Crispy Fried Smelt Fish

Crispy Fried Smelt Fish are easy to make in minutes and so tasty! They’re crunchy, full of flavor, and delicious as an appetizer or quick dinner.

Crispy Fried Smelt Fish on a paper-lined bowl
I was initially going to call this crispy dilis, but on researching online, I found out dilis is actually anchovy and not smelt fish. If you’re familiar with this type of fish and know what they’re called in Tagalog, please feel free to chime in in the comments below.

Anyway, I fried up a good two pounds for lunch today, and they were so good! I enjoyed these crispy fried smelt fish with pico de gallo as sawsawan, but I bet they’re just as delicious paired with ginisang munggo or ginisang upo.

Due to the fish’s minute size, removing their entrails without breaking them apart is painstaking work. But please do not skip this step as the insides can be a bit bitter and off-putting, says the now-full time food blogger who was too lazy to do so the first time and ended up with a huge batch she couldn’t eat.

One reader commented below that she uses tweezers to clean the fish easily. Thanks for the tip!

smelt fish coated in cornstarch and flour mixture in a bowl

For super crunch, I recommend a mixture of flour and cornstarch to dredge these babies up. Cornstarch, when added to all-purpose flour, prevents gluten formation and absorbs moisture for a crispier coating.

Seasonings to add, however, are fair game. I used garlic powder, salt, and pepper but feel free to experiment with your choice of herbs and spices such as cayenne pepper, chili powder, Italian seasoning, or curry powder.

Helpful Tips

  • Drain the fish well and pat dry with paper towels for the coating to adhere better.
  • For the best crunch, use enough oil to fully submerge the smelt and heat to an optimal temperature of 350 F to 375 F.
  • Use high-smoke point oils such as canola, avocado, safflower, or peanut oil.
  • Do not overcrowd the pan and fry in batches as needed to keep the temperature from plummeting. Heat the oil back to 350 F before adding the next batch.
crispy smelt fish and brown rice on a white plate

Serving suggestions

  • Crispy fried smelt fish are delicious as an appetizer with an ice-cold beer or as a quick meal with steamed rice and your choice of vegetable side dish such as ensaladang kamote tops or grilled eggplant and salted egg salad.
  • The fried fish are best eaten freshly cooked and do not store well as they tend to lose crispness over time. I suggest frying just enough for one meal for optimal enjoyment.
Crispy Fried Smelt Fish on a paper-lined bowl

Crispy Fried Smelt Fish

Crispy Fried Smelt Fish are seriously addictive! They cook in minutes using simple pantry ingredients yet turn out so crunchy and tasty. Delicious as an appetizer or main dish!


  • 2 pounds small smelt fish
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • canola oil


  • With your hands, gently pry open the head of the fish and carefully pull the gills along with the entrails. Rinse under cold running water and drain well.
  • In a bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, salt, garlic powder, and pepper.
  • Dredge smelt fish in flour mixture to completely coat.
  • In a wide pan over medium heat, heat about 2-inch deep of oil. Add fish, shaking off excess flour, and deep-fry for about 3 to 5 minutes or until golden and crisp.
  • Remove from heat and drain in a colander set over a bowl. Serve hot.

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