The Philippines is not the richest country in the world, and the impoverished masses can't afford chicken, beef, or fresh fish every day. What is eaten on a daily basis is fish bones, or, if the budget is available, dried fish. Dried fish is known as bulad or buwad (which in Cebuano is also the verb meaning "to dry in the sun").
The market for dried fish is huge. Cebuanos consume tons of the stuff all over the island, and most of it passes through Tabuan (or Taboan), the dried fish wholesale market of Cebu City. This is where provincial merchants come to get their crates and a few brave tourists from other parts of the Philippines venture to buy souvenirs. I say "brave" because the place really reeks; the odor of salted fish is overpowering. Of course, to Cebuanos, the air is redolent of delicious delights.
It should be noted that the buwad hawked for the benefit of the tourists is not the same variety commonly consumed in the Cebuano home. There are dozens of varieties of dried fish; buwad can be largely divided into two categories of salted and unsalted. Most of the buwad consumed at home on a daily basis is the cheaper salted variety. This is killer stuff. Literally - there is so much salt in buwad that a substantial proportion of the urban and rural poor suffers from high blood pressure. While once upon a time the salt fields of Mandaue were sufficient to meet demand, but nowadays freighters haul rock salt all the way from Jordan.
Like most unhealthy food, buwad tastes great and is highly addictive once you get used to it. On its own, salted dried fish is almost inedible, but a nibble of buwad dunked in native vinegar mixed with crushed sili, with a plate of hot rice, is pure heaven.
The most common fish used for buwad is budburon. This retails for around 10 pesos per pack of five, which comes to around 4 US cents per fish. Now that's cheap! The more expensive varieties, often bought as souvenirs for friends and family back home, are stuff like dilis (a teensy weensy variety), tabaga, boneless tusino or tusino tapa (tapa being anything spiced, sweetened, and flattened), pusit (squid).
Buwad are usually prepared by quickly frying them in oil, but a microwave can be used (though most people who own microwaves don't eat buwad). The entire fish can be consumed, including the tail, the spine, and the head. The head, when soaked in native vinegar, has an indescribable aroma, rich and powerful.
Another product commonly found at Tabuan is ginamos. This is fish which is salted but not dried; a tiny variety of fish, most often bulinaw, is salted in a sauce. Though dried fish is pretty bad, ginamos really stinks to high heaven. While in other countries - such as Vietnam - ginamos would merely be the precurser of fish sauce, here in Cebu it used as it is, straight from the jar, to flavor food. Incredibly, Cebuanos will eat sweet potatos with ginamos. Call me an uncouth foreigner, but I still prefer margarine!