Food is an essential part in a traveler’s itinerary, not only due to necessity, but also because of the unique adventure that food has to offer. It’s a beautiful thing to experience a country’s culture in ways other than seeing and being with the people – and it’s doubtless how enjoyable an experience it is to taste the result of a decades old process. Recipes revised and revisited, memories of a thousand families dining together – all in one deliciously steaming pot.
It’s amazing to think of how the food that we eat was borne out of a string of reinventions made by families and individuals as the recipe is passed down through generations. This rings true in the Philippines where most famous dishes have their own different versions depending on the recipe taught by the preceding generation.
Sinigang is one of the many traditional dishes that has been and will continue to be revisited by Filipino families. It’s a classic and an all-time favorite of many. It’s a kind of soup or stew that is distinguished by its pleasantly sour yet savory flavor. Traditionally, this distinct flavor is made by boiling and crushing tamarind (sampalok), the juice of which is crafted into the stew. Sometimes, uncrushed tamarind is also added to amplify the sourness. There are also various other alternatives to tamarinds such as calamansi (Philippine lime), unripe mango, and guava – all of which create a wonderful variation in the more classic take of Sinigang.
These days, however, most Filipino families opt to use ready-made flavorings in the form of cubes and powder. This is especially helpful since these flavorings are more concentrated, which is great for those who like the extra sour kick. Still, nothing beats the authentic feel manually ground tamarind brings to the dish.
Though it’s a dish that can be found in the homes of Filipinos from across the country, each city or locality has its own version of Sinigang. Essentially, it’s composed of a type of meat, garlic, tomato, onion, and the choice of flavoring to add for the sourness. And of course, it would not be complete without other vegetables tossed in it. It’s very common to see spinach, eggplants, okra and Chinese long beans as ingredients in the dish.
What’s great about Sinigang is that it can be made a certain way so that it fits someone’s diet. The usual meat used in the dish, which is pork, can be changed to beef, chicken, fish or shrimp. One can also choose to add tofu instead of meat as an alternative.
Some people choose to eat this on its own but most Filipinos pair Sinigang with steamed rice, especially when it’s a bit too sour. Truly, its versatility makes it a great dish for all.
If you ask anyone in the streets of the Philippines what their favorite dish is, you will most likely hear Sinigang as their choice. It’s one of the most commonly known dishes in the country, found in most Filipino restaurants and street eateries. Though its fame is unparalleled, its origin escapes most people.
Simple, yet timeless. It’s a dish that best represents the culture of Filipinos. It depicts the humility of the Filipino lifestyle and at the same time, highlights the versatility of the people. Sinigang has been around for many years, and it is likely to be passed down through future generations.
By AYEZA KAMILLE MALLARI, ASEAN Correspondent from Philippines