coconut vinegar.
  • Sugar – is the main source of sweetness in this dish. Brown and white sugar can be used alternatively.
  • Ketchup – not only adds a “reddish” color to the sauce but also a bit of tanginess.
  • Chicken powder – or crushed chicken bouillon for depth of flavor and the secret to achieving restaurant-style sweet and sour sauce.
  • Cornstarch slurry thickens the sauce. This helps the sauce stick or cling to the fish.

In this recipe, I used pompano. It has a mild and sweet flavor that pairs well with the tangy and savory elements of sweet and sour sauce,

Fried whole fish - pompano fish

Other types of fish I recommend for Filipino escabeche are:

  • Tilapia
  • Red Snapper (Maya Maya)
  • Pomfret (Pampano)
  • Grouper (Lapu-Lapu)
  • Baramundi /Sea Bass (Apahap)

In selecting a fish for sweet and sour dishes, opt for varieties with a mild flavor that easily absorbs. It’s advisable to steer clear of fish with abundant bones, such as milkfish (bangus), and small whole fish like sardines or galunggong. This ensures a smoother cooking process and a more enjoyable eating experience.

Cooks Tip

  • Use fresh fish – check the signs: eyes should be clear (not cloudy) and plump (not deflated), the flesh should be firm and shiny and should bounce back a bit when touched, gills should be bright pink/red and wet, not slimy or dry).
  • Have the fish vendor clean and de-scale the fish for convenience. Some may not trim off the fins or make the slits. This can be easily done at home. Use kitchen scissors for the fins and a sharp knife to make the slit.


bell peppers, onion, carrots, ginger and garlic.

What sets Filipino sweet and sour fish apart is the distinctive combination of vegetables and aromatics – including carrots, red bell peppers, onion, garlic, and fresh ginger. All these components are essential to achieving the signature escabeche flavor.

How to Make It

And here’s how to make Filipino sweet and sour fish:

1. Prepare and Fry the Fish

step-by-step process on how to fry whole fish.
  • Wash the fish and pat dry with a paper towel – oil may splatter if it comes in contact with water.
  • Make slits on the surface of the fish to ensure even cooking. This will also help the fish absorb the sweet and sour sauce upon serving.
  • Season with salt and pepper including the cavity.
  • For a light and crisp fried fish coat with cornstarch. This will also help seal in the moisture and will help the sauce cling to the fish.
  • Shallow fry in hot oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat until crispy and fully cooked. Transfer to a serving plate, set aside, and make the sauce.

2. Sauce and Assembly

step-by-step process on how to make sweet and sour whole fish.
  • Combine all the sauce ingredients in a bowl including the cornstarch. Stir everything together and set it aside.
  • Stir-fry the vegetables in until fragrant. This should only take a minute or two as we want to retain their crispy texture.
  • Pour the sauce and bring to a simmer until it thickens. Do a taste test. Adjust sugar, and salt based on preference.


Immediately pour the warm sauce and vegetables all over the fried fish.

pompano fish with sweet and sour sauce.

Serve and enjoy with a warm cup of rice or even egg-fried rice. I sometimes serve this with a side of sunny-side-up egg and it’s so good!

sweet and sour made of whole fish with carrots and bell peppers.

Sweet and Sour Whole Fish (Filipino Escabeche)

Rate this recipe
Whole fried fish slathered in a delicious perfectly balanced sweet and sour sauce. This recipe requires no deep frying. The sauce is not too sour and not too sweet. Made of pineapple juice, vinegar, and spices. It’s a perfect dish to serve at your family gatherings, New Year or fiestas.
Servings4 servings
preparation time10 minutes
Total cooking time20 minutes


  • 2 medium-size whole fish (cleaned and de-scaled, note 1)
  • salt and pepper (to taste)
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ½ cup vegetable oil (for frying)

Sweet and Sour Sauce


  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil (for stir-fry)
  • 2 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1 medium-size onion (thinly slice)
  • 1 inch ginger (peeled and thinly shredded)
  • ½ piece bell pepper (slice into thin strips)
  • ½ piece green bell pepper (slice into thin strips)
  • ½ piece carrot (slice into strips or thin circles)



  • Prepare the fish – Rinse the fish and pat dry with a paper towel. Make 2 to 3 slits across the top on each side, about one inch apart. Season inside and out with salt and coat both sides with cornstarch.
  • Heat oil over high heat in a shallow pan or wok. Test the oil with the stick end of a wooden spoon or a wooden chopstick. The oil is ready when rapid bubbles form around.
  • Cook the fish – Fry each side of the fish until golden brown. Transfer to a serving dish deep enough for the sauce not to spill out. Set aside.


  • Prepare the sauce – In a bowl, dissolve the chicken powder in hot water. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Taste and adjust the sugar and vinegar according to preference.
  • Stir-fry the vegetables – In a pan, heat vegetable oil. Add vegetables and aromatics. Saute until fragrant. Pour sweet and sour sauce. DON'T STIR until it starts to gently boil. Taste-test and adjust seasonings salt/pepper/sugar as needed.
  • Thicken the sauce – Continue cooking until the sauce thickens. If you want a thicker sauce, dissolve 1 more tsp of cornstarch in a small amount of water. Pour into the sauce and simmer to thicken.


  • Immediately pour the sauce all over the fish. Serve and enjoy!

Recipe Notes & Tips:

  1. Use fresh fish – check for the signs: eyes are clear (not cloudy) and plump (not deflated), the flesh is firm and shiny (it should bounce back a bit when touched), gills should be bright pink/red and wet (not slimy or dry). Recommended types of fish: Pampano, Tilapia, Snapper (Maya Maya), Pomfret (Pampano), Grouper (Lapu-Lapu), Barramundi/ Sea Bass (Apahap).
  2. Water – start with 1/2 cup water, add more to lessen sourness based on preference about 1 tablespoon at a time.
  3. Pineapple juice – Use pure pineapple juice and not the syrup to get the perfect tart and sweetness.
  4. Vinegar – cider, red and white wine vinegar, cane vinegar, and coconut vinegar.
  5. Nutrition – Assuming each fried fish absorbs  1 tbsp of oil. It’s impossible for me to determine exactly how much oil is absorbed during frying.
Author : Mella
Course : Main Course
Cuisine : Filipino-Chinese
Keyword : escabeche, filipino sweet and sour fish
Nutrition Facts
Sweet and Sour Whole Fish (Filipino Escabeche)
Amount per Serving
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat
Trans Fat
Polyunsaturated Fat
Monounsaturated Fat
Vitamin A
Vitamin C
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
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Originally published August 2020. Updated Feb. 2024 with new photos, and a streamlined recipe after further testing to improve the recipe! 

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