Smelly smoked fish sparks lawsuit

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 January, 2009, 12:00am

In New York, the Filipino love for smelly smoked fish has turned into a cross-cultural lawsuit involving angry nuns, smelly apartments and a US$75,000 claim for damages.

Although Michael and Gloria Lim left the Philippines 30 years ago, their love affair with tuyo, or smoked fish, endures.

They are fighting a civil suit before the Manhattan Supreme Court for the right to prepare the dish - which is usually dipped in vinegar and garlic and eaten with rice, salted egg and tomatoes - whenever they please.

The suit was filed last month by their building's owner, the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, whose members strongly objected to the 'foul smell ... similar to that of vomit or rotting meat' wafting through the Gramercy building on East 19th Street, Manhattan.

The nuns claimed that building workers who got a whiff of the fishy odour were 'seriously concerned that the smell was the result of someone having died in their apartment and began ringing certain tenants who live alone to check in on them', the suit said.

'The smells emanating from the subject premises are so horrible and potentially dangerous to the life, health and safety of the tenants [that] on one occasion the fire department had to be called,' it added.

The firemen traced the odour to the Lims' 16th floor unit. After they pounded on the door for minutes, Mrs Lim, a registered nurse, let them in and explained the smell.

The suit, first reported by the New York Post and the New York Daily News, has since become fodder for bloggers. Some have sided with the couple and criticised the nuns for being racist, while others pointed out that New York apartments impose strict rules on cooking odour.

The United Nations and the Asian Development Bank have been keen to promote fish smoking as a means of improving people's quality of life - albeit in Philippine villages and not Manhattan apartments.

The ADB released a report on January 13 entitled, 'Smoked fish transforms women's lives'. It details how preparing and selling smoked fish has helped raise the income of Daisy Balingit and 13 other housewives in Santa Rita, a poor riverside village in President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's home province of Pampanga.